Some of you may have recently seen this Instagram post of mine over at @SamTheDietitian that has gotten quite a bit of attention. As I was sifting through comments from those who disagree with my post, responding one by one, I found myself saying some key points over and over again. While it's become clear to me that there are absolutely people scouring the internet for things to disagree with, and that said individuals are clearly NOT interested in learning, there are most definitely the folks who just simply do not understand. This post is not for the former, but for the latter. Those of you who are not interested in learning can stop reading now -- this is not for you. But if you're wondering what all the fuss is about over the appropriation of the term "body positivity", and are curious how you can respect others in your use of this term, please keep reading.
What Is Body Positivity?
I've heard a ton of definitions from lots of different sources on this, both before and after my post took off, and from both the qualified and unqualified. First, let me tell you what body positivity is NOT.
Body Positivity is not about working to achieve your healthiest self -- through weight loss, or any other means.
Body Positivity is not about feeling positive about your body all the time.
Body Positivity is not about loving yourself exactly as you are, every single day.
Body Positivity is not the idea that you're entitled to do whatever you want with your body (that's Body Autonomy -- which I'm in HUGE support of, but it's not Body Positivity).
Body Positivity is not about loving yourself to thinness.
Body Positivity is not about changing your body, but it's also not about your body needing to stay the same.
Body Positivity is not about whether you diet, or don't diet, or adopt a "lifestyle change".
Body Positivity is not about "promoting obesity" (whatever that actually means).
Body Positivity is not a picture of a person in a larger body, nor is it a picture of a person in a small body, or any combination of the two
Here's what body positivity is:
Body Positivity is a movement that promotes that idea that no one type or subtype of body is more valuable than another. That means that ALL bodies -- small ones, large ones, medium sized ones, able-bodied ones, disabled ones, brown ones, white ones, purple ones, healthy ones, unhealthy ones, happy ones, sad ones, rich ones, poor ones, those with mental illness, and those with chronic illness -- are valuable.
Because all bodies are valuable, all bodies deserve access to clean water and a variety of foods. They deserve healthcare, comfort, love, and respect, to name just a few. Simply put, all bodies deserve to be treated like human beings.
How Does My Before and After Weight Loss Picture Impact Anyone Else?
Before and after pictures of this nature perpetuate a few ideas that are so engrained in us as a culture that it can feel downright threatening to have someone challenge it. But it's crucial that we do. These side by side comparisons promote the myth that we can tell how well someone is doing by whether they are shrinking or getting bigger. They tell us health can be judged from a picture. They perpetuate the idea that if we are shrinking we are improving, and if we are growing or expanding, we have lost control, are lazy, or have given up. As a HAES RD, I have had the honor of walking people through this process. I can share some of what I've seen. First, I have seen that a change in health and behaviors looks vastly different on different people, even with a change in heath outcomes and body image. Second (please listen carefully), I promise you that I have never seen individuals work harder or challenge themselves more than when they are taking good care of their physical bodies despite the fact that society is telling them they're doing something wrong due to their size increasing. Healing this part of us is the opposite of giving up.
The term "body positive" is meant to show individuals whose bodies are not valued in our misguided culture that it is not their bodies that are wrong but our culture that is wrong. It is meant to show people whose boadies are marginalized due to their size, color, ability level, etc., that they are deserving of respect, proper healthcare, human rights, comfort, relationships, happiness -- just like anyone in any other body. When the terms meant to lift up the oppressed are used to lift up the oppressor, it further marginalizes the people these words are meant to protect. When the words meant to tell those whose bodies are devalued that they are worthy are instead used to lift up those whose bodies are already seen as valuable, we create more inequity -- a further divide.
I understand and believe that this concept is not easy. Just like almost anyone raised in this culture, I did not start out my life or my career as a dietitian with an understanding of body acceptance. I had to go through the heartbreak of learning that everything I was taught by doctors, by family, by friends, by so-called (or actual) experts, by my professors, and by my textbooks, was wrong. At times it felt like my world was crumbling. But at the same time, everything started to feel right -- like the pieces finally fit into the slots I was trying to jam them into before.
If I could call you to action in one way with this post, it would be this: pause before you react. Pause and ask yourself what is upsetting. Maybe you're totally pissed at this notion that fat people should be treated like people, and not like headless large bodies used to make a point. Maybe you're frustrated that you don't understand. Maybe you're upset that no one ever told you that your body is valuable. Maybe it's some reason that I couldn't even begin to imagine. Whatever it is, ask yourself this -- do I want to learn more, or am I here to attack? If you want to learn more, please check out the resources listed at the end of this post. If you're here to attack and spew negativity, your comment will be removed.
There is a steep learning curve for this information (in my experience). Please be gentle with yourself and keep an open heart, and an open mind. May you each find whatever you need to feel at peace with your body.
Sam The Dietitian
Health At Every Size and Body Positive Resources:
Read Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon, or visit her website to check out some of the research behind weight-neutrality