The Body Positive Debate

The Body Positive Debate

Four women of different body types and skin colors hugging each other

The divide is growing among those who identify as body positive and prefer to use the term body neutral or think thin, white women have co-opted the term. Lizzo’s recent interview with Vogue has catapulted this divided thinking back into the limelight, and I believe it is important to explore.

Is Body Positive Inclusive?

“I’m glad that this conversation is being included in the mainstream narrative…What I don’t like is how the people that this term was created for are not benefiting from it. Girls with back fat, girls with bellies that hang, girls with thighs that aren’t separated, that overlap. Girls with stretch marks. You know, girls who are in the 18-plus club. They need to be benefiting from the mainstream effect of body positivity now.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the history of body positivity, it is a movement that stemmed from the Fat Acceptance Movement, which developed to address the fat bias inherent within our society. Our society continues to circulate fatphobia because it’s so ingrained in our culture, the same way in which racism is still very prevalent. It remains a part of our lives because it funds billion-dollar industries that profit off of body dissatisfaction. That being said, body positivity is supposed to be inclusive, and yes, the primary goal behind the movement is to ensure that marginalized bodies become normalized and seen as equally beautiful. 

Choosing a Term

We all have the choice on which term we use to classify our self-love journey. For me, it was body positivity; for others, it’s body neutral, and for Lizzo, it’s body normative! Whatever you decide or even if you choose not to use a definition, be proud that you are standing up to diet culture and desiring a life where your value is not based on your appearance.

Body Positive is the idea that all bodies are good bodies. All bodies are worthy of love, respect, and all bodies are beautiful. 

Body Neutral is used by those who know their body does not define their worth but without the pressure of loving the way their body looks. It is an in-between place for appreciating your body and knowing that your value has nothing to do with your appearance.

Self Love is the process of putting your needs first to ensure that you are not sacrificing your mental health and overall well-being to please anyone else. It is taking care of yourself in any way that works for YOU!

Body Normative, recently coined by Lizzo, is the drive to simply normalize normal, real, everyday bodies. 

Lizzo wasn’t totally denouncing the body positive movement, though she would prefer to use the term body-normative. She simply expressed that there has observed a shift in who is at the forefront of the body positive movement and believes she owes it to the people who started it to not stop at aiming to view fat as body positive. She wants being fat to be normal, and so it should because it is. 

Do we really need to choose?

The problem here is that we think we have to choose a side or a term to create these changes in society. This divide does nothing actually to fix what this terminology represents, and that is challenging diet culture. I genuinely believe that all bodies are beautiful. We have just been taught otherwise. Regardless of how you personally identify, we need to normalize normal bodies and reteach society to see natural bodies as beautiful. If fat bodies, black bodies, disabled bodies, bodies with scars, and stretch marks are visible, we can challenge society to view them as beautiful. You might personally not love the way your body looks but wouldn’t you love to feel differently? For me, body positivity is not just about your current view on how you view your own body; it’s about making waves so that girls in the future do not have to choose which language to use at all. When we teach body positivity, we teach people to love real bodies, ignore diet culture, and work towards a better future. 

Okay, But Body Positivity is Being Co-opted by Skinny White Girls

It is problematic that most mainstream body positive influencers, brands, or voices are thinner, white women. Some companies are profiting off doing the bare minimum when it comes to using body positivity in their marketing campaigns, while others are taking steps to be more inclusive. Case in point, Victoria’s Secret, a lingerie company that has, as a last resort, tried to use body positivity for marketing their products. In my opinion, they failed miserably because they are not as inclusive as evident in their sizing. Just look at their “Every body campaign,” which only included ideal, thin women or how they waited until 2019 to hire their first plus-size model who was white and straight size 14. If body positivity is mainstream, then it’s on privileged women to ensure there is space for marginalized bodies.

These spokespeople need to lend their platforms and amplify voices to bring attention to the very real consequences of negative body image (fatphobia, eating disorders, inadequate health care, discrimination, bullying, etc.). We can have respectful conversations, we can challenge them to include different perspectives in their content, and we can inspire them to share their platforms with marginalized bodies! To be honest, many of them already are. Look at Sarah Nicole Landry of @thebirdspapaya, who, with over 1.7 million followers, has been using her platform to amplify voices and has been transparent about her own inherent biases and how she is working to change them.

These movements will get nowhere without people using their privilege for good. When thin, white, women at the forefront of body positivity need to call upon their followers to educate themselves, recognize their privilege, and amplify voices. To simply put down, what they are doing is irresponsible and counterproductive, and I often wonder if this is a sneaky way for diet culture to negate the strides we’re making in the fight against negative body image. 

As outlined by Avery Francis, white people can use their privilege to do the following: Consciously hire BIPOC, donating to organizations supporting black people, lend their platform/give up your spot, confront racist friends, advocate and call out bias even when it’s uncomfortable, and listen and learn from BIPOC.

The body positive movement doesn’t need a name change (frankly, you can call it whatever you like). What it needs is a conscious effort from privileged people to include marginalized bodies.

Isn’t Language Important?

Listen, I get that the term body positive has become normalized and even misused by diet culture, but part of normalizing this movement means that it’s making progress. We are so hung up on the language that we are missing the point, which is to normalize normal bodies and heck, maybe even one day think of them all as beautiful. Language is powerful, and in some cases, like gender nonconformity, it’s essential to get it right. But for body positivity, should we be so hung up on it? The call isn’t mine to make because I think it’s a personal preference. 

Can we all agree that we would love to see a world where women don’t hate the way they look, where girls don’t wish they could cut off their belly rolls and don’t starve themselves of food and joy to look thin? We have a responsibility to amplify marginalized voices and bodies here. This means what is most important is having peaceful conversations with each other, standing up to brands who aren’t inclusive, and taking back ownership over language that has brought us this far. If we can agree on that, then let’s agree to respect the definition each of us chooses to use to describe our journey towards body peace. 

What terms do you identify with? What do you think about body positivity?

Click here to learn more about body positivity!

Emily is the founding editor of Happy Daughter, a body positive online community for women. She is a body image expert, who is passionate about promoting positive body image, media awareness, and healthy relationships. Emily is getting ready to release her book, Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body in January 2021.

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