I've been seeing a lot of comments lately from body positive influencers about how there's a limit to body positivity, and that it's not good to promote extremes. They say this in response to larger fat people being talked about in the news or shared online. I know that these comments are fatphobic, but I don't know how to respond to make them see that. Can you help?
Let me take a deep breath before I get into this fatphobic nonsense. I see this every day. Because of how mainstream body positivity has become over the last few years, it's been twisted and turned into so many watered down versions that even Weight Watchers is out here calling itself body positive. As if they haven't made billions promoting the diet culture we're trying to destroy.
And of course there are plenty of influencers who've adopted the label of 'body positive' and decided to give it a definition that suits them better. The weight-based exclusions that they often add into their definition are all based in assumptions and judgements about health – something that this movement has always been explicitly against making. While there isn't room here for a full A-Z rundown of body positivity, there are a few things you might want to remind these people of, and hopefully they'll be open-minded enough to look into them further:
There is no body positivity without fat positivity. Full stop. This movement has roots in the radical fat acceptance activists who were fighting for body liberation before most of us were even born. Groups like The Fat Underground didn't put themselves on the line to be cut out of a movement that their work paved the way for. And redefining body positivity as if it doesn't already have a history and meaning is disrespectful af.
Not to mention the fact that if we aren't tackling fatphobia, then none of us will ever be truly free from body image issues. It's the same judgements and fear of fatness that fat people are stigmatised by daily that trickles down to all of us, no matter what size we are.
Read this next one carefully: body positivity is about respect. Not who you think is attractive. Not your perceptions of other people's health. Body positivity is based in the belief that all bodies are deserving of being treated with respect, regardless of how they look or how they function. And that no person should be treated as worth any less based on their appearance. So when you talk about there being a limit to body positivity, what you're really saying is that there's a cut-off point where you stop respecting people based on your assumptions about their body. And that's just not cool.
If you'd like to assign yourself as the person who decides which bodies deserve to be seen, celebrated, respected or represented based on 'health', then you sure are gonna be busy. Because you'll need to start screening every body the media shows for a history of smoking and drinking, for fitness levels, blood pressure and other signs of metabolic health, for chronic illnesses, impairments, mental health issues, addiction, and any other indicators of poor health so we're 100% sure not to show anyone who isn't healthy, regardless of whether they're thin or not. If that isn't something you think we should do, you'll have to admit that this isn't really about health at all. You just don't like seeing fat bodies. Whoops.
Body positivity is not promoting any one body type as superior, aspiration-worthy, or the key to happiness. That's kind of the point. Fat people exist. Yes, even the ones who you think are beyond the imaginary cut-off point for respect. Giving those people some representation isn't saying 'HEY EVERYONE! THIS IS HOW WE SHOULD ALL LOOK IF WE WANNA BE BEAUTIFUL, SUCCESSFUL, LOVED OR FULFILLED'. It's saying 'hey everyone, you don't have to feel like a worthless piece of shit if you look like this, you are a valid human being and you deserve to be treated with basic dignity and respect'.
Showing fat bodies in a positive light does not encourage others to become fatter. And it won't do unless our entire cultural narrative does a 180° and the biggest industries in the world stop making billions from selling us weight loss and decide to sell us weight gain instead. But something tells me that shift isn't going to happen, especially not from finally giving some representation to the bodies that have been kept in the shadows for decades.
You know what it might do though? It might encourage people to see their bodies as worth something. It might make a dent in the kind of body hatred that isn't healthy at any size. It might start to heal lifetimes of body shame so that people of all sizes are able to participate more fully in the world knowing that they no longer have to hide. And if you don't believe that's a good thing, well then I'm struggling to understand how you could call yourself body positive at all.
Phew. I could go on but honestly this shit is tiring and it would be lovely if we could all get on the same page so we can get on with the real work of dismantling the systems that teach us this nonsense in the first place.
Tldr; fatphobia is gross.
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.