4 Things People Get Wrong About Body Positivity
I’m not a dietitian, personal trainer, or any kind of health and fitness expert. I’m not a psychologist, although I do have a bachelor's degree in psychology, so that must mean something, right? But I do know a lot about body positivity simply because I’ve walked through the darkness of self-hatred and have come out the other side with a new perspective on body image, self-love, and what it means to have “body positivity.”
There is a lot of talk about the body positivity movement out there from this article in Glamour magazine, which calls B.S. on body positivity because it is just one more thing to fail at and feel guilty about; to this one that talks about big brands using body positivity to sell things; to this one that claims body positivity promotes obesity; to this opinion piece in the New York Times called “The Problem with Body Positivity.” But from my experience with body positivity, most of those things simply aren’t true.
So here, in no particular order, are four things people get wrong about body positivity.
It is All or Nothing
There are many body positivity advocates out there who make it seem like body positivity has to be all or nothing. You either love your body or you hate it—there can be no in-between—and if you don’t love everything about it, you are failing.
That is an incredibly toxic and limited way to view something that has the potential to be beautiful and life-changing. Being able to look at my body in a more positive light has literally changed my life. I’m happier, more confident, am a better mom and wife, and I take risks and do things I wouldn’t have done in the past. However, I haven’t achieved these things because I love myself every second of every day.
I believe in the power of body positivity and loving yourself, and I could go on for days about how it’s changed my life, but those feelings are not with me 24/7. I don’t always love my body; some days I have to really fight against the negative voices in my head. Some days it takes a lot of effort to not stand in front of the mirror and just cry, but that definitely doesn’t make me a failure.
I firmly believe there is a wide range of emotions and feelings along the body positivity spectrum; there is room for doubt and uncertainty about your body because there is no such thing a perfection.
You Have to “Let Yourself Go”
One of the biggest criticisms of the body positivity movement I have seen is that promotes obesity and unhealthy behaviors. To those people I say: you don’t understand. You’ve probably been effortlessly skinny your entire life, you might be unaware of new research about the link between being overweight and health, or you are straight up fatphobic.
If you have spent any time at all in a body considered overweight or obese or even one with just a little extra fat, you know there are companies making billions of dollars off our insecurities and ingrained need to change our bodies. Those companies want to keep you in a space where you feel the need to change because that’s how they make money. But loving your body doesn’t have to mean you are giving up on it.
In fact, for me, loving my body actually makes me want to take better care of it. Loving my body means I pay more attention to how it feels and the cues it sends me. I don’t feel good when I only eat junk food, don’t get enough sleep, or sit on the couch all day. In some places online, it does seem like body positivity means letting yourself be exactly how you are right now. Like, if you are going to love your body, then you have to love it how it is right this second and never want to make any changes. You can’t track your food or cut out foods that don’t make you feel good because then you are on a diet, and that isn’t accepting your body how it is. I’m rolling my eyes as I type this because to me that is absurd. Body positivity should be about loving your body enough to take good care of it, and for me, that means I don’t eat as much ice cream as I would like or drink wine every night.
It is Your Fault
In one of the articles I referenced above, the biggest beef the author had with body positivity is it turns the blame for self-hatred back on the person feeling it instead of examining the sources that feed those negative feelings. I can actually get behind that.
If you hate your body, I would be willing to bet it’s because it doesn’t fit the “acceptable” standards that have been imposed on all of us. That, or someone along the way told you you weren’t pretty enough or skinny enough or athletic enough, and you believed them. I know because I did too. I hated my body because it doesn’t look like any of the bodies you see in magazines, on TV, or on Instagram accounts promoting body positivity.
Turning inward and looking at those beliefs and examining where your own thoughts and feelings are coming from is a crucial part of body positivity. But I think another, perhaps even bigger part, is turning our focus outward and taking a hard look at the way media—both traditional and social—are perpetuating a cycle of self-hatred and setting up another generation to go through the same body image issues we are going through now.
We have to challenge the status quo. We have to redefine what is beautiful and demand more diversity when it comes to advertising and casting in TV shows and movies. We have to show we don’t have to look like a supermodel to live a successful, happy, and thriving life.
It is Easy
Body positivity is as simple as making the choice to love yourself despite your shortcomings—to embrace your whole self and not let others dictate how you feel about your body. It’s that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Posting a picture of your fat rolls on Instagram with a few body positivity hashtags isn’t going to suddenly make you love your fat rolls. It’s not a switch you can just turn on and all of a sudden feel positive about your body. It doesn’t mean you wake up one day and decide you are going to love yourself and everything is magical for the rest of your life. I can attest to the fact that this is not true.
I know how hard it can be to let go of and work through a lifetime of insecurities and voices telling you you aren’t good enough. Body positivity, self-love, body acceptance, and building confidence all take work. It’s a lot of hard work battling the beliefs you’ve held about yourself for years and years.
Body positivity doesn’t have to mean you love everything about yourself, but rather that you know your body is good and deserves to be taken care of. It doesn’t have to mean posting pictures of yourself on social media in a proclamation of self-love. It can simply mean looking in the mirror and not hating what you see. It can simply mean you fuel your body with food that makes you feel good and move it in a way you enjoy, not as a punishment because you are too fat, but because loving yourself means taking care of your body. It can simply mean working toward a place where we can all love, respect, and appreciate our bodies (and have the same respect shown toward us from others) and living life while we get there.