‘Lisa Frank Body Positivity’ Just Isn’t Enough
A movement that’s glittery, colorful, and endlessly positive is also shallow, uncritical, and exclusive.
I ’ve been searching a term that encapsulates the trend of body positive content I’ve been watching spread like pink and purple wildfire a for a couple of years now and, well damn. It took a while.
The conversation around body love/body positivity/BoPo has become so fractured and seemingly uncontainable that I often find myself talking about it using air quotes, often resorting to simply calling it “Whateverthefuckthisthingis.”
I air quote A LOT.
SO g’bless a whimsical technicolor leopard creator for finally, in a moment of inspiration, giving me the perfect description for something that until now, I couldn’t put my finger (or a name) on.
Lisa Frank BoPo. I presumptuously designate it: a thing.
While the term may be “new,” I highly doubt you’re unaware of the messaging I’m alluding to. If you’ve been a part of almost any “body positive” (I’ll stop using quotations at this point, but know that every time I use that term, I’m always implying it) online conversation — particularly on Instagram’s platform — there’s a really good chance that you’ve been scrolling through Lisa Frank BoPo for a long-ass time.
Lisa Frank BoPo is what I (now) call the branch of body positivity that:
- isn’t intersectional
- focuses on white and often thin bodies, and
- refuses to dig into the deep and critical political issues around comprehensive body liberation and, instead, relies on topical positive messages to keep us all feeling cheerful, and — most importantly: comfortable.
This particular lens of body positivity has gained an enormous (and seemingly unstoppable) following — which isn’t surprising, as it has taken the original focus of Fat Acceptance and purposefully replaced its polemic aims with palatable conversations.
There are, of course, divergent ideologies even within the militant Fat Activism movement: voices that disagree on topics like labels, weight loss, and other fundamental concepts. But after the confetti-like explosion of what was (and is) called Body Positivity in 2015’s mainstream media, I needed a name for what I was witnessing unravel in all its multicolored and purposefully attractive splendor.
Lisa Frank BoPo: Glittery, colorful, and endlessly positive. Also: shallow, uncritical, and exclusive. When you add all these things together, it’s no surprise that Lisa Frank BoPo is popular AF.
This “movement’s” palatability isn’t an accident though — it is diligently ambiguous about things like health, superfat bodies, racism, trans issues, white supremacy, and other relevant political body ties that can quickly become “hot button” topics. This can then lead to emphatically and unseemly (read: controversial and unpopular) divisive threads. While individual users may be unaware of the purposeful reason behind its popularity, it is in large part easily loved because it prioritizes vagueness and erasure, enabling an effortless dance around these critical issues with the dangerously disarming chant of “I just want us all to bake a cake out of rainbows and smiles and all eat it and be happy!”
Not literally, of course…but kinda.
This is easily enhanced by influential accounts on Instagram, where content is hyper visual: leaning towards the “pretty” images without the need for written content to achieve success. This practice is highlighted by conventionally attractive, thin bodies posting pictures in swimsuits and using hashtags like #EveryBodyIsABikiniBody or models promoting covertly disguised weight loss products and using #BodyPositive in each caption.
Lisa Frank BoPo is diligently ambiguous about things like health, superfat bodies, racism, trans issues, and white supremacy.
I will sincerely own that when I started blogging, my body liberation content was naively cheerful, selective in its content and yes, definitely carried the lightness (and only the lightness) of a pink cat with angel wings. I was a Lisa Frank BoPo enthusiast. I’ve been there. I’ve preached it. I believed all of it. Exclusively focusing on “good vibes” was a natural first step in my personal journey, as it is for others as well. Sometimes, it’s all we can absorb when we start approaching the concept that, perhaps, we don’t have to hate ourselves for the rest of our life.
After all, send a person who is brand new to the concept of “not hating their body” my way, and they’ll likely run the opposite direction screaming at the first mention of how medical records have nothing to do with worth. Lisa Frank BoPo offers a strangely approachable first step into the world of challenging body ideals and issues. It’s a step in the right direction, yes! But I want to make sure that we don’t step onto that first rainbow painted stepping stone…and stop there.
