Body positivity is a movement meant to empower women and men of all shapes and sizes to embrace the body they are currently living in. It should come as no surprise that I am a strong supporter of body positive advocates on social media.
I wasn’t however surprised when someone asked me whether I thought the movement could be promoting obesity and poor lifestyle choices.
Defining Body Positive
Someone who embodies a body positive mindset does not choose to do so in order to justify their size, they do it in order to not need to justify their size. The belief that it promotes unhealthy behaviours is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of being “body positive”.
What people think: “I am overweight, but I love myself, so I am going to continue to not exercise and eat junk because being obese is healthy”
In Reality: “I love myself irrespective of my size. I may stay this way, but I may not, but REGARDLESS I am worthy of love, respect and confidence at work, at school, in my own home and in my own skin.”
The assumption that body positivity is an unhealthy movement has an undertone of thin privilege. A girl of a socially accepted size can express love for herself even though her thighs touch, and everyone gives her a standing ovation. Then, a girl of a less socially accepted size says she is body positive and everyone tells her she is a bad role model.
Is the solution really to continue to hate yourself until you lose enough weight for society to be satisfied with your size? Is mental health a serious matter then only for those who fit societal appearance standards?
Redefining Weight Gain
It is an oppressive confine to be overweight in North American society. We live in a world where a woman with stomach rolls is told she needs to eat “clean” in order to have a flat stomach like her coworker …. who, by the way, had cake for lunch.
Body positivity is not about weight loss or weight gain, it is about celebrating your present self. It is about accepting that life throws challenges at you, and sometimes your body adapts as a result of fighting to overcome these obstacles.
Your body is malleable and reactive, it responds to everything, and the harder you to try to hate it and fight it, the harder it is going to fight you back. So by embracing a body positive attitude you are giving your body a voice and a place in the world. Just because you don’t look like the people around you, you are still allowed to be confident, get a job, buy clothing, eat dessert and be loved.
Calling someone too fat or too skinny is inappropriate whichever way you flip the coin. At the end of the day someone else’s body is not for you to comment on and quite frankly you just don’t get an opinion.
Is coping through food the best way to deal with emotions? No. But to move away from that mindset takes years of working on yourself. With that said, many individuals who perhaps aren’t able to “lose weight” need to understand and deal with their emotions first. Now if feelings of social rejection and isolation are factors contributing to this persons emotional instability how is telling them they can not love themselves going to solve any problems? It is paradoxical in that you have to find love and appreciation for your current body before you are able to successfully transition into a different version of it.
Examples from my life:
When I set out to lose weight every week after my weigh ins I wrote positive statements under the number. If the number didn’t move or it went up I would still write “that’s okay, you had lots of fun at the birthday party!” or “your period is coming your body needs to be a little heavier now, at least you are a normal, healthy female!” or “next week will for sure be better!”.
When I set out to pursue powerlifting I was a little worried I wouldn’t progress well or with my enormously growing appetite I was worried that I would balloon 20 lbs over my starting weight. So I started writing my programming into a notebook with pen and paper and left a comment section to write how I was feeling that day. I recorded my weight weekly and made sure to celebrate every time the number went up affirming that I was heavier but also feeling stronger. When the lifts felt heavier than normal I could write “didn’t eat enough prior to training feeling a little weak, will pack extra snack next time” or if things were going well it would be “legs are crazy strong today” “challenging but doable”. I also started recording my difficult lifts to find weak points and try to fix them, and sometimes the lift will move much faster than I perceived showing me that I am indeed capable.
I strongly believe that changing your mind can change the body, but changing your body is not sufficient for changing the mind.
With that said adopting a body positive mindset is a crucial step to embracing a healthy lifestyle, and is in fact at the core of a healthy mind, body, and spirit. So to say body positivity promotes obesity and unhealthy behaviours is a complete contradiction.
It comes down to being your own cheerleader because the reality is no one can be a full time cheerleader for you. It is about believing that your body is something to be celebrated because it is a part of you. You body serves you every day no matter how it looks, how it moves, whether it is sick or healthy, squishy or hard because, so long as you are alive, this body is yours and it will continue serving you to its absolute best ability and therefore deserves your respect.