At first glance, positive body image and body positivity may seem like the same thing, but they are not.
What is body positivity?
People seem to be latching on to the idea of loving and appreciating their bodies. Social media users post body positive pictures all the time and while this may seem like a positive thing, unfortunately, much of the true meaning of “body positivity” is lost in mainstream social media.
A Social justice movement is what body positivity is to give voices to those individuals in marginalized bodies. It’s rooted in the belief that ALL bodies are GOOD bodies. Including, but not limited to: fat bodies, disabled bodies, trans people, bodies of different races/ethnicities. Everyone deserves to find a place of body peace and respect for themselves.
This is separate from having a “positive body image” and/or loving/liking the way your body looks. The body positive movement is so much more than aesthetics.
It’s about existing in a world and being treated humanely regardless of how your body looks.
Individuals who live in marginalized bodies have done so much work starting and continuing the body positive movement. The problem is, well, privileged women. Honestly, like myself, white, cis, smaller bodied etc. Have, most likely unintentionally, made it into something it’s not. I can understand why it happened. Who doesn’t like the idea of “body positivity”? But now, the voices of people who have started the movement are diluted, due to the other “body positive” noise that’s out there.
Body Positivity vs. “Positive Body Image”
I was inspired to write this blog after reading Lauren Newman’s (aka gofeedyourself) Instagram post on body positivity vs. positive body image. I LOVE how eloquently she put it. I got permission and am going to quote her:
“Body positivity is a social justice movement. It’s about centering the voices of marginalized individuals and acknowledging the oppression they experience in our society. Body positivity is NOT about “feeling good” in your body.
It is NOT a place for thin white cis able bodied women to post pictures of their bodies and talk about their body image struggles. Of course those struggles are valid and important to talk about and process. However those conversations about positive body image and self love don’t belong under the title of “body positivity”. They are not the same thing. If you are a thin, white, cis, able bodied woman (like me) and want to be involved in the body positive movement.
Here’s what you can do:
- Stop posting body pics and calling it body positive.
- Follow others who hold marginalized identities. Read and learn from them. Support them via sharing their content or contributing financially to their work.
- Educate others on this difference. Call people in to this conversation when you see them sharing problematic content or misusing terms like body positivity.
- Do work around unpacking your privilege.
- Don’t talk about weight loss. Seriously. Even if you’re doing all the other things above… talking about weight loss is still problematic AF. First and foremost, body positivity is NEVER EVER about loving your body after a “weight loss journey.” Body positive and intentional weight loss just do not go together.
This is such a complicated concept. It’s difficult sometimes for me to wrap my head around it. And it wasn’t until I started reading more about the body positive movement over the last 6 months or so that I’m truly starting to understand how I can be a better ally. And I have a couple of thoughts after reading through the comments on Lauren’s post and other blogs/articles about the body positive movement.
Number One: Your body image struggles are valid
I think it’s so important and totally okay to have body image struggles if you live in a smaller body, white body, cis body….etc.
None of us are immune to insidious diet culture and the pressures to conform to our society’s ridiculous (stupid) beauty standards. You are totally allowed to struggle. And totally deserve to find freedom from body image struggles. I view that work as “working on body image” or “improving a relationship with body.” Not necessarily working on “body positivity.”
Basically, if we call it “body positivity.” Which I have been guilty of in the past and still working on today. The movement loses momentum. And people who the movement wasn’t meant for, like Stacy who lost weight, eats clean, and now loves her body, start to become the faces of the movement. And that completely misses the point.
Number Two: We all live in diet culture
Recovering from an eating disorder also requires taking a look at your own biases and judgments when it comes to people in larger bodies. I have done this work to be a better dietitian/ally and am still doing this work. Again, we all live in diet culture and we all have judgments about “gaining weight.”
That doesn’t make us bad people, it makes us human. And all it means is that we have work to do to change those thoughts (and all of society, but let’s take it one step at a time, yeah?). When you feel ready, with your therapist or RD, you may want to explore what makes “fat” bad…
What would be scary about living life in a larger body? Do you judge people who may be larger? If not, why would you judge yourself if you gained weight? Could you still live a happy life? Are there things you’re not going to do until you lose weight? What would it be like to do them now?
Perhaps it could be helpful to follow some peeps who are doing AMAZING fat advocacy work. Like…Tess Holliday, Jes Baker, Ivy Felicia, Whitney Way Thor, Dani Adriana, Olivia Campbell, Eff Your Beauty Standards, Ragen Chastain, and Megan Jayne Crabbe.
Number Three: Body positivity does not “promote obesity”
The body positive movement does not “promote obesity.” OH MY GOD. Can we please stop saying this? Firstly, it truly upsets me that we call “obesity” a disease. The very word tells people in larger bodies they have a “disease” and their bodies are wrong. NOT TRUE.
Body size cannot describe how healthy/unhealthy someone is. The fact that we use body size to tell us about health is actually totally problematic (that’s another blog, coming soon). And besides, health is not a moral obligation AND larger people are not required to shrink themselves to make others feel more comfortable. Why should we care if larger bodied men and women are enjoying themselves?
This judgement is 100% coming from diet culture.
So, then, what do we do with all this information? Three take home points:
- Remember: all of our body image concerns are entirely valid. It’s just important to label body image work as “body image work” not “body positivity.” We don’t want to water down the message of this social justice movement.
- Follow people of ALL different shapes and sizes and gender identities and sexualities on Instagram, twitter…etc. It can be empowering and liberating to see all different kinds of people going through life. We’re all on this crazy journey together and have similar (not the same) human experiences and emotions. Might as well support each other through it. Not tear each other down. I’m also always looking to diversity my feed.
- If you want to be an ally to the body positive movement, check out Lauren’s tips above 🙂
For more thought provoking blogs, take a look at these:
If you or someone you love is struggling with their relationship with food, please reach out to us.
-Blog reviewed and updated by Rebecca Bitzer MS RD LD September 16 2021
Dana uses her advanced training in functional nutrition and food sensitivities to help her clients love and trust food again as they heal from years of painful symptoms that have dominated their lives. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating and Cooking with Food Sensitivities Survival Guide.