There Are Issues With The Body Positivity Movement — I Would Like To Address Them

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
There Are Some Issues With Online Body Positivity

I’m fat. I’ve been fat my entire life, so all my experiences involve fatness. A recurring theme in my work is living my life in a body that is much bigger than the commonly accepted American ideal. I have found a way to be at peace, comfortable, and happy in my body despite the million messages I read on a daily basis that say I shouldn’t be. Body positive writers and influencers were a very important part of my journey from weight-loss obsessed to diet culture dropout.

When I am willing to talk about my body in a candid, vulnerable way, it resonates with people. I love when someone chooses to share their experiences with me after reading mine. I’m not a body positive influencer or an expert via formal education. I don’t have a large social media following, and I haven’t studied psychology related to body size. I’m not a historian, and I am not a medical professional. I am not an expert in any intellectual or educational way. I’m not here asking you to listen to my voice specifically.

All I am is a fat woman who dares to be happy.

But that’s enough for me to trust my own voice. Living as a fat woman for my entire life and surrounding myself with other fat people’s voices means I know a thing or two about it. I am confident in my ability to string together words in a way that makes other people feel seen, so I do it. I guess you could say my work relates to body positivity online, but I haven’t chosen to hop on board with any specific hashtag, movement, or cause because honestly? Online body positivity can be exhausting for me as a fat woman sometimes.

Look, I get the need for it, and I participate in the ways I can. We all need to continue to dismantle the whole entire diet culture system. It continues to make women feel so terrible about ourselves that we are willing to literally hurt ourselves (and damage our psyches) to be thinner and more “attractive” by whatever standard comes into fashion. Beauty standards are trash, and I’m over it.

It’s just that we aren’t there yet. Young, thin, attractive, white people still benefit from a lot of privilege. Sometimes seeing them as the face of a movement designed to help people make peace with their bodies can be frustrating.

To be very clear, thin privilege doesn’t mean you never hurt.

It doesn’t mean nobody is ever cruel to you and you always feel confident in your body! It means that you live in a world designed to accommodate the size of your body. As a general rule, your size is considered the “default setting” and is not a barrier to you, even if you don’t personally feel good about it. Of course thin women are prone to personal difficulty accepting their bodies, but they are rarely, if ever, subjected to societal shame or stigma for existing as they are.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being thin or white or conventionally attractive! Thin white bodies are valuable and worthy of validation. Impossibly beautiful women can and do struggle to accept their bodies as they are, and they are subject to the same ridiculous beauty ideals as everyone else. A lot of the smaller influencers in the body positive community have struggled with disordered eating. Recovery conversations are crucial, regardless of the way a body looks during recovery.

We shouldn’t cut any women out of the narrative.

There is room for all of us. Anyone who wants to share their story absolutely should. We are all better when we work hard to understand one another. It makes the world feel smaller in the best way. Cozier. Safer. Being able to say, “Girl, same,” is important. I am not suggesting anyone should be silenced.

It’s just that until these beauty ideals die a fiery death (One day! Fingers crossed!), finding places where people choose to view your body in a positive way will always be more of a struggle for people who exist outside the conventional standards of beauty.

Like fat people.

Before social media, it took some intentional activism to claim to be part of a body positive movement. You had to seek out like minds in person, find places for your voice to be heard, and work hard to champion your cause.

Samantha Hurley/Burst

Now anyone with an IG account can add #bodypositive to any photo. When people go looking for that kind of message, anyone who chooses to use it gets to post their thoughts and be part of the narrative. In a lot of ways, that’s amazing. We all know social media can be a dumpster fire, but it can also be a great opportunity for connection.

But it also means that many times the voices that should be centered are sometimes pushed aside for more privileged voices, and that’s a bummer.

I believe that body positive influencers in thin or average-sized bodies are actually interested in building people up, encouraging people to feel at home in their bodies, and fighting weight stigma that can often lead to disordered eating and unhealthy weight management strategies. I believe they have struggles, and I fully think we are all fighting the same battle in many ways.

Thinner influencers are an important part of this conversation. They have a chance to elevate the voices of people in fat bodies. They can use their privilege to do it.

Some body positive bloggers and influencers in smaller bodies choose to center fat voices of all sizes. They are featuring fat people on their social platform. They link to fat friendly resources and portray fat people as beautiful, strong, athletic, healthy–and not only if they are pursuing thinness. That’s awesome! We need more of this.

We can all be heard if we work together.

When the conversation turns to body acceptance (specifically experiences of body shame), fat women, women of color and especially fat women of color have a lot to say. There are so many people in these categories sharing their stories and thoughts online. They’re experts by way of lived experience, and that has tremendous value. There’s a reason body positivity had to exist in the first place. It’s important to share platforms with people who are living in bodies that aren’t swimming in validation.

Even regular people like me who are not influencers at all can and should listen to other people’s experiences. Then we have to choose to believe them. If a person who is larger than me explains that I can’t understand their experiences because I haven’t lived in a body their size, I shouldn’t argue. I should defer to their experience and listen with the intention of learning. Average sized people can do the same for fat people like me.

Nobody should sit down and shut up when it comes to spreading body love. We all get a seat at this table. I just think that people who don’t live in fat bodies should try to center fat voices, especially voices of color, when they spread their message. It’s important for thin to average-sized people to harness their power to make life better for struggling people by normalizing and validating fat bodies. It’s crucial to validate people’s worth as they are, without the condition that they should be working toward a thin body.

Social media is full of incredible fat-positive voices. They’re amazing resources for people who are journeying to accept the skin they inhabit. Anyone who believes in body positivity should be working to make those voices heard.

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