I’ve noticed something recently about Body Positivity. There’s been a definite shift in the way bopo has been used in the media, by plus size models such as Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham, and by brands – and let me tell you, it aint a good shift. I want to tell you a story about how I believe body positivity is failing fat bodies and why you, dear fat babe, should be mega pissed off about that.
When I first started thinking about blogging in 2014, I was 100% on board with the idea of the Body Positivity movement. As a wide eyed fatty just taking her first steps into the world of fat blogging and fashion, the promise of glorious babes of all shapes loving the skin that they were in regardless of how little they were represented in the media and society was a lure that I couldn’t resist. I’d always been a bit lost when it came to my thoughts on my body and starting a blog was my way of unravelling that through serving fierce looks on a fat body. Body Positivity was like this shining beacon to me – it was a place that I could run to and hear about how my body was just as worthy as that of a model; it reminded me that my fat body was worth loving because just the act of doing so was such a radical thing that it might just change the world. Body Positivity is more than just loving your body, though. It’s fighting for equal treatment when you are at the doctors because they attribute all of your woes to fat bodies. It’s fighting for the right to exist without abuse from strangers on the street. It’s about being visible in positive or neutral lights instead of being some terrible parent’s consequence. Body Positivity is a radical thing.
So, I started writing about how I was beginning to love my banging bod and I related it back to how the Body Positive community had helped me to realise these great things about my fatness, and how I am challenging the thought processes of those who think I shouldn’t exist. I got involved with body politics on my social media channels (a.k.a became a gobby cow who challenged people on their shitty views), I became an ambassador for Body Positivity and soaked myself in the words of other fat women who were joining me on this journey of loving their own bodies too. I learned about how the Body Positive movement started – borne from fat activism, more than often championed primarily by queer WOC that refused to stay quiet and fought to end the stigma attached to just daring to be fat. This rebellion was everything I was looking for, everything I needed to push forward. I felt that finally I had found this all-inclusive, all-positive space that I had yearned for when I was younger, filled with fat bodies and to all intents and purposes, I had found it. But then things started to change.
Let’s face it lads, it can’t be denied that there is space for a movement that encourages people of all types to feel excellent about themselves. We are not a one-size-fits-all society and we’ve become accustomed to one type of body being used as the unattainable goal that we should all strive for – anything that challenges this is incredible. But what are fat people to do when a movement that was created to give a bigger and more prominent platform to fat bodies, becomes a platform for bodies that are just not quite “right”? There seems to have been a shift in the core principles of Body Positivity to mean a space for people who need to be told that they aren’t quite as repulsive as they think they are in order to repair their own egos, and in that shift, the movement has lost its focus on the types of bodies that need support the most. In becoming a “trend”, more people, brands and media outlets want a piece of the Body Positive pie, and more and more, the message has been diluted.
The use of the term by the media to make people feel better about being lumped in with the fat bodies is where this stems from. God forbid a body be called fat or even just plus-size. The use of only one type of body in campaigns by businesses and brands that only catered to the smaller end of the size scale had to be the most glaringly obvious bastardisation of the Body Positive movement. Women like Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence, who’s toned stomachs, white or white passing skin and womanly curves celebrated as the height of the Body Positive movement, were beginning to appear in plus size spaces as well as straight sized ones. These women, who are hailed by straight sized and plus sized women alike as “pushing boundaries”, don’t represent the most marginalised of bodies that the movement first sought to give a platform to. Although they were larger than the fashion industry average, and spoke of overcoming eating disorders (something that is 100% needed in the world) and the notion that indeed, all bodies are good bodies, these women were not typically plus size, not representative of the fat women with soft, round stomachs, differing skin tones and tiger-striped skin that started this movement and made me fall in love with it. In fact, these women actively eschewed the title of plus-size – recoiling away from being lumped in with the fatties, instead going “if you have to label me, call me curvy-sexilicious” – like that is the real issue here.
Dangerously, these bastions of the new-wave BoPo crowd are now peddling diet plans, exercise plans and even becoming involved in adverts for meal replacement plans (Iskra Lawrence, ambassador for NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association), appeared in this video for meal replacement drinks) in order to spur women on to change their bodies in order to be just like their body positive heroes. What?! When has Body Positivity ever been about changing your body to bow to societal pressures whilst also going BUT FUCK THE HATERS, LOOK AT ME EATING THESE CRISPS? Of course, this isn’t the fault of the women I have mentioned – body positivity is now a lucrative business brand, you can make incredible amounts of money just by defiantly saying “look at me, I’m not a size 8 and I’m desired”. You’ve got to make your cheque somehow, right?
The issue here isn’t these women – it’s what body positivity has become.
Almost as suddenly as I had thrown myself into the Body Positive world, I started to see the cracks in the veneer of this once-radical, now-monitised movement.
I’ve found that Body Positivity has diluted to become a phrase rolled out by brands and the media to try and show that they are throwing a bone to the public that are interested in things outside of the norms of beauty standards. It’s almost like a naughty, anarchical badge of honour; inviting women to be part of a gang of girls who say no to photoshopping. This of course isn’t necessarily a bad thing – more and more young people are waking up to the idea that you don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain weight to be loved and accepted which can only be incredible, and I certainly wouldn’t want to take away from the power that this holds – but it cannot be denied that the premise of Body Positivity has been hijacked away from the Fat Acceptance movement and made into it’s more media friendly big sister. In placing certain more palatable body shapes, weights and skin tones in positions of power and influence instead of those that need more representation, we are taking the power away from fat bodies and giving it back to the fatphobic media.
The Body Positive movement is fundamentally failing the fat bodies that it was created for, it has lost its radical roots, and something needs to change.
How do we get better at being inclusive of fat bodies of all shapes, sizes, skin tones and abilities? Some brands are hitting this problem on the head with more inclusive ad campaigns and championing fat women as heroes but more needs to be done to include fat bodies of all kinds in influential spaces.
As for me? I’ve fucked off using Body Positivity as it is now and I very much identify as a Fat Positive blogger. I’ve stepped down as a body positivity ambassador, I’ve recalibrated my thought processes and I am trying my hardest to write more about fat bodies and fat politics, whilst amplifying the voices of those who don’t share the same privileges I have. I’ve been turning to fat Positive blogs like FatFemmeFabulous and OK2BeFat, who are paving the way for fat positivity and acceptance of fat bodies, and started listening to podcasts of Fat Activism such as Bad Fat Broads and the newly-created FAT About It. My Twitter timeline has become a treasure trove of intersectional Fat Activism too, with incredible accounts such as @kiddotrue, @femmina and @yrfatfriend consistently talking about intersectional fat politics and challenging the dilution of Body Positivity. These outlets are vital in opening up discussions around how the Body Positive movement needs to get better.
Ultimately though, these discussions will need to be heard by the media and wider community that is leaving us behind. We need to rewind the clock and make Body Positivity accountable for the bodies it is leaving behind and reposition people in the forefront who accurately represent the real struggle of those who face segregation and degradation on a daily. How can a movement be a movement when it isn’t moving at all?