Body Positivity During a Pandemic
By Nico Bell
The definition of body positivity is not “love your curves.” Body positivity is an activism
movement designed to promote, protect, and normalize marginalized bodies in society. The “perfect body” is a manipulative design crafted by diet and beauty companies in order to monetize on our insecurities. These insecurities are nurtured by those exact diet and beauty companies in order to keep the toxic cycle going. When someone undergoes the body positive transformation, they don’t just discover self-love. They also realize the important of advocating and providing allyship to bodies not found in mass media in order to fight for respect, normalization, dignity, and equality for these individuals. When someone waters down body positivity to “love your curves,” it removes the majority of the movement’s message, and negates the decades of work this activism has worked toward. The body positive community was built to be safe for those with eating disorders, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, individuals with limb differences and scars and severe acne and vitiligo and any body that isoutside the societies manufactured “norm.”
I wanted to start with that definition, because while I’ll be focused today on the toxicity of diets,
it’s important to always remember that the body positivity community is an advocate and ally for many groups. It’s also important to note how vast this topic really is. I won’t be able to get to everything.
Let’s focus on diets and what inspired this essay. Since lockdown, I noticed a lot of people going
on social media posting “before and after” lockdown weight loss photos. First, let me say that those in the body positive community are not against weight loss; however, we are extremely concerned with the motivation behind shrinking your body. I haven’t met a single human being who went on a diet solely for health reasons. Even the most intense healthy eater I know admits to losing weight as a way to“look good.”
And that’s the red flag.
Losing weight should never be about your looks. Never. The pressure to conform to a certain
shape is ingrained in us since childhood. We are bombarded with images that scream “thin is good, fat is bad.” Let me be perfectly clear. Fat is not a bad word. It’s an adjective. It holds power only if you give it power, yet we are bred to believe it is one of the worst things a human being can become. Why?
Because out society attaches so much baggage with that simple three letter word. In our culture, fat is lazy and disgusting. Fat people are discriminated against and bullied. Fat people are the punch line to jokes in television and movies and books. We are told no one will love us. We are told we have “pretty faces” but if we only “lost a few pounds” our bodies would also be beautiful.
There are households that ban the “f” word, but I challenge you not to do that. That only gives it
power. That only says, “fat is a bad word which means fat people are bad people.” Instead, reclaim it, because being fat is nothing to be ashamed about, and we need to work toward severing the connection between personality traits and image.
Thin people can be unhealthy. Fat people can be fit.
Sorry, I digressed. Let’s get back to the before and after pictures. The problem with these images is the comparison between a “bad” body and a “good” one. Just read the comments of one of those pictures. There is praise and cheers for the “good” body, as if the dieter can finally live her/his/their life now that the fat has been shed. As if they will now, finally, find love and wear that bikini and go hiking and swimming and dancing, but where are the people in the
comments reminding everyone that the before and after picture is toxic? How many people scroll
through and spot the before image and think, “Hey, that’s what I look like. Shit, is my body disgusting?”
The before and after picture doesn’t take into account mental health.
In fact, out society’s diet and beauty industry doesn’t give a fuck about your mental health. Yes,
I know diet companies like to market themselves as someone who cares about you, and they make promises that you will “feel healthier” and “feel better about yourself.” But why can’t you feel good about yourself as a fat person? Why do you have to earn the right to love yourself?
The before and after pictures says, “I used to sit on my couch all day and now I’m wearing a
bikini and hitting the beach!” Why can’t a fat person wear a bikini and hit the beach? And are we
seriously supposed to believe thin people don’t lie on the couch vegging out to Netflix?
You don’t need to wait to look a certain way to start your life. I know plenty of people, myself
included, who used to diet and think, “Once I hit my goal weight, I’ll finally be able to …” No.
Whatever you fill in the blank with, do it now.
Mental health needs to be a factor when discussing physical health. That’s why these pandemic
diets are so concerning. The idea that fat people should be using this time to lose weight is, frankly, absurd. We’re in a global pandemic. Lots of people are simply trying to survive the day. There’s no need for any extra pressure.
