Breaking up with Body Positivity
I need to break up with the body positive movement.
I grew up feeling like the odd one out — being told in both subtle and not so subtle ways that I wasn’t good enough for; a boyfriend, society, being treated as a worthwhile person. Some ways were well intended — my mum who saw my growing body encouraged me to follow the same diets and eating plans that she and my dad were following. Others were not so much — the names that kids call each other are cruel and lasting on a fat kid’s memories.
Fat people are told from a young age that they must take up as little space as possible, take whatever steps are necessary to fit the societal standards and ideals of the time. It’s a tall order to reach — particularly for a 5’3 fat girl. I can barely remember a time where dieting wasn’t in my environment in some form or other — even when there was plenty of ‘bad’ foods around to be consumed so easily.
I’ve never managed to successfully lose any significant amount of weight — those before and after pictures that every kind of ‘healthy’ eating plans? I’d love to have one of those — despite how conflicted I am about them and have issues with them in principle. It is important for someone to see their progress and be able to see the hard work they’ve put in come to fruition but these comparisons mean that people who look like the before pictures are just being told in another way how inadequate and unacceptable their body is.
Within the past few years the body positive movement has gained more and more momentum and I can appreciate its appeal and even applaud it’s (original) aims — for everyone of all sizes to be treated equally and for those who don’t fit the societal ideal to feel good about themselves and be able to live their lives free of judgement — both external and internal. This movement was appealing to me — these amazing people who were defying the expectations and restrictions places on people of size and living their lives exactly as they want. It seemed like the perfect way to try to live rather than accepting the body shaming that is so prevalent in our culture and letting it eat away at your self confidence and self worth.
It has morphed somewhat over the years — as movements do — to where some people of size and some sections of the BPM pride themselves on the big ‘fuck you’ they give to the world who has always been less than accepting of them by lauding their size. Now, that’s not to say that they’re not perfectly entitled to do so — if that is their truth and their life then no one is in any position to say that’s wrong. I even tried to learn to feel this way myself — to just let go of all the insecurities, self-doubt and the instinct to take up as little space as possible in the hopes no one would notice that I was fat.
Then something happened — I was having some gynaecological issues and in October last year I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and so much of my past suddenly made sense. My horribly bad skin, never really being able to lose a lot of weight or keep it off, my wildly irregular periods, the excess hair that I seemed to have everywhere. I’m still getting to the bottom of what my diagnosis means for me but since obesity is both a symptom and a cause of PCOS it just makes sense to do everything in my power to lose weight and get healthier in an effort to rebalance some of my hormones and internal stuff and regain some equilibrium mentally as well as physically.
Now we get to the part that necessitates my break up with the body positivity movement. I don’t like my body — it seems to be doing its best to sabotage me and by extension itself. For me to fully accept myself as it is and ‘let my fat flag fly’ would be to ignore health issues which need to be addressed. Just as I need to break up with them, they don’t seem eager to keep people like me who want to be vocal about my attempts to lose weight and get healthier. Some within the movement see any attempt to lose weight as some kind of disloyalty to the cause and as buckling to the pressures to be thinner and how thinner is healthier and all the old tropes that we now know isn’t necessarily the truth.
But they fail to see how they hurt those of us who are left in the middle somewhere. Those who believe categorically that you can’t be healthy if you’re overweight or who think overweight people are disgusting look at us with pity and disdain. Those who believe that we should just accept our weight as we are and learn to love ourselves regardless of what other think look at us as traitors to the cause and that we are somehow passing judgement on the fact that they aren’t trying to take these steps towards what — for us — is a healthier lifestyle. We form our own little group somewhere in the middle and it can feel like we’re being shouted down from both sides — we’re either not trying hard enough or we’re trying too hard.
I’ve not shared my diagnosis with a lot of people because I don’t want to see that look in their eyes that says ‘well, you’ve done it to yourself by eating so much all the time’ (I really don’t eat that much or that often) or the ‘you’ll just have to lose the weight’ (like I’ve not tried that many times over the years) that’s just another level of judgement that I don’t have the capacity to deal with for the moment. PCOS means to many different things to so many different women and this coupled with the fact that this is still a relatively unknown condition with no cure even in the distance future means that even with the best of intentions, advice that may have worked for a sisters, best friends co-worker may not do anything for me. I’m working towards being more open about this and reaching out when I’m struggling and need help but I’ve still a ways to go.
Am I saying that those who wish to love themselves exactly as they are should also be striving to love weight, exercise more? Not in the slightest — everyone has to make a choice for themselves about how they are happiest. But why should I struggle in silence — and it is a struggle — to conquer my anxiety and depression in order to reach the goals that I want to reach to give me the best possible chance of the life I want for me and my boyfriend? My weight loss and journey to health and fitness has no bearing on your journey to self-acceptance. There is no judgement that our journeys are separate so why the vitriol and cries that my journey and my willingness to discuss it, need to share (if only to help get the thoughts out of my head) is somehow body shaming you? It’s not but your enthusiasm to shut me and others on a similar journey down is shaming us for trying to address specific health issues facing us. Even those who don’t have health issues — what harm is it to you what they choose to do with their lives and bodies providing their discussions on it aren’t framed in a way to actually shame those who don’t share their views.
There is body positivity in what I’m trying to achieve. I’m trying to learn more about my body and its quirks and issues than I’ve ever learned before and find ways to keep it fed in all the ways it needs to be in order to live the life I want to live.