Say what? Yep, you heard me right. You don’t have to love or even like your body. There is so much pressure to “love your body,” that when you are not feeling good about your body, these messages seem way out of reach. It’s unrealistic to go from hating your body to loving it, but our weight obsessed culture pressures us to do so. We need to baby step our way towards loving our bodies.
The Body positive movement helped the fight against diet culture that tells us that our bodies are not enough and that our bodies need to be smaller to be worthy of love, respect, etc. We celebrate this movement and like all movements, evolution is necessary. Body positive movements helped to shape the idea that all bodies are good bodies. But the body positive movement falls short in other areas. Like many good things, body positivity has been co-opted by advertisers and social media influencers. Look at the hashtags #bodypositive or #bopo on Instagram, and you’ll find many images of thin young women and men who clearly put a lot of time and energy into manipulating their body shape and size into what this culture deems attractive. Of course, people of all shapes and sizes can suffer from poor body image, and will likely benefit from the original intentions of the body positive movement. However, the body positive movement was not intended to glorify thin bodies that are struggling with feeling “fat.” This is quite harmful to those in larger bodies as it reinforces negative stereotypes about fatness and fear of weight gain/fatness in general. It contributes to weight stigma and weight bias. Framing body positivity in this light upholds anti fatness and causes harm to folks in larger bodies. It sends the message that body positivity is only allowed for certain bodies (thinner ones). And, it places the blame solely on the individual to improve their body image instead of looking at the forces within our oppressive system.
According to Lindley Ashline, “It’s important to understand that the body positivity movement stems directly from the work of fat activists and fat liberationists. At its core, body positivity seeks to center body liberation efforts on thin and relatively thin white women, which is — to put it mildly — an issue. Just being body positive runs the risk of ignoring the systemic issues that elevate some bodies above others in the first place.”
Furthermore, “It’s even more important to understand that fat oppression stems from hundreds of years of racism, and that fat Black bodies are doubly oppressed. (Sabrina Strings’ book Fearing the Black Body is an excellent resource on this.) Anti-racism work is an inherent part of fat liberation; we can only achieve fat and body liberation by working to end racism as well.”
Like all movements, we are evolving to capture what is considered more inclusive and less harmful.
Here are some helpful baby steps if you struggle with the pressure to “love your body.”
- Body neutrality. If you have spent years berating your body, shift away from body hate to feeling just neutral. Not hate, not love, but the space in between. This space is a pause, a resting place while you move away from the exhaustion of always focusing on your weight “problem.”
- Body Respect shifts from your body’s appearance to its functionality. What does your body do for you every day without you asking it?
- Body Acceptance is part of the process of reckoning with our own unique genetic blueprint. We know that our body shape/frame size/weight is largely genetically determined and when we stop trying to control weight/size of our bodies, we find a lot of peace.
- Body Liberation is defined as “freedom from social and political systems of oppression that designate certain bodies as more worthy, healthy, and desirable than others. It’s rejecting the idea that white, able-bodied, cisgender, thin, or fit bodies are superior, worthier, or inherently healthier than any other bodies.” Body Liberation is freedom from all outside expectations, even our own. Liberation is rejecting any pressure to “love your body” all day every day. Liberation is actively rejecting needing to be included in society’s ideal of beauty. Liberation is radically rejecting the concept of beauty as we know it altogether. Liberation is placing the blame not on us (which is another criticism of body positive; it makes you feel solely responsible to improve your body image), instead, we recognize this is a system of oppression (diet and beauty culture) that we live in and that we can’t fix it all on on our own. In other words, shift the focus outside yourself, to the system that profits off your shame.
- Fat Liberation. For Lindley Ashline, fat liberation is the deliberate work of tearing down the systems that have created a world where fat people are denied full participation in society and life, from apparel to healthcare. Body liberation and fat liberation are a continuation of the work of the fat acceptance movement, which itself sprang from the civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond. Read more on this here: https://bodyliberationphotos.com/what-are-body-liberation-fat-liberation/
Body image is something we learn. Diet culture profits off you not liking your body. The good news is that once we come to terms with our genetics and unique body stories, we don’t have to buy into diet culture BS. Our body image can improve over time. It does take baby steps but we have control over our thoughts and our conditioning.
Dieting always makes body image worse. Intuitive eating is a healing path towards body liberation.
One of the things I have done to heal my relationship with my own body and my relationship with fatness, is to expose myself to folks in larger bodies. I do this by actual real life relationships as well as following folks on social media that represent more diverse and larger bodies. This really helps shift our collective brain washing against fatness, so that we can see the beauty and acceptability in larger sized bodies. We must be diligent about correcting the negative and harmful stereotypes against folks in larger bodies. And, as someone with thin privilege, I can use my voice to be a fat ally as well. Read why I am a fat ally here: https://www.mindful-nutrition.com/why-i-am-a-fat-ally/
Wherever your body is on the spectrum of weight and size diversity, please know that you don’t have to “love your body” all the time. Work towards taking good enough care of it. Work on respecting it. Cherishing it. Feeding it well. Resting well. Body liberation is a journey not a destination.