body image · fitness

Visiting the body-positivity zone: I should go there more often

This weekend I was at a conference for the Society for Analytical Feminism, held in Lowell, MA, a 30-minute drive from my house.  Samantha and Tracy, our Fit is a Feminist Issue Founders, were there, along with a bunch of guest bloggers (who are also fellow feminist philosophers).

The conference (which is still going on this morning) was tremendous.  There were talks on topics ranging from the nature of suffering to police brutality against trans women of color to what linguistic slurs against women are really doing.

But what I want to share here is not what I learned from these fantastic and insightful talks and discussions.  Which is a lot.  But I learned something else, too.

I learned that it’s great to be in an atmosphere where I feel like no one is judging me for the body I have.  Of course I felt that way in part because I’m pretty sure no one WAS judging me.

I had entered a Body Positivity Zone.

The Body Positivity Zone is a marvelous place.  There you see all sorts of bodies, clad in all sorts of clothing (some of them with really killer shoes), moving through space as if nothing is wrong with them.  How are they doing that?

Because nothing IS wrong with them.  Their bodies– which are bigger and smaller, shorter and taller, younger and older, of a variety of hues and hairstyles–are doing their various jobs, and looking pretty cool.  And apparently, mine is among those.


I had an inkling that I might be headed for a Body Positive Zone on Friday morning, when I was getting dressed to go to the conference (via the airport to pick up Tracy).  As I was commencing my usual minor fussing and fretting over what to wear for the conference, the thought occurred to me:  wait a minute.  I’m seeing Tracy and Samantha.  They will be glad to see me and won’t care/notice what my actual weight or body fat distribution happens to be that day.  I can just pick clothing I like, and not worry about covering or compensating for spots that I feel vulnerable about.  Whoa.

So I wore comfortable clothing (basically the same sort of outfit I usually wear).  But I didn’t add my usual accessories of insecurity and body shame.  I left them at home.  And it felt pretty damn good.

Unfortunately, not everyone at the conference knew that it was a Body Positivity Zone.  I had a few conversations with other feminist philosophers about my work (I work on body weight, obesity– a term I don’t like– and health behavior change).  Once I mentioned the o-word, a few people confessed their negative feelings about their bodies and frustration with what they saw as a disconnect between eating in ways they considered healthy and what their bodies looked like.

Oh yeah, I get this.

But what I wanted to say to them was:  Hey– you don’t have to worry about anything body-related!  Not here.  Not today.  You’re in a Body Positivity Zone.

Someone should have put up signs.  Here’s one:


A final thought: it’s worth expanding the Body Positivity Zone to include where we all live.  How do we do this?  I’ll be thinking and writing about this more.  and I welcome your comments.  Where do you encounter body positivity in your lives?  Do you carry it with you?  Do you need to congregate with others to find it?  I’d like to know what you think.


12 thoughts on “Visiting the body-positivity zone: I should go there more often

    1. Congratulations on your ride! I’ve been there (and will be again). You’re right– the mental conflict is often worse than the physical one. It must’ve been sweet to cross that line and finish. Go you!

  1. I go to historical society events in which participants of all shapes wear clothes fitted to their bodies. It’s made me realize the huge emotional impact of the relatively narrow range of shapes available in mass-produced clothing. Just consider the banal female (in particular) experience of the miserable time in the fitting room. Anything we can do to liberate ourselves from feeling failed in there can probably help us more easily inhabit space in a positive way. (Sewing as an empowering act? What a thought.)

  2. Thanks for this inspiring article on my favorite topic. I enter the body positivity zone every time I walk through the doors of the gym that employs me. Seriously. My mission in life is to encourage and convince women 45-and-better that exercise should be joyful movement that improves strength, stability, flexibility, endurance and confidence. We don’t talk about ‘weight loss’ we talk about honoring our bodies by eating well and moving often. We don’t wait for the scale to tell us that it’s ok to wear cute clothes or to feel great. THAT’S self love and body positivity!

  3. Thanks for this amazing post. I didn’t think of this until you mentioned it at dinner on Friday night (it was SO great to have dinner with you on Friday night) but I agree. We had indeed entered a body positivity zone. I was further helped by the complete absence of a full length mirror in my hotel room. Full length mirrors can really mess with my body positive attitude. Feminist spaces are AMAZING and it was a real treat to spend the whole weekend in one. I agree that it would be great to spend more time in the body positivity zone. For me, I need to realize that I can enter it whenever I like. It’s easier in a feminist space, but it’s possible no matter where I am because it resides with me, not out there in the world.

  4. Is it body positivity or body neutrality? Academia leans toward the latter and it makes more sense to me. It’s just a body. You want it to be healthy for practical reasons, but otherwise, it’s not a big deal.

    1. Hi– I see your point about neutrality, but in fact I mean positivity. And I’m so glad you asked, because it’s helping me clarify and deepen a position I want to spend more time thinking and writing about. For now, here’s a short(ish) answer about why I pick positivity over neutrality. When we talk about neutrality of treatment in many contexts (academia is certainly one of them), many people think that it translates as “everyone is equal here, and everyone is treated the same way”. But it doesn’t actually do that in practice. In fact, the “neutral” treatment ends up being shaped by attitudes and norms which have traditionally favored the preferred participants (e.g. cis men, white, thin, young, non-disabled, etc.) Shifting to a “positivity” frame explicitly values diversity of background, stating that all the different ways in which people participate in this context are good, accepted, valued, etc. It also combines theory with advocacy, applying a framework to serve justice.

      These are some thoughts for now. Thank you for asking– you’ve now given me another paper to write! 🙂

      1. I see what you’re saying, but the diversity approach has its problems, too. I stopped going to diversity events at my professional society meeting when I realized they made me feel like a specimen rather than a scientist. Also, I think there’s a difference between neutrality as equality, which is what you describe, and neutrality as in having something not even be an issue. Would you say the conference you went to was Hair Color Positive?

        Speaking of papers that need to be written, someone should do one on the use of ecological metaphors and analogies in diversity rhetoric. They’re pretty common, although the role of biodiversity in ecosystem functioning is far from a settled question in ecology.

      2. Just to clarify, Jane S. and jaiagreen are the same person. Still figuring out the WordPress account thing.

  5. Part of body positivity…is like skin tone positivity or racial positivity: not thinking much about it in the best of inclusive groups and if thinking about it, it’s about being aware of messages with result in exclusion OR opportunities to expand other people’s awareness by …being the best or flagging in whatever is best in terms of words, a for social situation, about the disparity.

    Last wk., a friend showed me 2 ads for car pooling they were going to select. My immediate reaction was: This does not reflect our city’s true diversity. All people in photos were ..white! So is it true that all our best/closest / good friends are white? Never mind all sorts of sizes and shapes.

    I was actually quite annoyed..because she herself is Asian-Canadian..and our employer is govn’t!!

    I seldom think about body shape/size positivity. Racial is more important to me. But still quite relevant in the world of exercise, health and marketing. Only within the last few years, I’ve noticed way more non-white models used for Athletica national sports clothing line in the U.S. for women.

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