Like other social justice movements (yes, this is a social justice issue), body positivity is a reaction to a silent cultural norm that nearly everyone participates in. It’s the unspoken, unnamed body negativity.
You are practicing body negativity when you think that your health, your worth as a human, your attractiveness, your ability to do things, your ability to wear things, your ability to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and feel good about yourself (….etc. etc. etc….) are related to how your body looks.
I’m going to write a random thought here that I had in the car the other day. Maybe you’ve had it too?
I want to be thin.
I have thought it, silently and insidiously, for my whole life. Ever since middle school, my body has not been how I want it. It has been literally 15 years of wanting to be thin. In my core, in my brain, with desperation and a sense of futility, I have wanted to be thin.
Why? Because being thin is a sign of success, attractiveness, sex appeal, acceptance, belonging, victory, confidence, health, and worthiness. I don’t even think I’m wrong right in this moment. I’m totally right. Thinness is associated with these things on a social and cultural level whether it’s right, good, and healthy…or not.
Here’s a radical, countercultural idea: thinness does not represent literally any of these things.
You can be thin and sick. You can be thin and poor. You can be thin and fail. You can be thin and insecure. You can be thin and loathe yourself. You can be thin and completely unsexy. You can also be thin and happy, healthy, self-loving, super hot, confident, and worthy of belonging.
You can also be FAT and be happy, healthy, self-loving, super hot, confident, and worthy of belonging.
I used the word “fat” there not as a negative judgment (which IS how most people use it), but as a word that describes somebody in a body that’s larger than “thin” – whatever that means.
The comment “you’ve lost a lot of weight” is synonymous with “you look better than you used to!” What if the person lost a lot of weight because they became so desperate to be thin that they stopped eating? Is that happy or healthy? Should that be encouraged? But we are also disgusted when people are too thin.
Maybe the problem isn’t actually the size of someone’s body. Maybe it’s actually that we have arbitrarily equated size with health in a damaging way for anyone who isn’t “just right” – whatever that means. I’m going to write another post on this framework I’ve learned about called Health at Every Size. It’s based on the idea that we have culturally defined “health” wrong.
We have culturally defined one type of body as ideal, as healthy and happy, and another type of body as a thing to worry about and negatively judge. One problem with this: there are not even just two types of bodies. This video, called “Poodle Science” is incredible at showing in a brief and humorous way how this happened. It’s 2 minutes, watch it.
The other problem is that this attitude perpetuates the problem. The real problem. The social justice issue. Which is that:
Weight stigma helps nobody.
When we think that all fat people are unhealthy (or worse, unworthy, ugly, etc. etc. etc.), we are mis-defining what “health” is. Contrary to popular belief, health cannot be measured by a scale, and it can’t be identified by observing someone’s body and making judgments about it.
I wrote a post on some of my personal definitions of health. Everyone should get the right to decide their level of health for themselves. Everyone is worthy of making that decision on their own and doing what it takes to feel healthy for themselves.
Shame and judgment do not help people lose weight, they help drive people to practices that make them sick. Not fat, SICK. A thin person can be sick. So can anyone in a body larger than “thin” – whatever that means.
Anyone can be sick, and anyone can be healthy.
What helps people be healthy is trusting their unconditional worthiness and humanity along with listening to their inner voice. What helps people be healthy is connecting to others and having positive and healthy relationships with people who accept them for who they are, regardless of their body size. There is research to prove that these matter more than weight. There is research to prove that weight stigma does more damage than anything else when it comes to people’s health.
Your body size. My body size. They are not even close to the most interesting thing about us. And yet we spend so much time thinking about them?
Time to stop.
I need to be positive about my body. I need to challenge body negativity. I need to confront comments and beliefs that perpetuate weight stigma in order to keep myself and everyone else healthy.
A healthy person is a happy person. Let’s stop confusing “healthy” with “thin,” and then we can identify for ourselves what our own health and happiness are really all about.
I’ll leave you with a screenshot of this poem, by (I think) Rupi Kaur, with the caveat that it almost always moves me to tears: