body image

Body positivity is a community project

Tracy and I enjoy exploring our areas of disagreement. That’s partly because we disagree about very few things. And also because our friendship is long and solid and it never feels, even we disagree strongly, that we are at any risk of hurting that friendship. I also almost always learn something from our disagreements.

One thing we disagree about is body positivity. See Here’s an Idea: Body-Neutrality and Still a fan of body neutrality and Sam responds: Why body neutrality isn’t enough (for me) and Loving the body you’ve got: Love a better motivator than hate for our respective positions.

I used to just accept this as something we felt differently about. In general, I haven’t shared Tracy’s body image problems or her disordered eating history. I’ve speculated that’s due in part to my connection to queer community (see Body Positivity and Queer Community) and to a lifetime of being outside body normative standards for women (The unexpected advantages of growing up chubby). Though I suppose that can’t be the whole story since I’ve got plenty of friends who share this back story but who can’t quite shake feelings of self loathing when it comes up their shape and size.

Lately though I’ve been thinking that Tracy and I disagree because we understand the term body positivity to mean different things. On my understanding of body positivity, I bet she’s in agreement. Or at least partway.

For me, it’s mostly about making spaces, not telling women what they must think and feel. So when Tracy says she experiences body positivity, sometimes, as a way she fails as a feminist, I think she’s understanding body positivity too individually.

This quote gets at the difference, I think. “True freedom from body oppression wouldn’t just be freedom from our own past shame, but a society that didn’t shame us for our bodies in the first place.”-Alysse Dalessandro, Body Positive Writer and Designer

It’s quoted in a piece by Melissa Gibson who says that people often think that body positivity is about loving your own body and thinking all bodies are beautiful but really the roots of the idea are far more radical. It’s about making room for all bodies outside the mainstream. That includes considerations of size but also age, ability, and race.

As Gibson says it’s not just about young, white, smaller fat women on Instagram feeling positive about their belly rolls.

Instead, look around. See the positive in all kinds of bodies. Think about what features of our communities, both in person and online, include and exclude.

Here’s tips for making your home a body positive space. How do we extend those to our schools and our workplaces, to gyms and to social spaces? How do we send the message that all bodies and welcome and valuable in all the spaces in which we move?

So on this understanding there’s room for body neutrality in body positive spaces but that doesn’t mean all attitudes are okay. I worry, for example, about thin women who say of themselves that they’re too fat.

Here’s the problem. When you hate your body because it’s too fat and you’re lots smaller than me it’s hard to believe that you aren’t judging me too. Either you think you’re special and different rules apply to you or the rules apply equally and I’m also too fat. Maybe you can think it, but please don’t say it.

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash Image description: Palm trees as seen from beneath, against a bright blue sky, with white puffy clouds

One thought on “Body positivity is a community project

  1. You’re right. I do agree with most of what you say. Body positivity is best considered a movement rather than a command. That said, “love your body” does come across as an imperative sometimes.

    As to the general point about people who have certain sorts of privilege expressing things that make them seem oblivious (like a thin woman complaining about her belly), for sure. People need to be aware of how they are coming across. But I disagree that it entails a judgement about someone else. I’ve witnessed it many tines that people will say and think things about themselves that they absolutely don’t say or think of others. That said, the still more general point (and on this we agree) is the assumption that “I’m fat” is a negative comment at all. And that’s where the very “complaint” (whoever should say it) supports fat stigma. Seen in that light body positivity as a movement is a more powerful way to go (but body neutrality will do at an individual level).

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