Why 'Body Acceptance' Means Accepting All Bodies, Not Just Plus-Sized Models
Lindy West wants you to take risks with body acceptance.
"There's just no risk in saying, 'Oh, I find Ashley Graham hot!'" she tells me over the phone. "Like, of course you do. She looks like a model!"
The 34-year-old, Seattle-based writer and body activist has spent much of her career fighting for the acceptance of plus-sized bodies like Ashley Graham's. But she's also fighting for the acceptance of the woman who is a size 32, women of color, transwomen and a combination of the above. She's fighting for your body, and she's fighting for mine. In her quest to help our society move toward total body acceptance, she fights for ALL women's bodies.
"I think we're moving in the direction of body acceptance, but it gets dangerous when you're looking at a conventionally beautiful, hourglass-shaped, size 14 plus-sized model and saying, 'Yay, body diversity! We're done!' Because if you really believe in body acceptance, then you need to be comfortable with literally all bodies," she says.
If you've been on the Internet long enough -- and if you've been friends with me for long enough -- you've heard of Lindy West. She's got bylines from Jezebel, The Stranger, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Guardian and The New York Times. She's written about everything from dieting to "The Voice" to Donald Trump to rape jokes to how to compliment a woman. And she's influenced and inspired me in my feminist beliefs for years.
But perhaps she's best known for the way she inspires women of all sizes to accept (not necessarily "love") their bodies for what they are. Now, her memoir "Shrill" (out today!) chronicles her journey to how she got to where she is: fat, confident and unafraid to call society out on how it fails women. Especially when it comes to making us feel good about our bodies.
"I remember growing up and seeing bodies critiqued in the media where I couldn't perceive anything wrong," she says. "But there was always something [to criticize]. Like, you could look at any supermodel and be like, 'Eh, but your waist could be one inch smaller...'"
West believes that when it comes to total body acceptance, our culture sets us up to fail. Since even the most "perfect," "ideal" bodies get critiqued by someone, there really is no such thing as the perfect body. Like she writes in her book, the perfect body is a lie.
Yet this lie serves a purpose.
"I think the point is that you're not supposed to be able to achieve [the perfect body]," she says. "There's always something to chase, so there's always something to spend money on. There's always something reminding you that you're not perfect, and you shouldn't relax, and you shouldn't be complacent, and you should be beating yourself up."
There are many elements of our culture that force women to beat themselves up for not looking a certain way. Most notably for Millennials, this idea manifests itself via the Instagram fitness and health culture -- you know, those beautifully filtered pictures of acai bowls, #fitfam camaraderie and mirror pictures of six-pack abs at the gym that flood your newsfeed on a daily basis. This is a culture that encourages me and millions of Millennials to strive to change our bodies in order to love our bodies.
West describes this as preaching not self-love, but "loving a different version [of yourself] in the future that you haven't met yet." And it's certainly not the way to get people to take care of their bodies -- to actually eat acai bowls and go to the gym.
"You can't take good care of a thing you hate," she says frankly. "In my opinion, I really think it works the other way around: You can't actually take good care of your body until you can at least accept your body for what it is and stop hating it and stop punishing yourself for it. Being good to myself emotionally helps me take better care of myself physically."
Beyond body acceptance, however, West ultimately feels like we need to start valuing women for more than what they look like.
"I think it's more important to de-emphasize beauty, to shift the focus away from beauty being the most important thing a woman can accomplish, 'cause it's just not," she says. "We put so much stock in [beauty] as the defining metric of women's value. That's what I'd like to see disappear."
Unfortunately, until this mentality truly does disappear, women will probably continue beating themselves up for not being "perfect." But West has a suggestion to help women feel confident about the bodies they already have: Just look at pictures of lots of different bodies, of all different shapes. That's what helped her.
"I remember scrolling through fat-positive Tumblr and looking at each person's body and recoiling, 'cause this is not the way bodies are supposed to look, and these people were being so brazen with their 'deviant' bodies," she says. "And I would think, 'OK, why am I reacting like this? What objectively is bad here?'"
By looking at pictures of fat women online as if she were a literal alien ("What if I was an alien? Would I be disgusted by this one roll of fat? No, I'd be like, 'Oh, I guess that goes there...'"), West learned that feeling disgusted by fat bodies is not an objective reaction. It's culturally imposed.
Through this method, West not only taught herself to tolerate different bodies, but to find them beautiful:
"You can feel your brain change if you just look at pictures of bodies that aren't the bodies you're used to looking at and aren't the bodies you're used to valuing. Look at their stomachs and say, 'What if I could find this beautiful?' or 'What actually, objectively, is bad about this?'"
Nothing. Nothing is bad about any body. And that is the point.
"Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman," Lindy West's literary debut, is a witty, thought-provoking memoir that tackles West's thoughts on social justice, women in comedy, body image, and more. Available now.