It's been a long time coming, but the term “body positivity” is finally starting to appear somewhat frequently in the mainstream media. However, for every article that makes identifying participants of this movement give themselves an internal high five, there is one (or more) that makes us shake our heads and despair at the misdirecting foibles.
For those that have been educating themselves and evolving since before Tess Holliday (nee Munster) was the hottest thing since gourmet cupcakes, it can be super discouraging to see the dissemination of inaccurate and extremely harmful information that damages a movement which, really, is so important to every person on this planet.
Now is the time for my casual disclaimer: Although I claim to be no expert, I do take great pride in surrounding myself amongst body positive thinkers, and actively engage with the community to reconcile my place within this world. As a person of size, my perspectives on the bopo movement do come from a place specific to size acceptance. Here are seven important things to keep in mind about the body positivity movement:
1. Body positivity is for everyone.
To skim the surface of most media portrayals, you could be forgiven for thinking this movement is strictly for plus-size women. However, it is indeed, for everyone: fat, thin, colored, varying degrees of able-bodiedness, any gender. Every human who walks this earth is and should be invested in the progression of body positivity. The fact that we are primarily presented with the package of white, cis-gendered, plus-size (yet perfectly proportioned and “hourglass” shaped) women is no accident. This is safe.
It is a haphazard attempt at pushing the envelope, yet in an entirely conventional way that actually ends up further marginalizing the people it should be embracing the most. If you really want to immerse yourself in this community, you need to look beyond the mainstream. I will suggest some radical blogs such as The Militant Baker, Virgie Tovar, Dances With Fat and Fat Heffalump. There is also have an ever-expanding compilation of outstanding articles and posts on a resource page at Horror Kitsch Bitch.
2. Some people call themselves “body positive,” but they really just don't get it.
As with all groups and movements, there are some tragically ignorant folk who identify with the goal of the movement but don't actually take the time to educate themselves properly. So they inadvertently end up talking smack and tarnishing the good work done by the rest of us.
In the context of body positivity, this often manifests in skinny shaming and body bashing on those smaller or more “acceptably” proportioned in an attempt to empower themselves. This is not cool, and those people are not an accurate portrayal of what we, as a group, stand for.
3. Some people refer to themselves as "fat" because they find it empowering.
For the majority of my life to date, the term "fat" has been used as a weapon of oppression and a catalyst for a load of self-hatred. I've wasted many years of my life in a pit of personal loathing until I had a lightbulb moment of discovery. I realized the term “fat” is fundamentally just a descriptor.
As a culture, we have given the word power by making it negative. But once I realized “fat” isn't a bad thing, reclaiming the word was tremendously empowering. By that same token, to refer to someone as "skinny" as neither an insult nor a compliment. It is merely a descriptor.
4. “You're not fat, you're beautiful” is not a compliment.
Perhaps the best way to explain why this is a backhanded compliment is to interpret it from the perspective of somebody with a body positive lens. This really comes off as saying, “You might be fat, but I happen to see your beauty, which is very unique because I know a person cannot be fat and beautiful. If someone is fat, then he or she is automatically gross and ugly.” Are we sensing a trend here? Fat can be beautiful.
5. Blanket terms like “curvy” are offensive cop-outs.
I was recently asked to write an opinion piece for a mainstream media outlet but was censored from using terms such as “fat” and “plus-size” as descriptors for myself. I was instead asked to use the word “curvy” as a replacement, and you can bet I kicked up a stink and refused to finish the article.
Firstly, “curvy” as a blanket term for plus-size women, and is offensive to everyone, since fat women can be less curvy (I am more of an apple shape), and thin women can have curves. So, can we please stop using “curvy” as the go-to term?
Secondly, I know there is great debate over dropping the plus, but taking issue with the term is not only saying there is something wrong with being plus-size, but it also strips the identity of a whole group of people who need a space to find each other, not to mention clothes that actually fit.
The term “plus-size” is entirely relevant and definitely necessary at the point our society is currently at. I, of course, hope that someday there will be no need for labels. But until then, I like being able to know at first glance whether or not a shop stocks threads that will fit on my thick frame.
Lastly, I understand the majority of people of size may not be at a stage in their journeys where they feel comfortable referring to themselves with terms like “fat.” After all, most of us have a lifetime of trauma interwoven with the word. I believe people are totally entitled to use their own terms to describe themselves.
I would never dream of forcing people to use words they are not comfortable with. However, by referring to myself as fat, I am striving to help people see that the word can be used with neutrality and free from oppression.
6. Body positivity is about the skin, but it is not skin-deep.
From time to time, people tell me to “stop talking about appearances so much, because beauty is only skin deep.” Of course, there are many other complex factors that go beyond whether or not a person is considered beautiful. They include things like feelings of worth, feeling deserving of love, finding stylish clothes that actually fit and the ability to eat a damn cronut in public without side-eyes and snide comments.
But the term "body positivity" does refer to just that, the body. Unfortunately, the vessel we exist in plays a big role in the way we navigate through this world. It shapes a huge portion of our experiences. So yes, the overarching concept of beauty is so much more than just skin deep. But body positivity is about the body, and using diversity as a beacon for body acceptance is actually a really productive thing.
7. We are programmed to comply with standards of beauty.
I'm not saying people shouldn't be attracted to whatever physical attributes they're attracted to, but recognizing that there is some cultural conditioning happening is really important. Our programming is being constantly reinforced by the media and society in general. So, by learning to question and look beyond that opens us up to the acceptance of things outside our inherent scope.