The Death of Body Positivity

Originally published in Rogue Zine and Growing Strong.

Like most social movements, it was bound to be watered down to appeal to the mainstream, but I don’t think anyone expected body positivity to lose this many teeth in what feels like such a short amount of time.

A movement that was founded by fat (above a US size 16) women, a movement driven by the efforts of countless women of colour, a movement that encouraged radical self-love and challenged existing beauty standards, has become completely whitewashed.

i-D recently published a list of the ‘new generation of body positive pioneers’, and the majority of women listed are below the average US dress size, and fair skinned. The one woman listed who would actually be considered fat is Tess Holliday — she’s become the token fat woman for mainstream body positive advocates. No longer are fat women the focus of body positivity; instead, we get just the one representative, and fat women of colour get no representation whatsoever.

I don’t blame these women personally for their becoming role models — it was inevitable. In a society that values thinness, conventional beauty, and fair skin, movements that don’t actively and continuously seek to challenge those standards are bound to fall into the trap of privileging those with ideal bodies above those without. The women that have now become the most prominent representatives of body positivity have bodies that may deviate from the norm in one way, but rarely in multiple ways — they’re either bigger than a size 2 OR of colour OR disabled, but rarely all three. And very rarely are they bigger than a US size 12/14, which, again, is the average size in the US, the UK, and Australia. The norms that these ‘pioneers’ are challenging are the fashion industry’s norms, which are widely considered flawed to begin with — just because a fashion designer calls you fat, it doesn’t actually make your size 4 body a fat one. Most fat women are already excluded from the fashion industry, and are more interested in challenging wider societal norms that come from everywhere — yes, the fashion industry, but also the media and the medical profession.

In 2015, to be considered a ‘body positive pioneer’, there are still standards you have to meet. You must be conventionally attractive, feminine, have average or larger sized breasts, have hips that are wider than your waist, and have no visible stretch marks or cellulite. Reproducing standards that are impossible for many women to meet is not body positivity, it’s just harmful beauty standards in sheep’s clothing. Erasing the fat women and women of colour who paved the way for me to be even writing this piece because their bodies don’t meet the aforementioned standards is not body positivity, it’s doing exactly what wider society does day in and day out. It’s demanding that we conform to impossible standards, and then ignoring us when we can’t.

For this reason, many fat women have abandoned the concept of body positivity. It is impossible for bloggers with small platforms and no financial support to compete with these new body positive giants, so many are finding it easier to simply let them keep body positivity. As my friend Ariel/@kiddotrue put it: “‘Body posi’ has been completely neutralized. It means nothing now. It is literally “all bodies matter” & not in a good way.” Body positivity stopped being radical a long time ago, but it’s hard to let go of something you nurtured from infancy. It’s hard to finally find a movement and a group of people who acknowledged that your body deserved better, and see it be neutralised to the point where it’s unrecognisable. For the women who have been writing and speaking about body positivity for years, I can’t even imagine how hard it’s been to see others receive credit for your blood, sweat, and tears. Unfortunately, this has become standard practice in social movements; just look at how women of colour have been erased from the historical narrative surrounding feminism, and how the new ‘leaders’ of intersectional feminism are largely white women, rather than the black women it was originally created to empower.

Instead, many are turning to fat acceptance. Fat acceptance is still dominated by women who are properly fat, not fat-by-fashion-industry-standards fat, and it will likely stay that way, because the name ‘fat acceptance’, and indeed the entire idea, don’t go down as easily as ‘body positivity’. Being positive about your body is something everyone can get behind. Accepting fat bodies as valid and worthy of respect just as they are is less palatable, and therefore less likely to be whitewashed and taken over by the mainstream. Which is just fine with not-so-little old me.