But what about health?
I wish someone gave me a dollar every time I got asked this question. I’d be on my private island
surrounded by chocolate fountains. Usually when people ask about health, they aren’t really concerned about health. They’re concerned about weight, which means they’re judging you based on how your body looks. How do I know this? It’s pretty simple. The people screaming the loudest about “health” are typically the ones who have nothing to say about alcohol consumption, smoking, vaping, marathon athletes, or a thin person eating pizza. Awhile back, I posted a side-by-side comparison on my Instagram stories. In one image, a thin woman was eating a giant greesy cheeseburger and fries. In the other, model and fat activist Tess Holiday was hugging her son. Do you want to guess who got berated for unhealthy living?
Yup, the fat woman. The skinny woman with the soda and cheeseburger and fries got comments like, “so hot” and the flame emoji. Tess, who wasn’t even pictured with food, was issued death threats forbeing “fat” and a “whale.” Her comments were filled with people telling her to lose weight, that her health was in danger, that she would die of diabetes if she didn’t get healthy. The thin person, again, received flame emojis. So please, don’t insult fat people by claiming you care about their “health” without first examining your own prejudice.
The truth is you can’t tell someone’s health by looking at them. Yes, I’m talking to you Karen.
You do not have the ability to look at a person and instantly know their cholesterol level. You don’t
know when someone is going to die. You can’t tell if someone is going to have diabetes or not. Lots of fat people exercise regularly and eat balanced diets. Lots of thin people have never ran a mile in their lives and eat pizza and beer every weekend. But if a fat person exercises and eats a balance diet, why aren’t they thin?
Okay, this may be the most mind-blowing thing you’ll read in this essay, so prepare yourself.
Not all bodies are designed to be thin. I’ll give you a moment to let that marinate. There’s a theory called the body set weight theory that suggests out bodies have a genetic and
biological determined weight range that we are predisposed to have and maintain. Guess what? The percentage people with a body set weight that fit into the social norms is extremely low. The simple fact is we are not meant to all be the same size and shape, and dieting actually causes our bodies and minds more harm in the long run. The only people truly benefiting by trying to get all of us to believe we need to look a certain way are the diet and beauty companies.
But I get it. I started my first diet in third grade. I was short and fat. My stomach is where I’ve
always carried my weight, and while swimming at the community pool, a neighborhood boy stopped and pointed at my belly and said, “You’re fat.”
That’s all it took.
I cried to my mom, and she told me “suck in my stomach.” I don’t blame her. She, like most,
grew up to believe flat stomachs were expected of women. It’s almost impossible not to care about thinness because our society has shoveled anti-fat propaganda down our mouths since birth. How old were you when you first thought you were fat? How old were you when you discovered that shrinking your body equated to being “better?”
Think about that for a second. Diets literally make women (and men, but mostly women) smaller. They literally tell a woman that she is taking up too much space in this world. They literally say that if she doesn’t shrink, she won’t find a partner, she won’t get that job, she won’t be able to go swimming in a bikini or take that pole dancing class or have sex with the lights on. The world is saying, “Until you have lost parts of yourself, you do not deserve to live your life.” It’s heartbreaking.
I recently posted an anti-diet tweet, and I blocked a man who sarcastically replied something
along the lines of, “Great! Go ahead and eat whatever you want! It’s not like we’re in a pandemic. Enjoy being 200 pounds. It’s not like we don’t have enough ventilators.” And there it is. This man implies that fat people aren’t worthy of ventilators. Fat people aren’t worthy of life. Thin people are the priority.
That is what body positivity in terms of weight loss is fighting against. It is telling people that
they don’t need to lose weight before they start hiking or traveling or going back to college or start dating or whatever their dreams are. It’s saying that we know the world is against large bodies. We know when people scream about “health” they are actually spreading anti-fat messages. We know, and we are your ally, and we love you and support you as you are, and we’re going to keep fighting to end the hate against fat people. We know that fat isn’t a bad word. We know that fat and beauty are allowed to exist in the same sentence.
You deserve to live your life.
You are not alone.