Shock update: it's easy to be body positive when you're thin (and cis, and white...)
Pic credit: Mariah Aro Sharp
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Being body positive is not easy, especially in a world where every single thing tells us that thin > fat. Roxane Gay covers this a little in her incredibly moving book, Hunger*, when she talks about simultaneously wanting to be body positive while also wanting to lose weight. I don't have the exact quote to hand, but she essentially says that, as a fat woman, she knows that she is entitled to love, to respect, to feel beautiful, but that she also lives in this world - a world in which she has to fight for those very entitlements. And she's tired of fighting. It might be easier to lose the weight.
I haven't been trying to be body positive for all that long
I discovered the concept of body positivity when I started following Rebecca Flynn on Snapchat (she's on Instagram now @flynnfluencer, but she's no longer a body positive activist, although she's still body positive and, I would say, worth a follow). She's also been a previous guest on my podcast; you can read the transcript of our chat here.
And, for a time, I really tried to be body positive. I spoke about how important it was to love and respect your body, no matter what size it was; I recognised and called out the injustice of narrow high-street sizing; I went to a workshop on body positive fitness and became an affiliated professional with the BPFA. I truly believe that all bodies are beautiful; that thinner is, morally, no better than fat; that there should be no moral value (i.e. guilt) assigned to food; that all bodies deserve access to fitness, healthcare, love, respect, and so on (ad infinitum).
I've been succeeding at being body positive for an even shorter time
I remember, around the time I wrote a piece about Louise Thompson's book - then-titled Body Positive but now, wisely, renamed Live Well with Louise: Fitness and Food to Feel Strong and Happy* reading a comment about myself on an online forum that said something like, "Rosemary Mac Cabe thinks she's body positive, but at the same time she's always promoting extreme diets".
I was outraged. How could anyone think I was promoting an extreme diet? Sure, I'd quit carbs and lost weight, but I was healthier. I was promoting health, not thinness (duh). It just so happened that my being healthier had resulted in my getting thinner. It was a coincidence, not a planned result.
So when did this light bulb switch on?
I'm not sure when exactly I realised my hypocrisy; it was probably only in the last few weeks, in fact, as I stopped looking at my wardrobe thinking, I'll fit into those jeans next week; invested in some anti-chub rub shorts; and stopped mentally punishing myself for gaining weight.
I realised that the guilt I'd been feeling about "letting myself go" back to the "before" version of my weight loss transformation pictures was the exact opposite of what being body positive is all about. And look: I know it's easy for me to talk about being body positive. At my smallest, I was a size 12; right now, I'm a UK 14-16. Most of the time, I fit into high-street sizes (even if, sometimes, they don't look that great on me). I'm not a person who really needs the body positivity movement; I'm not a person who's marginalised and ostracised by society because of what my body looks like.
I'm not really sure what the answer to this is, or even if there is a question. How do you become more body positive? For me: I keep my eyes open. I try, really hard, to recognise my subconscious thoughts as they pop up, both about my own, and about other, bodies. I follow a load of body positive Instagram and Facebook accounts; Rebecca Flynn may have taken a step back from her Body Positive Ireland work, but the Facebook page is still there and has a ton of great resources.
I guess this whole blog post is to say: I'm sorry if I made it look like being body positive was easy. I'm sorry if I made out that being body positive is somehow linked to losing weight. (Dieting is not body positive, at least not in terms of how the social justice movement is defined. Yes, losing weight could be a positive thing for you and your body, but in the broader sense, it is not bopo.) I'm sorry that I focused so much on my own weight loss under the guise of health; I'm still struggling, personally, with balancing my mental and physical health, and figuring out just how much salted caramel I need in my day to keep on living (minimum 1 teaspoon, I think). It's all learning.
I'd love to know if you're on a body positive journey, or if you just don't think about it that much! So much to learn, really.
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