body positive

Are You Really Body Positive?

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J Aprileo

A queer, non-binary, fat activist who can't turn their brain off for even just a second.

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You’ve heard about the body positive movement. It’s an action for change in the way we view ourselves. It’s an operation of pushback against the harmful and often ingrained beliefs society has taught us.  We’ve internalized such unobtainable standards about bodies: what they should and shouldn’t look like, what one should wear, which kinds should have hair, muscle, and makeup. Likely, if you identify as a feminist you already believe that women – and all people – reserve the right to choose how they look in the world without societal pressures to be one way or another.

The body positive movement originated from people of size (and by that I do mean us fat people), in an attempt to challenge the many negative messages per day that we receive about fat bodies. It has been a beacon of hope to unlearn the internalized fat-phobia we have adopted. Thankfully, body positivity is starting to be embraced by the media, including department stores (mostly because they realized they could make money off of us by siding with this message, but that’s for a different article).

With positive representation such as America’s Next Top Model’s Winnie Harlow, a model with vitiligo, and This Is Us star Chrissy Metz, we are receiving new messages about what it means to be beautiful and what kinds of bodies are acceptable to be in the spotlight. This kind of representation shows people, especially young people who are developing their own sense of identity and self-worth, that they too are deserving of love from themselves as well as others. And who could argue with that? What a wonderfully positive movement.

However, not long into my body positive journey did I start to feel an underlying negative tone within the community itself. After posting body positive pictures in which I talk about loving myself in the fat body I have, I noticed a wave of messages that all seem to have the same theme: concern trolling. Concern trolling is when someone makes a critical remark under the guise of being an ally. This is a hugely prevalent occurrence in the body positive community.

In this case, I’ve received comments from strangers claiming to be concerned about my health. They ask me, “Aren’t you worried about your health though?” They say things like, “You should really lose weight. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just concerned about you,” or “I’m body positive but I don’t believe in glorifying obesity.”

Have you ever heard those phrases? Have you ever thought them?

Here’s the problem though: I’ve never attempted to glorify any unhealthy behaviors. I have simply attempted to love myself publicly instead of hate myself for my fat body. I dared to be fat and proud, and I think that really messes with people’s sense of right and wrong. Media has taught us that fatness is associated with not only being unhealthy, but also unlovable, disgusting, lazy, and only existing for comedic affect. So in reality, this isn’t truly about their concern for my health. It’s about their discomfort with my confidence.

Even within the body positive movement people find themselves as a fat person really trying to be seen as a “good fatty.” We must make sure others know that we actually do eat vegetables and enjoy exercise. It’s no secret that the tone of concern trolls does change once they see us trying to “better” ourselves. Why is the health of a fat person indicative to the amount of respect we deserve from others? Further, there shouldn’t really be any moral connotations associated with someone’s size, as we know that we don’t truly know anything about one’s health, personality, or overall worth based solely on their weight.

We really have to think to ourselves, are we truly body positive? Maybe. I want us to take this movement a step further. We must think critically about the way we look at other bodies and the associations we hold about them due to their size and shape.  We have to actively remind ourselves that as feminists, we believe in autonomy. We wish for others to practice self-care and live their most authentic lives. We want to confront society’s harmful standards of beauty. We value diversity. Fat activism encourages diversity and is a feminist issue that I hope we can all start to embrace.