Body positivity is a radical redefinition and reclamation of the body. It arose in response to a Western culture that recognizes only white, able-bodied, heterosexual, and thin bodies as worthy and beautiful.
Body positivity must be inclusive and intersectional if it is to make real change in society. It’s not enough to simply say all bodies are beautiful and worthy of respect. Those who advocate body positivity must also challenge systems of power that oppress bodies; they must stand against racism, economic inequality, heterosexism, cissexism, sexism, and ableism. Body positivity embraces and celebrates bodies of color, queer, fat, trans*, and disabled bodies. It revels in the rich diversity of bodies all around us.
Body positivity is more than just the often-heard phrase “love yourself.” It’s important to recognize that we all have complex relationships with our bodies. For various reasons, some people may never love their bodies, but they can forge new ways of connecting to their bodies.
Central to body positivity is an understanding of how institutions of power–such as the media, the medical establishment, diet companies, and the beauty industry–oppress, shame, and control bodies.
In “Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies,” Eli Clare writes:
Of course, this is one of the profound ways in which oppression works — to mire us in body hatred. Homophobia is all about defining queer bodies as wrong, perverse, immoral. Transphobia, about defining trans bodies as unnatural, monstrous, or the product of delusion. Ableism, about defining dis-abled bodies as broken and tragic. Class warfare, about defining the bodies of workers as expendable. Racism, about defining the bodies of people of color as primitive, exotic, or worthless. Sexism, about defining female bodies as pliable objects. These messages sink beneath our skin.
Rather than seeing the body as a problem and an imperfect object that must be modified, body positivity advocates fully inhabiting your body as it is, honoring and respecting all bodies, and resisting the ways in which our bodies are oppressed.
Body positivity is about creating a new experience of the body, one that is loving, kind, and forgiving.
Self-love and self-care are essential components of body positivity and are used as a means of both resistance and survival. As Audre Lorde writes,
“Self-care is not about self-indulgence, it’s about self-preservation.”
One facet of body positivity is Fat Acceptance, which plays an important role in transforming how fat bodies are viewed and inhabited. Some of the basic tenants of the Fat Acceptance movement are:
- “Fat” is simply an adjective. To strip the word of its negative connotations, many in Fat Acceptance reclaim “fat” and use it to describe themselves.
- Nothing is wrong with being fat. Fat bodies are not a problem, a disease, or an epidemic.
- Fat does not equal unhealthy just as thin does not equal healthy. Weight is not a barometer for health. Furthermore, health should not determine one’s worth as a human being.
- Fat discrimination is real. Fat people make less money than their thin coworkers, receive substandard health care, and even live with the threat of their children being taken away because they are viewed as unfit parents. The discrimination against fat bodies must be acknowledged and combated.
- Rather than fat bodies being stigmatized, they should be accommodated, accepted, and celebrated. So should all body sizes.
- Diet culture is damaging to all bodies and must be eradicated.
- Fat bodies should be portrayed in art, media, literature, and film as complex, multidimensional, and fully human rather than symbols of greed, laziness, and over-consumption.
Some people in the Fat Acceptance movement believe in Health At Every Size (HAES), which suggests that one’s health cannot be determined solely based on their size. HAES is the brainchild of Dr. Linda Bacon (PhD). HAES advocates “accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes, eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety and appetite, [and] finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.”
However, it is also important to note that we should not think of health as an obligation or a stand-in for goodness or morality. Health is a privilege and is not equally accessible to all people. Many people choose to prioritize other concerns over their health (as traditionally defined by medical professionals). Many people experience chronic illnesses or conditions that preclude them from ever fitting into a narrow understanding of “healthy.”
All bodies–not just healthy bodies–are valid.
There are various ways to incorporate body positivity into your everyday life. The first step is becoming more critical of the negative messages sent to you about your body by family, friends, and the media. Most of us are socialized to hate our bodies at a very early age. So it’s not easy to see our bodies through a more positive lens; it takes time, and progress can be slow. It can start with small steps, like looking in the mirror without criticizing what you see, following blogs (a few listed below) that feature a wider array of realistic body types, and talking to someone about your body issues. Meeting other people who are body positive and surrounding yourself with supportive friends can also help.
Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to find people who subscribe to body positivity. The internet has been crucial to the creation of body positive communities. In many online spaces people of all genders and abilities are redefining beauty and embodiment for themselves, cultivating a more positive body image, and discussing the oppression they experience. These spaces are essential because they create an supportive environment where body positive advocates can connect and discuss the issues that directly affect their lives.
If you’re interested in learning more about body positivity and fat acceptance, these blogs and websites are excellent resources
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Caitlin is a contributing writer at The Ellipses Project. She is currently an undergraduate majoring in English and Women’s and Gender Studies. Her academic interests include feminism, women’s literature, fat acceptance, class, and embodiment. Of particular importance to her is how art and writing can be used to cope with grief, trauma, and mental illness. She has a penchant for Pre-Raphaelite art, British detective shows, and old Hollywood films.