Being Body Positive and Weight Loss: We Still Don’t Care About Your Diet

*Marilynn Wann Yay Scale

Can you really be body positive and lose weight? Absolutely. The act of losing weight in and of itself is not in opposition to the body positive movement. When you break down what being body positive means, at its very core, it’s that all bodies are good bodies and deserving of respect. By all bodies, I mean fat bodies, thin bodies, those in between, those in transition, healthy bodies, unhealthy bodies, disabled bodies, etc. The act of losing weight doesn’t go against this belief. The problem arises with the conversations surrounding someone’s weight loss, the motivation behind it, and the centering of health as a talking point.

I want to break down the issues behind conversations about weight loss and the ideas they usually perpetuate. In order to do so, I need to acknowledge the catalyst for this article. Earlier today, Corissa of fat girl flow posted this status: “I have yet to find a scenario where someone has purposefully lost weight that isn’t shrouded in anti-fatness and able-ism. While I certainly believe people can do whatever they want with their bodies, I also think that if you’re going to talk about losing weight for your *health* then you better present the FACT that unhealthy bodies are also good. I cannot read another article about being body positive while losing weight that does not go deeper into the systemic beliefs surrounding “good” and “bad” bodies and the tiny box that diet culture continues to try to shove us all into.”

It’s hard to deny that the body positive movement has been trending. With mainstreaming, naturally comes some watering down of sorts. We’ve seen brands like Lane Bryant co-opting the movement with hashtags and sayings they can throw on tee shirts and tote bags at events meant to “empower” while actually just perpetuating anti-fatness. We celebrated when Ashley Graham was the first plus size model on the cover of Sports Illustrated until we all realized she vehemently rallies against identifying as plus size.

A lot of people that are plus size and blog or work in the plus size fashion industry, are generally lumped in as body positive. But that isn’t necessarily true. Unless someone actually identifies as body positive, we shouldn’t be assuming they are. Can someone work in plus size fashion and not be body positive and is that okay? Of course! Many people will buy into diet culture, or have the belief that being thin is ultimately the “ideal.” I personally can’t even fault someone in this situation, as long as they are being transparent. Issues arise when people co-opt a movement for personal or professional gain without actually believing in the movement’s core values. The lack of authenticity or wanting to fully engage in the movement shows. Don’t just take the parts that help you and leave everyone else in the wind. Unlearning the fat phobia that our society, the media, and the diet industry hurls our way can take a lifetime. It’s like having a part time job, it’s a commitment you have to make to yourself to constantly deconstruct things you see and hear. That’s why conversations around weight loss are so complex. While some people discuss weight loss as some virtue to better health, there are people that are scared to speak about it at all should it change their standing in the body positive community, or people’s perception of them. There are people that have lost weight and it isn’t healthy for them in the least.

We need to separate the idea of health from thinness. People assume that fat is inherently unhealthy but that isn’t true. We’ve seen the facts that dieting just doesn’t work. It’s easy to forget that there is a multi-billion dollar diet industry that profits from your sweat and starvation. The media beats people (and especially women) down, breeds insecurity, and pushes thinness as this cure-all for your life’s problems. We live in a world that shames women for aging but also for getting plastic surgery. It often feels like you can’t win. Health, or at least what people perceive to be healthy, constantly dominates the conversations as the goal of weight loss, yet it’s treated as the symptom of losing weight because we are taught that being thin = being healthy. If the goal is actually to become healthier first and foremost, then why should we care about an arbitrary number on the scale? You don’t reach 130 pounds and magically add 20 years to your life. If health is really what we seek, shouldn’t we move our bodies in ways we enjoy, that we will be more likely to make a long-term part of our life? Shouldn’t we learn to become in-tune with ourselves, listening to our bodies, being more mindful of what is needed to nourish them? Are we bad people if we can’t or don’t choose “healthy” habits like exercising regularly and eating a more balanced diet?

When health dominates the conversation, it perpetuates the good fatty narrative. A lot of people feel the need to constantly remind everyone around them, and themselves, that they exercise, eat healthy and are trying to lose weight. It’s this idea that your stay in fatland is temporary, and thus you deserve more respect. This is steeped in internalized fat phobia. If you are a “good fatty”, you aren’t upholding the stereotype that you’re unhealthy, that you eat fast food regularly, that you’re lazy, and are thus deserving of less criticism. Why does this exist? Because being fat is still thought of as a negative thing, because people don’t accept their fat bodies as a permanent living situation. They’re hoping to be month-to-month.

The problem is that people hide their fat-phobia behind concern trolling. We have random strangers proclaiming that fat is so unhealthy any time a woman blogs about loving themselves. Recently, Gold’s Gym released a series of fat-phobic ads insinuating that fat people were just thin people trapped, and that being pear shaped wasn’t acceptable for a woman. These aren’t new ideas (insults.) Concern trolling has long been an acceptable way to fat shame. But here’s something radical: stop giving a damn about other people’s bodies and how they may or may not be treating them. Stop assuming, stop feeling entitled. When you look at someone and feel threatened or disgusted, analyze where those feelings are really coming from because chances are, you aren’t happy with yourself.

When we separate the idea of health from fatness all together, we can finally start to make progress in respecting everyone’s body autonomy. Does it really concern you anyway? No one ever comes up to my thin husband and asks if he’s okay. So why do I regularly get subjected to concern trolling? My husband has a thyroid problem, he doesn’t get enough nutrients, his knees are often really sore to the point that walking hurts. But he’s thin, so no one ever assumes he’s unhealthy. And guess what? It’s no one’s damn business. So why do people feel entitled to question a fat person’s health? Because fat shaming is still widely acceptable as long as we package it with a pretty bow and act like we give a shit.

When you wax poetic about your weight loss journey being about your health, you are perpetuating harmful messages about fat people overall. You are buying into the narrative that fat people’s bodies are up for discussion. Holding health up as some virtue only achieved through sweat, deprivation, and weight loss is extremely harmful. It’s important to think about these things critically before congratulating your co-worker on their weight loss. They may be depressed and not eating. They may have lost the weight and will gain it back next month, only to feel like a failure when your compliments suddenly stop. We constantly uphold the idea that thinness is ideal by participating in these conversations.

Being fat isn’t a choice for most people. Losing weight and keeping it off isn’t just unlikely and not guaranteed to be healthier, it takes up a lot of time, resources, and energy that most people just do not have. It’s time we stop treating being fat as a temporary purgatory on the way to finally inhabiting the smaller body we were always told to strive for. Body politics are radical, we are still fighting for the right to the same respect, standard of health care, and even access to clothing that thin people receive. If you truly are body positive, you will respect that all bodies are good. And if you choose to change things about your body, it’s important to constantly analyze your motivations and the words you use when discussing that (if you choose to discuss it at all.) This is a community, and upholding anti-fatness is not something that should be a part of the dialogue. So, I beg you, put your fucking “before and after” photos away.