Debunking the Body Positive Movement
The body positive movement is defined by Wikipedia as:
“Acceptance and appreciation of all human body types. It is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image and be accepting of their own bodies as well as the body of others.”
This sounds really good, I must admit. I mean, love your body no matter what and you really are saying you love yourself, right? Even loving another who isn’t the perfect size two should be a win-win right? I mean, there is more to a person than their body!
Related - Fat Shaming - Where Does it End?
I actually applaud the concept, as I was a 300-pound woman for many years and I think being a morbidly obese woman now is much more acceptable then it was back in the 90s. I swear when I ate at a Chinese buffet the owners would count how much I went back and take food away from the table when they felt I had enough… Now, I could never prove that, but I am just saying.
Being fat shamed was a thing, and the body positive movement was a refreshing concept. However, it kind of morphed into something that touts fat as healthy, totally disregarding scientific research and the fact that central obesity can cause all kinds of issues, some of which would be high blood pressure and diabetes to name a few.
Where Did the Body-Positive Movement Start?
It actually has its roots in the Victorian Dress Reform movement. Women advocated for the acceptance not to wear extreme corsets in order to fit the norm of the hourglass figure. This reform also wanted women to wear pants and get rid of those hot layers of taffeta and lace as well—weird that we wanted to wear something comfortable, right?
Then the 1960s. Everyone was burning bras and wearing bellbottoms.
There was an essay by Lew Louderback that actually talked about the way fat people were treated in America. This sparked an organization called the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. This promoted that fat was not necessarily unhealthy, and that vital signs rather the weight on the scale should be used to measure health.
Fast forward to 1996, which was apparently the “second wave” of feminism (that I, of course, must have missed) that was created by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott. Sobczak actually had an eating disorder as a teen. This body-positive movement was created to make a better world for women to not be a slave to the media standards of what a woman should look like physically.
Now, the body positive is a national organization that “teaches youth and adults to value their unique beauty and identity so they can use their resources like the use of time, energy and intellect to make positive changes in the own lives and in the world.”
Pros of the Body Positive Movement
It was started with a good intent. The intent being that your body is not the only part of who you are. Basically, you are more than the sum of your parts.
That you, as a person, matter.
This is a very positive and more effective way to go about your life versus being all hung up on your appearance.
The body positive movement celebrates differences in appearance and helps others to find the good in all body types. This takes the sting out of fat shaming, or skinny shaming or anything else shaming. Being tolerant of this type of bullying is not ok, and the body positive movement aides in helping teens become more confident in who they are as a person and what they look like, helping them to overcome any bullying they receive from being different.
As a teen, I can attest that bullying was huge in my life. I was a fat teen, and maybe if I had somewhere to go that said that I was more than just my body, I would have been less apt to put up with crap from my tormentors and more apt to spend time with positive like-minded people who were capable of looking beyond my fat.
Cons of the Body Positive Movement
Now it has become a hashtag on Instagram showing fat people eating cake and anorexic people in their skivvies. This is not what the movement was started for. I find that each demographic of people, ie morbidly obese individuals or bulimics or even anorexics have decided this is the time to show it’s ok to be… Fat.
To celebrate your anorexic body because you're afraid to eat. Everyone struggles. There is nothing to be ashamed of with that, but my concern is that it is showing that morbid obesity or anorexia is something to strive for. Which leads me to the next con.
The body positive movement has morphed into the “body unhealthy movement” as far as I am concerned. Eating cake and saying how much you absolutely love your body at 400 pounds and that you are just as healthy as a fit person is ridiculous. If you can’t walk up a set of stairs or are eating a bunch of unhealthy crap I call BS.
I do have to say, it is important for us to not assume all big people are unhealthy, just as it is to not assume that all normal sized individuals don’t have health issues; however, the wear and tear on your joints from being heavy or having central obesity with fat around your organs is an unhealthy state. Period.
The accusation that the body positive movement causes morbid obesity is a faulty one in my opinion; however, it does give people who have problems with obesity or other weight issues to hide behind a movement meant to further education about acceptance of all body types and to actually see beyond weight and size.
With the above being said, I do believe the body positive movement can contribute peripherally to obesity by giving the obese person a distorted view and lack of awareness about how obese they truly are. In other words, they are more likely to underestimate their weight.
In a research study in Britain, 23,000 people were surveyed about how much they actually weighed and men underestimated their weight almost 60% compared to women who were 30%.
There are some socioeconomic issues as well when it comes to weight. If you think about it, unequal access to health care, a low paying job and underestimation of obesity can contribute to health issues. This ties into the body positivity movement as it is shown of Facebook and Instagram that it is ok to eat cake, be fat and still be “healthy.”
This overestimation of health for a morbidly obese individual as well as a severely underweight individual causes many health concerns that go untreated because they are under the false assumption that they do not need to go to the physician or get yearly checkups.
Per one study I ran across, the average American woman wears a size 16, but models usually wear between a double zero and zero. This lends itself to the uprise of eating disorders as we feel this expectation is the norm and when we cannot get to that expectation, then we become riddled with not only poor self-esteem but depression as well.
The body-positive movement was started to combat these social expectations and to be more accepting of others of all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, the good parts of the body positive movement have been tainted by individuals that feel that not only should we accept others of different sizes and shapes, but that we should also believe that a morbidly obese person is in top physical shape and that crap food can be eaten and you can still be healthy.
I believe that this movement is an amazing one, especially for teens and young adults; however, I do believe it is our responsibility to make sure that others that tout “body positivity” are not doing it irresponsibly.
I see this on Instagram all the time—a 400-pound model that is eating cake saying, “I am not perfect, but I am still healthy-just because I am fat doesn’t mean I am not healthy.” This makes it seem like you can do anything you like, but you still are healthy.
Health is not to be taken lightly. You have to work at being healthy, and being 400 pounds and healthy is an oxymoron to me.