I've told this story many, many times in the recent past about how - when feeling love for my 250 lb. body instead of shame and ready to finally opt out of diet culture eight years ago - I Googled the words, "why am I fat and happy?" And how sad and disappointed I was to find myself scrolling through pages and pages of ads for the diet industry complex I was so desperate to leave behind (further proving my point of how fatphobic our culture is/was, Google picked up the words happy and fat and changed them to UNhappy and fat). As the story goes, I did finally come upon two blogs that forever changed my life and catapulted me into ideas of Health At Every Size, fat acceptance, and its little sister, body positivity.
For YEARS I've been shouting from the rooftops (along with a few others) about how our misogynistic beauty standards - including diet, weight loss and fitness culture - have been oppressing women. Along the way I also kept educating myself (and still do!) about the radical history of the fat acceptance movement, which famously started in 1969 with a Fat-In in Central Park with a group of people who were fed up with the bigotry they'd faced because of their body size. The group went on to become the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance and remains an important civil rights organization.
In 1996 The Body Positive was formed, based along the same ideas but with a bit more of a bent toward eating disorder recovery. It is perhaps here that the term "body positivity" and this iteration of the movement came to be. Fast forward twenty or so years and EVERYONE is suddenly "body positive," including every gym, fitness class, "healthy lifestyle" eating program, clothing store, beauty product and person.
And suddenly with the mainstreaming of the radical movement by our consumer culture so many people want to STILL buy into diet culture and still call themselves body positive. To which I call bullshit. Of course you have the right to do whatever you want with your body - that is called body autonomy (which, while an important component of body positivity, is not the same).
This notion that health is somehow in opposition to body positivity is mind-boggling to me. But so is the idea that health MUST be a standard accepted by all. I've also spoken about this about one-hundred times over the past year and a half, in interviews and on radio shows and at public events and in writing. Health is not a moral imperative and is NOT a prerequisite to body positivity. You cannot tell someone's health just by looking at them. And you don't have that much control over your health anyhow. Plus, even if you are unhealthy does that make you any less deserving of love and respect, both from yourself and others? Does that make you less valuable as a human being? Health means something different to all of us and it's important to remember that whole health incorporates many things including mental and emotional health. Shame has never been a motivating factor in better health. But you know what does motivate? Promoting radical body acceptance. Because people often take better care of something they love rather than something they hate. And if you really cared about my health (or that of another person fatter than me) you'd be an active part of this movement. So let's just call this health argument what it really is : fatphobia.
Body positivity is not a feeling, it's a movement. Self-love? That's a feeling. And a really damn good one, I know. And they can go hand in hand but they don't always have to. I've been pretty clear about my stance about body positivity as an integral part of feminism and a radical social justice movement.
It's hard being told that perhaps what you've been taught to believe about bodies all your life might be wrong. That there might be a different way, a better way. That you can opt out of the game because there are no rules and there is no winner. Change makes people angry and is always hard won. And it takes a lot of practice, patience, education, reading and an open mind.
* And as I was writing the first draft of this blog post several days ago a fellow body image warrior Kaila Prins was penning a similar, spot on and poignant piece called Here's Why the Definition of Body Positivity Isn't Up for Debate, which is much like this one only more detailed, eloquent and NAILS IT.
These conversations about the recent co-opting of body positivity have been going on in the feminist activist realm for many months now and I'm stoked to see others speaking up about this hard truth as well. If you're interested in learning more there are many resources linked in this article, under the Resources and Press & Interviews tabs on this website, and always in the Boise Rad Fat Collective on Facebook.