You may wonder, “Who is body positivity for? Whose voices do we need to hear?” You won’t find the answer without looking at yourself first.
According to some, body positivity should only be for those who fall below a certain weight, the argument being that fat is “unhealthy” and accepting one’s body at a high weight is therefore bad for one’s health. This understanding of body positivity is not only “healthist,” it’s also fat-phobic and just plain wrong. In actuality, body positivity promotes health and wellbeing in people of all sizes by cultivating self-compassion, which, research suggests, is far more encouraging than self-criticism.
Another interpretation posits that body positivity is only intended for and needed by those who live in marginalized bodies. Those who make this claim argue that body positivity, with roots in the civil rights and fat acceptance movements, should be about breaking down the systemic oppression that marginalized people experience. They say that when those with abundant privilege “take up space” in body positive realms, we automatically focus on their needs and experiences over the needs and experiences of marginalized folx, whose very lives depend on visibility, acceptance, and support.
Opening my eyes
I believe we all benefit from body positivity that is accessible to everyone and also centers on the voices and needs of marginalized people. After a couple years spent healing my relationship with my own body, space began to open up in my life. As my obsessions with food and exercise dissipated, not only did I start to explore new hobbies, but I also began to pay more attention to the experiences of others. I developed both an awareness of my privileges as well as a more nuanced understanding of the challenges that people who have less privilege than I do face all the time.
Help yourself to help others
I realized that building a positive and healthy relationship with your body becomes even more difficult when the world around you is constantly communicating that you aren’t worthy. As a white, able-bodied, cisgender woman, I have a responsibility to use my privilege to educate and advocate for more marginalized members of my community. But I wouldn’t have come to this conclusion if I hadn’t been able to heal myself first.
We all deserve to be freed from the burden of body dissatisfaction and the pressure to conform to society’s beauty standards. Those standards harm and hold captive those who meet them and those who don’t, and the more we see diverse people from all communities who embrace their bodies unapologetically, the closer we all get to having the accepting society we deserve.