The word "body positive" is everywhere. How on earth could it be dead if it's been used 15,946,702 on Instagram and every Tiktok influencer seems to be talking about it? We see body positivity in advertising now, on billboards, and in movies now, right? It's thriving!...isn't it?
I don't use the phrase "body positivity" anymore because it's changed so much, I don't know what it means anymore. I know what it used to mean.
The body positive movement began for marginalized bodies, specifically fat bodies. Fat folks were at the forefront of the movement, and they wanted to be treated as equals in our society. (Sidenote: I'm using the word "they" when discussing fat bodies because while I consider myself a small fat, I don't face nearly as much discrimination as people in lager bodies than me. I have a lot of privilege, and I think the focus on body positivity in this discussion should be on larger bodies.) The push for body positivity came from fat folks demanding humanity, respect and equal access to healthcare, employment and more. Fatphobia is rampant in our society on an individual, ideological, and institutional level. This is what makes it oppression. Fat folks are over it and have been for decades. In the 1960s, the first big push for fat acceptance occurred. In 1967, 500 people came together in Central Park to protest fat bias. The National Association to Aid Fat Americans started in 1969, and then in the 80s and 90s, fat studies became a legitimate field of study. Now we have Health at Every Size and intuitive eating pushing against diet culture, but at the heart of everything is the call for equality for fat bodies.
Is this what you're seeing when you come across a body positive hashtag? Are you seeing a call to dismantle fatphobia? Are you watching a counterculture movement break down the tyranny of fat bias? Maybe. Probably not. I'm seeing people in thin bodies pointing out stretchmarks or little rolls they get when they sit down. I'm seeing insecurities and people encouraging self love. That's really nice, and I love me some self-love, but that's not body positivity.
People in thin/standard bodies have co-opted a movement meant for fat bodies. What was a movement to ensure fat people are treated fairly in our society is now a reminder to love yourself. What was about changing our world is now about changing how you feel about yourself. My problem with this is that a word already exists for changing how you feel about your body: self-love. Changing your body image to a more neutral or positive viewpoint is amazing! It won't ensure that a fat person gets adequate healthcare, though. Feeling better about your cellulite or stretchmarks is wonderful, but it doesn't increase the wage for fat people. Self love is about the individual (that's the work I do as a boudoir photographer.) Body positivity is for the community. At least, it was.
The body positive movement isn't dead, but it has changed. Body Liberation and Fat Acceptance are the new movement terms I see in fat spaces. I don't know if the fat community will ever get the phrase "body positive" back. It's important that we all know fat people face discrimination every day, and that we check our own fatphobia so we don't add to that discrimination.
Love yourself. Appreciate your body. Celebrate your body! But unless your body is also ideologically and institutionally discriminated against due to its size, don't pull focus from the bodies who need equality. Be an ally to those people. Help those people. Appreciate those people if you aren't one of them.