The curious case of fatphobia and why those who created the body positivity movement are slowly being erased from the narrative
The body positivity movement began as a reaction to society's collective disdain of fat bodies.
Body positivity is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, and be accepting of their own bodies as well as the bodies of others.
The movement sets forth the notion that beauty is a construct of society, and poses that this construct should not infringe upon one's ability to feel confidence or self-worth.
The body positivity movement has roots in the fat acceptance movement which began in the 1960's.
It was a social change movement and aimed to change the anti-fat bias and reprogram society's attitude towards fat people.
Sociologist Charlotte Cooper has argued that the history of the fat activist movement is best understood in waves, similar to the feminist movement, with which she believes it is closely tied.
Susie Orbach, a British psychotherapist and author, argued that popularised ideas such as dieting and body hatred are oppressive and that body dysmorphia and eating disorders are rooted in misogyny.
In a similar vein, Cooper believed that fat activists have suffered similar waves of activism followed by burnout, with activists in a following wave often unaware of the history of the movement, resulting in a lack of continuity. However, the body positivity movement could be seen as a resurgence of all these long-forgotten theories
Charlotte goes on to talk about the dominant model in which, 'fatness is contextualised as pitiful and/or many of the following: lacking in moral fibre, diseased, potentially diseased, greedy and lazy, not just ugly but disgusting, pathetic, underclass, worthless, a repulsive joke, a problem that needs to be treated and prevented.'
She goes on to explain that it is this model is maintained by other power structures and stake holders which include drugs companies, food producers and retailers, satellite medical and diet industries, government policymakers, advertising and media, and fashion industries.
This model, more pertinently, is also enforced by friends, relatives and loved ones which has a more profound emotional and physiological effect on fat people. It is this very model that the fat acceptance movement was trying to dismantle because of the self- hatred and helplessness it engenders in fat people and the discrimination and stigma which it promotes.
Whilst the movement was widely criticised for promoting obesity, it in fact sought to humanise fat people and protect them from a society that was fundamentally opposed to their existence.
The Fat Acceptance Movement and all it waves were an important segue into the body positivty movement which dominates popular culture today and has developed an evolved meaning. Body positivity differs from fat acceptance in that it is all encompassing and inclusive of all body types and body shapes, whereas fat acceptance only advocates for individuals considered to be for the overweight; it aims to celebrate all body types.
Body-shaming of all types has been shown to yield detrimental long-term psychological effects such as negative body image, depression, anxiety, as well as eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphia. Many people, especially in these times of social media, base their self-worth on their physical appearance and how good they perceive themselves to look and how they are perceived in a wider context. This is all well and good when they feel they look good but can have detrimental effects when they do not.
However, the very idea of body positivty has become complicated with many confusing why the movement started in the first place and causing those it was started for to, once again, be sidelined.
Despite what we have been led to think, body positivity and self-love are not the same thing. Body positivity and self-love are very different and often, they get lumped together by the majority of people out there and therefore the very crux of the message of body positivity is somewhat perverted.
Body positivity was created to help people with marginalised bodies (fat, queer, trans, bodies of color, and more) feel entitled to self-love, something that had previously been reserved for people in privileged (e.g. thin, white, fit) bodies.
However, as the movement grows and becomes commercialised, its intention has been watered down and adapted other meanings which do not necessarily align with the original message.
The commercialisation of the movement has led to many an eye roll as women, many of privilege, jump on the bandwagon. How often have you seen thin, white women talking about body positivity?
Whilst it is encouraging and people in privileged bodies should be allies and should be aware of the fact that everyone deserves self-love, to conflate their reality with that of those the movement was started for is misguided and dangerous to the efforts and progress the movement has made.
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Body positivity is about finding a community of like-minded people and feeling safe within that community to love your body and who you are but what do you do when you no longer recognise yourself in those who occupy that community? Doesn't that negate its purpose?
Despite all the good work the fat acceptance and body positivity movement has done, there's no denying that many people still have a problem with fatness in general.
Often, we see vile comments under social media comments and many comments masquerading as faux concern.
The very idea of an unapologetic fat woman almost always illicit nasty comments from people who simply believe that the two simply cannot co-exist.
However, telling fat people that they are entitled to self-love is not suddenly going to cause a spike in obesity.
The idea that teaching fat people to hate themselves will make them thin is quite ridiculous.
It's something that we have been doing for decades and it has not led to anything except for increased rates of eating disorders, more health problems, and epidemic levels of body hatred in people of all sizes.
Fat-shaming does not help people lose weight and it's time we embrace something new.
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Yes, the movement is complicated and the road to acceptance and self-love is certainly not linear. Through it all, fat people may still and always feel like outsiders but its important that it does not affect the momentum and through it all, despite the voices of others, we lead by examples. The most important thing you can do? Love yourself.
When it comes to our personal relationships with our bodies, it's incredibly nuanced but we have to learn to find acceptance of self just as we are, not as we could or should be. Try not to preach, judge, or portray a seemingly perfect life online but be a living example of someone who loves themselves and lives in a way that reflects that outwardly. You never know who may be looking up to you to lead the way.
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