The Body Positive Movement's Role as a Response to Diet and Thin Culture
When I was younger, I appeared to be healthy. I was thin and I passed all the medical tests indicating wellness. However, I had a secret. I exercised in a frantic attempt to fit in a body shape that I could never quite get into.
Cut to six years into my mental health recovery journey. I had gotten into a bigger body but finding bodies like mine in the media, the magazines, and Instagram was rare.
The body positivity movement has shaped my approach to my health in a more forgiving way. Rather than forcing my body back into a thin template, body positivity led me to a path of self-acceptance and self-love. This movement is a necessary response to the toxic, thin-obsessed culture we live in.
What Is the Body Positivity Movement?
Contrary to the popular belief that body positivity is about fat acceptance, the movement extends beyond fatness. Instead, it is also about welcoming all bodies. A common mantra among leaders of this revolution is, “All bodies are good bodies.” This attitude opens up the definition of “good bodies” to include disabled bodies, colored bodies, transgendered bodies, and more.
I find this movement to be a perfect response to the self-hatred that punctuates the lives of many people, myself included. It is a rebuttal to claim that thin, able-bodied, white figures have the perfect healthy image, as presented in magazines and in the media as a whole.
History of Body Positivity
Connie Sobczak and Deb Burgard met within a year of using this term publicly in 1996. Sobczak had experienced an eating disorder in her teens. As an adult, she leads a life as a mentoring figure within a community she created with Elizabeth Scott called “The Body Positive.” The mission of this group is to foster a celebratory approach to one’s body, regardless of what traditional media may claim about said body.
Meanwhile, Burgard, a psychologist, moved on to create a model which is known as the Health at Every Size. This new standard as a response to diet culture is more inclusive of all body types and sizes.
As a term, “body positive” is derived from fat acceptance, which was a response to one of the second wave of feminism. Particularly in the eighties, models continued to weigh less than the average woman. This is much more drastic compared to the models in the forties and fifties, who would have been considered overweight from the eighties onward.
One of the starkest differences between our media now and that of the past is social media. The Internet is a powerful tool and not everyone is using it in a positive manner when it comes to body image representation. From what I have noticed during my time on the Internet is that there is a lot of glorification of thin bodies. More specifically, a movement toward attaining the thinnest bodies is common among websites. To avoid triggering content, I do not intend to share keywords used to find these posts. However, they are hidden among websites. It is a frightening aspect of our modern life.
Now more than ever, especially with budding dialogues on gender identity, disability, and race, we need to be inclusive in our portrayals of beauty, of normalcy. I am particularly fond of this movement to act as a mirror to all members of our society, no matter how their bodies may be different from what was once viewed as the norm.
Here, I will share some of my favorite leading figures in this movement to get you started on the path to be more body positive. Many of these individuals are drastically different in their attitudes toward food and exercise, not just their bodies. For example, one of my favorite models is Ashley Graham. As a model, she shares her life on the behind-the-scenes of popular modeling show America’s Next Top Model. Through her posts, she shares positive messages on having confidence around your body despite what other popular media deems your body’s worth to be.
Ashley Graham is living proof that body positivity can coincide with success within the media, a field traditionally aimed at policing which bodies are acceptable within society. Graham is not the only model that I find to be leading this field. Tess Holiday, a mother of two, is also a published author who reflects on her body positive journey throughout social media.
Tess Holliday, a mother of two, is also a published author who reflects on her body positive journey throughout social media. But, prior to reaching recognition for her talent, Holliday was often told by modeling agencies that she would never get a job in the field because of her height and weight. She collaborated with Torrid twice and even worked with some UK and Canadian clothing retailers in their campaigns.
Barbie Ferreira is probably one of my most favorite leading figures in this movement. She embraces her heritage and family’s attitude toward larger bodies. If anything, Ferreira is more light-hearted in approaching the criticism that is directed at her and other body-positive accounts on social media. Ferreira came into popularity through her refusal to be photo-shopped in shoots as a Wilhelmina model. She is candid in her break-through posts exposing the perfect images models tend to display.
Another leading figure is Iskra Lawrence, English model and an overall bad-ass powerhouse in the movement of body-positivity. Iskra has been so influential that she shared her experience on a TED talk; in it, she shares the flaws of assuming perfection from people. She is known for her work with NEDA (The National Eating Disorders Association) as an ambassador. Like many leading figures in this movement, Lawrence knows what it is like to live with a hyper-alert focus on calories and exercise. What I love most is that she still exercises without aiming to lose weight or fit in the thin template we get in societies across the globe.
Megan Jayne Crabbe
One of the earliest figures I had encountered in the body-positive movement was Megan Jayne Crabbe. She is also known as the Body Posi Panda. Once an eating disorder sufferer, she is now a proponent of body acceptance and health at every size.
Expanding the Definition of "Beauty"
One of the most famous figures in this movement introduces another form of body-positivity and that is the gorgeous Harnaam Kaur. Kaur was diagnosed with a form of the polycystic-ovarian-syndrome at the age of twelve. Her facial hair grows into a beard. Hailing all the way from the UK, Harnaam Kaur speaks often about her journey to accept her facial hair.
She talks about difficult times where she was not able to celebrate her own beauty as society clouded her own perception of herself. Her coping skills at the time were negative and destructive. But, as she decided to embrace her own appearance.
Mama Caxx is another figure redefining beauty through this movement. She is a Haitian American blogger who uses her platforms to include disabled bodies in the body positivity movement. Furthermore, she reshapes the way disabled bodies are presented in the media. Beautiful, strong, confident, Caxx’s prosthetic leg is decorative, stylish, and completely embraced by her.
I think the most significant impact of the body positive movement is that we get to question the narrative regarding health and appearances. It is in pushing for more inclusion of different bodies that we can reach a more accepting dialogue around fashion, diet, and overall health. A lot of body positive figures include their experiences with discrimination, assumptions about their dietary and exercise habits, and with the limited access to fashionable clothing for their figures. It is something that permeates the lives of many people. The beauty of this movement lies in that it is not focused on a specific image of a “good” body. Instead, it is about opening up the definition to include more possibilities. You do not have to be cisgendered, white, able-bodied to be considered beautiful. The more we open doors and possibilities, the less likely it is for someone to feel isolated and unrepresented. In the end, the body positive movement is not here to take away beauty from traditionally attractive people. Instead, it is about opening up the discourse to include a broader spectrum of beauty.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Dina Abdel Hady