When I first started writing about self acceptance and confidence, I thought that the terms ‘body positivity’ and ‘body image’ were interchangeable. I thought that it was like the scone/scone pronunciation debate – two ways of essentially saying the same thing. Over time, I realised that that couldn’t be further from the truth.
‘Body positivity’ as we know it was a movement that began in the 1960s with the goal of stopping fat shaming. In the 1967 essay ‘More People Should Be Fat’, Lew Louderback called for us to celebrate marginalised ‘fat’ bodies that had traditionally been deemed less attractive by the mainstream narrative of beauty. People were tired of being mislabelled as unattractive, of being told to feel a disgust over the natural size of their body because it was bigger. The phrase ‘body positivity’ was used to try break this negative, restrictive ideal of what ‘beauty’ was and celebrate beauty in all of it’s forms with a particular focus on ‘fat’ bodies.
Since then, ‘body positivity’ has been used to boost many insta-influencers profiles and front endless beauty campaigns, some successful, some unsuccessful, some staying true to the origin of the message, some using it whilst reinforcing the stereotypical standard of beauty. In 2019, that is how the true meaning of ‘body positivity’ became watered down enough for me to use it as if it were mine to do so.
I am not fat or overweight. If we are going to use BMI as a scale, I sit right in the middle of healthy for my height. The biggest piece of clothing I own is a size 10, the smallest a size 6. I am not a lithe supermodel – you cannot see my bones and toned is never an adjective I would use to describe my body – but I am small, petite and able to walk into any shop and know that my size will be stocked. The closest I have ever come to being fat shamed is in arguments where girls call each other ‘fat’ because they know it will sting.
I have never once been discriminated against in a job interview or had a person tell me I should be ‘grateful’ for their unwanted attention because of my size. I have never had strangers make pig noises at me or tell me to cover up because I shouldn’t be wearing that if I weigh that much. I have never once been sent abuse from random strangers on the internet, telling me that I am disgusting and that my photos make them feel sick. Those experiences are not mine – but they are common experiences from many of the people I follow who use the body positive hashtag to reach out and celebrate those like them.
Following that hashtag and meeting the wonderful online community of body positive warriors has really opened my eyes to the level of prejudice ‘fat’ people face. In the UK, the average dress size is a size 16 yet people of that size and bigger are made to feel marginalised, different, Other. We rarely see anyone above a size 12 in the mainstream media. A size 10 model counts as plus size – a full three dress sizes smaller than the UK average. When you don’t see yourself represented anywhere, being able to look online and find a network of people you recognise as similar to yourself means the world. It helps you find your place, your tribe, your worth.
That’s why I believe that the ‘body positive’ hashtag should be used by those it was meant for.
I follow many plus size people and people who use the body positive hashtag. The people I follow talk of difficult experiences, screenshot abusive messages and open up about a world of pain that I have never had to experience simply because my genetic make up means I am smaller than they are. The people I follow share every beautiful selfie, banging outfit and self confidence quote going to lift themselves and others up in world that is telling them to stay down because they are ‘fat’. They use the body positive hashtag to find each other, to support each other, to celebrate each other, every curve and all.
When I see debates about fatphobia, my only input is ‘I am so sorry you have had to go through that’ because truly I am. I am sorry that people make other people feel that way, that people think they have the right to spread nastiness. I am sorry that ‘fat’ people have had to create a movement to connect with each other because otherwise they are made to feel alone, but I am so glad that ‘body positivity’ is there and that those marginalised bodies are claiming it and rewriting the narrative about size and beauty.
That’s why I came to the conclusion that I will no longer say ‘body positivity’ when I write about my relationship with the way I look. That term is not mine to use. ‘Body Image’ and ‘Body Confidence’ are mine. I write about self confidence, about stretch marks, cellulite, spots and my birthmark because we all have insecurity and things that we are told to hate about ourself. Everyone has a body image and everyone has a right to feel confident in them self. I have as much right to talk about the things that I have been told to feel ashamed of as someone who is bigger than me and who is smaller than me. To write about life with a facial birthmark, I would expect only people like myself with facial birthmarks to do so – so how could I justify using a phrase meant for ‘fat’ people to take ownership of their portrayal when I am smaller than average?
I draw the line at using the term ‘body positivity’ now. ‘Body Positivity’ and the idea behind it is has my full support. I support the idea that you don’t have to be thin to be beautiful, that beauty is packaged in all different shapes, sizes and forms, but for me ‘body positivity’ is a term that I must respectfully leave in the hands of those who it belongs to. It is not the property of the yoga Youtuber with abs of steel telling you that a juice cleanse will make you feel body positive or the Instagram influencer who says that using this discount code to get 10% off your next purchase at an online retailer will boost your body positivity – it’s the woman the school kids laughed at on the bus because she wears a size 24, the person whose accident left them gaining weight due to reduced mobility who is now struggling with the fact that they might never look like they used to again. It’s the girl in the nightclub that the boys say ‘take one for the team’ about, the schoolboy at the bus stop fighting back tears as the bullies puff their cheeks out and mock him. It’s the person at the gym starving them self and working out every day but unable to loose anymore weight because their natural body weight sits where it is now, the person with a health problem that needs addressing but are simply told to ‘loose weight’ as if it is the magic cure for everything. It’s the people around you, the people who aren’t the unattainable magazine standard, the people who are actually the average but who are told otherwise. They are the ones who need to see the woman in a size 22 bikini strutting down the beach with confidence, the man in the tuxedo looking handsome and feeling good, the plus size girl wearing a dress for her first night out with her head held high.
‘Body Positivity’ isn’t a hashtag for everyone, but it’s effects are for everyone. Use it wisely.
What are your thoughts on this debate? Should ‘Body Positivity’ be used by everyone?