Written by Amy Tuckett and Lisa Naylor
Body positivity is everywhere! This is the year that we #ownit – proclaims Special K in their recent slick marketing campaign. On the surface, it seems inclusive. There are women with different bodies, skin colours, abilities and ages.
But own it? No thanks.
Body positivity used to be a radical idea, promoting resistance to fat oppression and discrimination. It was rooted in a human rights perspective: regardless of size everybody deserves respect and every BODY is worthy.
It is still a radical act to feel positive about one’s own body, but the term body positive has become the buzz word of marketers. It has been watered down to give it mass appeal like a diet food that is made to be palatable, but does not nourish. The problem with Special K’s co-option of our body positive movement is that we actually shouldn’t have to own it. Society needs to own it.
We live in a culture that does not create space for all bodies. Size discrimination affects employability and income levels. Weight stigma within the medical profession has an impact on the care provided to those in larger bodies. When people experience weight stigma they are more reluctant to visit their health care provider and this impacts their health and wellbeing. People of size have reduced access to things many of us take for granted and thin privilege is real.
We need to stop asking people to take all the responsibility to just love themselves while not acknowledging the culturally imposed barriers to self-love. Our culture is preoccupied with weight to such a degree that one’s health, morals, character and intelligence are all presumed to be lacking if you live in an abundant body.
In the blog post Falling Out of Fatshion: How I Lost My Appetite for Writing About Fat Politics, Lesley Kinzel writes, “Body positivity applies to everyone, it treats all bodies the same, and it places the insecurities of a slender, conventionally-attractive young woman in her early 20s on the same level as the psychological gauntlet run by a middle-aged woman wearing a size 28 who dares to go to the beach in a bikini.”
While we wish body positivity for everyone, we also need to acknowledge that fat oppression does not HAPPEN to everyone. Women’s Health Clinic promoted body positivity early on. You may remember our #HEARTeveryBODY campaign with our selfie station designed by artist Kal Barteski back in 2014. We were amazed by the outpouring of beautiful statements made by women on their journey to self-love. While we have a fondness in our hearts for that project, two years later we acknowledge that there were some important messages missing.
What we did not do is emphasize that the self-love journey can be difficult. Sometimes it is just too much to ask us to love ourselves in a society that puts so much worth on outward appearances, and maybe being at peace with ourselves in a much more attainable goal.
We also did not raise the challenge for society to change. This time we are doing just that (check out our Body Peace Zone project for No Diet Day). Our new call to action is for everyone else to be at peace with bodies. We call a truce in this war on fat bodies. It is time to be more welcoming and accepting of bodies of diverse sizes, ethnicities, shapes, genders and gender expression. We need to accept bodies that are healthy or not healthy. We need safe spaces for bodies that are limited in mobility or ability. Body shaming needs to stop as we move towards a culture of compassion and equity.
Now that is something we can own.