“It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful. I’m not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.” – Warsan Shire
There are a lot of ways that the world tells you to feel good about yourself. Media is (slowly) becoming more diverse and accepting, or so it appears. But it is one thing to see these changes happening and knowing you are supposed to feel better, and actually feeling better about yourself. So, what does it mean to be truly body positive? How does one start on that journey of positivity in a space that can often appear female-centric, white-washed, ableist and over-sexualized. Well, I have a few ideas to get you started:
1. Learn what body positivity is!
Body positivity is unlearning the idea that only certain bodies are worth acceptance and praise, instead of recognizing that all bodies are equally valuable. It means deciding what feels healthy and good for you, and allowing others to make those decisions for themselves as well. It is understanding that you deserve to live in your body without being subject to prejudice from others, which can come in many forms (rude comments, inadequate health care, less economic opportunities, etc). As well as understanding that others deserve to live in that same world, even when their body is different than yours. Body positivity is working towards a world where no one’s body makes them to target of such bias.
2. Learn what body positivity is not!
Body positivity is not something that suddenly will bring you endless confidence or immediately rid you of any internal bias you hold towards yourself or others. It is not a light switch that goes off in your brain and makes you a better or more confident person.
It is also not something that makes you vain. It’s not “only my body” positivity, it is not “only bodies like mine” positivity, and it is not “only bodies that I am comfortable with due to my social conditioning” positivity. Real body positivity includes everyone.
3. Talk Positive
Because body positivity is a process, it should start with yourself, your actions, and how you speak. Talk about yourself in positive ways, not just in conversation with others or when other people are around. Talk positive when you are by yourself getting dressed in the morning, in the change room trying on that pair of jeans, by the pool deciding whether or not you have to courage to unwrap the towel from around yourself, and when you are at a restaurant deciding what to order.
Of course this includes saying positive things about bodies other than your own, but it also includes talking about MORE than bodies. It means taking note of the person first, and the body second. Complimenting someone’s character, their spirit, their compassion, their ability to communicate well with others instead of solely focusing on things like their athleticism, their ability to ‘pull off’ a fashion trend, or how different they look since you last saw them.
4. Learn the Language
When beginning to engage the world in a body positive way, there are few important pointers when it comes to language. More specifically some phrases you should banish completely from your vocabulary please. Common examples include:
“I feel fat” – Fat is not a feeling. When people say they feel fat they mean that they feel lazy, gross, uncomfortable or overindulgent. They are equating a natural physical attribute to an emotion, and implying that fat is bad, unnatural, should be avoided, and should coincide with guilt.
“You look great! Did you lose weight?” – When someone says this they are playing emotional roulette with another person. They have no idea what may have led to that weight loss, if it was positive, purposeful, or traumatic. It also implies that the first way for someone to improve their appearance is to lose weight. Your best bet? Drop the second half of the sentence, it’s really not necessary.
5. Don’t Concern Yourself
Contrary to popular believe, health and thinness are not synonymous. Many people disguise their fatphobic attitudes under a veil of ‘concern’ for people’s health. Of course this veil is completely see through. You have no way of knowing someone’s health based on their weight. You do not have access to their medical records, their blood pressure, information on their workout schedule or their food intake. And when assumptions about these factors are made based on someone’s weight, it is a form of weight bias. At the end of the day, even is someone is unhealthy, they do not owe you their health so don’t worry about concerning yourself with it.
6. Know the Danger
The culture that makes body positivity necessary (ie. diet culture) is dangerous for a number of reasons. It glamorizes malnutrition, romanticizes restrictive eating behaviours, and celebrates one’s ability to over-exercise. Dropping out of a culture that you were born into and often don’t even notice is hard. Diet culture is messy. It is constantly telling people that they are not good enough, that there is a simple fix to all of their problems, and that a conventionally desirable body is all that you need to life a live that you love free from any burden you face. It’s the culture that puts the plus size clothes in the corner of the store, not just in amongst other sizes. It is the culture where there is the idea that inside every fat body is a thinner, happy version of that person waiting to be set free. This is the culture where scientific studies about obesity and health are funded by the weight loss industry. These things have become so normalized that it’s easier to stay in the culture and remain blissfully unaware than it is to dropout of that diet culture.
7. Stop Forcing Yourself to Change
Re-evaluate why you are keeping clothes that are too small for you, in the hopes that one day you will have your ‘real body’ and be able to wear them comfortably again. Stop shopping that stores that don’t carry your size hoping that you will find one or two things that will fit somewhat comfortably. Stop putting things off until your body is different, until you are thinner or look ‘better’ in that outfit or doing that activity. These things can seem harmless in many ways. But take a step back and think about why you keep those clothes, shop at those places, and think life will someone become miraculously better when you are thinner. Part of body positivity is questioning these behaviours that can seem so normal.
These are, of course, baby steps. They take time and are based on my experience of body positivity. You may experience these things differently, believe different ideas should be prioritized, or just plain think these things are dumb. No matter where you are at right now, go forward and begin your journey to body positivity.