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.
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.
Toronto’s free paper, NOW Weekly, releases a “Love Your Body” issue every January to promote body positivity, pushing back against the prevalent weight loss goals that tend to flood the mainstream in the new year.
They recently put out a call for participants for their 2018 issue, in which individuals participate in a photoshoot and share their stories about their bodies and thoughts on body positivity more generally. On Wednesday I put in an application.
“Body Positivity” can sound like very a broad category. Much of what I see online (especially through body positive Instagram accounts such as @bodyposipanda, @bodypositiveunicorn, and @bodypositivememes) is a kind of fiercely positive attitude about one’s body no matter what that body might look like.
This reframing about diverse bodies is nice to see. It can also act as a salve for all the uniform bodies we tend to see in other media outlets.
But for me personally, at least sometimes, I find Internet Body Positive Culture a little alienating.
I would consider myself body positive, and was raised in a very female-friendly (all-ladies) household with a supportive, creative and free-spirited mother. My sister and I were strongly encouraged to be ourselves and to seek ourselves, whatever that might look like.
Sometimes I wonder if the current stream of body positivity almost pushes back too much, so as to go against any questioning or frustration one might have with one’s body over the course of a life. Isn’t it okay to admit that sometimes my body frustrates me? Or grosses me out? As if I must ALWAYS feel intensely positive about my body, and if I don’t, I have somehow fallen victim to body shame?
My sister, a feminist visual artist, has always been a big fan of the body’s “grossness.” This is the focus of much of her work: using blood, hair and teeth in her artwork. Instead of following the language of body positivity, she chooses instead to celebrate the body’s gross aspects, like the various liquids and pusses and goops that might come from the body.
Some might argue that this is body positive art. But I’m not so sure. Much of the Internet Body Positive stuff I see is about proclaiming that everything about bodies is beautiful. And honestly, I feel like it can get a little tiresome. What if not everything about the body is beautiful? AND that’s okay? What if there are lots of gross things about the body—AND that’s okay too?
Is it more important to say that everything is beautiful, or that it’s okay when things aren’t?
In a recent post by Instagram Body Positive activist, @mandas_muffintop, she writes, “You can love yourself and change yourself at the same time. . So many people have it engrained in their mind that to be a part of the body positivity community, especially here on IG, they aren’t allowed to change. Some BoPo community members shame those of us who decided to change our bodies for our health, or to just be more comfortable in our own skin. I’m here to tell you that you are allowed to do WHATEVER you want with your body, and still love it. It’s YOUR body, YOUR life- not anyone else’s. So don’t let anyone shame you. Don’t let anyone shame you into changing if you don’t want to. Don’t let anyone shame you into staying the same if you want to change. SHAME IS NOT OKAY ON EITHER SIDE OF THE SPECTRUM.”
In my application to participate in the 2018 NOW Love Your Body Issue, I wrote:
“Like many women, my body fluctuates in both pounds and clothing sizes, and this is something that is a point of continual frustration for me. (I often feel like it has a mind of its own.) Yet even though my body frustrates me, sometimes even disgusts me, I love it. I love it very much, in fact. I suppose throughout this, I have been learning that self-love/body-love is something that evolves and moves and changes—it is not static. Much like how our bodies are not static entities, but are incredibly dynamic.”
I believe there is room for questioning, frustration, and even disgust with our bodies WITHIN Body Positivity. Some might disagree with me. What I feel with the current culture of Internet Body Positive is a pushback against traditional standards of beauty—and I think that does need to happen…and I look forward to a celebration of grossness soon.
I think I am beautiful. But I also think sometimes I am gross. And that that’s okay too.