I want to make sure we keep moving.
We’re always seemingly walking a tightrope when it comes to these concepts and my balance is often shitty, so I’m not the one to show you how to do it perfectly. But I CAN share what I’ve learned from falling off a million times in hopes that it helps you on your tenuous journey.
After November 8th, it was clear that more political content needed to be shared through my social media channels, and I vowed to myself that I would make this a priority. These articles (largely shared on Facebook and Twitter because of the linking/sharing opportunities) were vehemently met with “Can you please stop talking about politics and get back to body positivity?”
This generated a post in which I explained that the two are inextricably connected, and clarified for me that the new form of body positivity I was seeing on Instagram (and surrounding platforms) was, while reaching more people, becoming more harmful than helpful.
Guys, it’s important you know that I’m not a rainbow hater. I use unicorn, enthusiastic raised hands and sparkly heart emojis just as much as anyone. I still share memes of cats with googly eyes on the back of their heads. I can see the appeal of Lisa Frank BoPo. I’ll even go so far to say that for some, it might be a much needed first step into the giant and overwhelming world of confronting diet culture and beauty standards. BUT (notice the giant, bold but), I’m gonna say it again…I think it’s really important to emphasize that we don’t stop there.
Fuck yeah, I wanna bake a cake out of rainbows and cover it in smiley faces and eat it and be happy with you! I AM SO IN.
I also want to talk about the Eurocentric ideal and how it’s created a huge market for dangerous whitening creams, how Black trans women have the highest murder rates in the country/world, how trans youth have a 40% suicide rate and are denied their identity (and safety) more often than not. I also want to talk about how health is NOT an obligation, how our medical industry is biased, how inaccessible cities are for people with disabilities, how white supremacy is alive and thriving and how we never mention mental health when we talk about wellness.
I want to talk about all of those things AND post pictures of flower-covered cakes, little yellow birds who give you cute pep talks, and amazing jumpsuits! Not instead of, but and.
We can do both, and if we find ourselves being exclusive because it’s outside our comfort zones (or we might lose followers who take issue with these subjects), maybe it’s time to look at our motives and priorities. And then especially do both. It is critical for all of us that we keep moving forward, learning, doing better, and making progress. The platforms I share these on are usually Facebook, Twitter, and my blog, but this applies to Instagram as well, especially if it’s the only platform used.
On seeking health care for the first time in years.theestablishment.co
Instagram is important because visibility and representation is important. What we see can rewire our brains; science backs us up on this! (It’s all here with a nice NPR summary here.) But I am now convinced that in order to create actual change, we have to start at the back. We need to amplify the most marginalized voices. The most harmed groups facing oppression. We all have work to do on this; me included.
I am certain that no matter how “radical” I feel my politics may be to the majority, there are those who would easily categorize my messages as more perpetuation of chirpy messaging that isn’t and never will be political enough. There will always be those who believe that I cause harm by not doing enough…and I would agree. I have so much room for improvement and when I have the space and capacity to do more, I must. I can, and I will.
Body liberation is not an endpoint journey. It’s a fluid continuum of education, awakening, apologizing, and doing better.
To be perfectly clear, I am not asking for perfection from anyone.
Body liberation is not an endpoint journey.
To do so would perpetuate the harmful internet myth that the public figures we follow aren’t human. We already ask so much from ordinary individuals, none of whom are perfect, and I enthusiastically include myself in this group. We’re not commodities to simply be consumed and bridled with impossible demands, yet this is what happens more often than not. So to demand perfection? That would be detrimental to us all.
All I ask for is progress.
Unstoppable learning. Active listening. Stepping back and looking at our uncomfortable biases. We are all sizeist, racist, ableist, ageist, etc. and it comes from our upbringing. But it doesn’t need to be so. We need to do the work to actively fight these prejudices, instead of pretending that they don’t exist within us. If we do, world changing things can (and will) happen if we responsibly harness the energy that is gaining power online every day.
It’s not that Lisa Frank BoPo is wrong.
It’s just that it’s not enough.
It is not affiliated with the Lisa Frank company — simply a description for a current trend.