Tuesday, 24 May 2016

To The 'I'm All For Body Positivity BUT' People

It's easy to spot a troll. When an internet troll comes crawling out of its cave and rampages through your account spewing hate and grammatical errors, it's easy to see it for what it is. 'YOUR FCKIN FAT!'* isn't generally the opening to a stimulating debate, or an informed discussion on body positivity. And since I subscribe to a don't-feed-the-trolls block and delete method, it's easy enough to banish them from my Instagram kingdom. *Raises almighty bopo sword that turns bathroom scales into cupcakes*

But there's another kind of comment that I've been getting a lot of lately - people who claim to be in support of body positivity, but only for the people they deem worthy of it.
The comments lure you in like a classic backhanded compliment, and leave you with a worse taste in your mouth than the plain old trolls'. It's the same shaming, but it's dressed up in 'expertise' and 'concern' that basically states that self love is only okay below a certain size. That body positivity is something that only certain people deserve. And if you think that, you've got it twisted. Body positivity is for everyone, and you don't get to exclude people because they don't fit into your idea of what the movement should look like. So if you're one of these 'I'm all for body positivity, but...' believers, I'd like to have a word with you...

I'm all for body positivity but... this takes it too far.

I get this kind of comment a lot on pictures celebrating my belly rolls. You might be wondering, 'too far? Takes what too far? Self love? Eating disorder recovery? Cute bikinis? What!?'. Here are some more examples that fall under the 'too far' umbrella:

"I really love your message, but... Aren't you worried about promoting obesity?"

"Embracing all body types is great, but... We have to remember to always put our health first"

"Body positivity is cool, but... you're just encouraging people to be unhealthy"

At least when a troll tells me I'm an blubber filled whale who's gonna get diabetes and die at 30, they get straight to the point. They don't pretend to be team bopo and then slide their prejudices in under the socially accepted guise of faux concern. And how do you determine when someone's gone 'too far'? Do you count the belly rolls (2 is okay, 3 or more is certain death)? Or do you just judge by your general levels of discomfort at someone who doesn't fit your narrow minded ideals unapologetically loving themselves? Discomfort aside, there are so many ways that your comment just doesn't hold up, here are a few of them:

1) Promoting obesity. I've never seen a single body positive fat babe promoting their size as something that everyone should aspire to. I've never read a caption that says 'YOU'LL ONLY BE BEAUTIFUL ONCE YOU GET TO THIS SIZE SO YOU BETTER STOCK UP ON JUNK FOOD AND GAIN WEIGHT UNTIL YOU'RE OBESE TOO!' (but I've seen a hell of a lot that say the opposite). A person isn't promoting obesity merely by daring to exist in their body. Daring to leave their homes, take up public space, and wear whatever they want. The only thing they're promoting is living in the body you have right now, whatever that body looks like. And considering some of the biggest industries in the world are dedicated to promoting thinness, why are people so horrified at the thought of the agenda being flipped? Why are we scared of celebrating some chub?

2) When people make accusations about promoting obesity, what they're really referring to are the health issues that everyone associates with fatness. They assume that a fat person with the audacity to love their body is trying to justify being unfit, glorify a nutritionally poor diet, and throw their health away. As anyone who's seen a newspaper headline in the past decade knows, obesity is killing us all, and since that message is so ingrained into every aspect of our society, people take it upon themselves to become health crusaders, bullying people into change. 

Except the real truth is that you can't tell someone's health by looking at their size. Physical wellbeing is a hell of a lot more complicated than an archaic height/weight chart can predict, and far more nuanced than a sensationalist 'FAT KILLS!' headline splashed across a front cover. 

Human beings are not all supposed to look the same, and it's completely possible to be metabolically healthy in an 'overweight' or 'obese' body. In fact, the largest ever clinical study on the relationship between weight and mortality showed that people in the 'overweight' BMI category lived the longest, with those in the 'underweight' and 'obese' categories still only showing a slight increase in premature death rates. Catherine Flegal's study is also pretty groundbreaking considering that it wasn't funded by, or affiliated with the diet industry in any way (countless scientific 'truths' about obesity are the product of studies with some seriously dodgy connections in the weight loss world, meaning results are often over-inflated, misinterpreted, or completely fabricated to push a diet company's agenda. Check out Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon or Body of Truth by Harriet Brown to learn more). And countless more studies show that fitness, regardless of size, is the key to health, and fit and fat are not mutually exclusive. Even if you could tell someone's physical health just by looking at them, does that mean they don't deserve self love?

3) When it comes to body positivity, physical health is largely irrelevant. There shouldn't be any fitness requirements. There isn't a daily vegetable quota to fulfill. Being unhealthy doesn't make you any less worthy as a human being. In fact, our obsession with proving our health is ableist - do people with chronic illnesses not deserve body positivity? What about people with disabilities who aren't able to exercise?

And if you're so concerned with people's health, why aren't you also harassing the thin people online who eat junk food? Or smoke and drink? Because they still look healthy to you? We all have at least one thin friend who eats nothing but fast food and never exercises, who's clearly genetically predisposed to be thin - but we refuse to believe the opposite can be the case for fat people. Are you starting to see why your 'concern' is misplaced? There is no justification for using 'health concern' to bully someone, especially since if you actually cared about their health, you would include mental and emotional health. The self hatred you want them to feel isn't healthy at any size.

I'm all for body positivity, but... you don't have to show your body so much.

Oh sweet slut shaming. Other phrases employed by this kind of 'I'm all for body positivity, but...' person include:

"Self love is important, but... So is self respect"

"I love your attitude, but... It's not necessary to show your body like this"

"Body positivity is great, but... If you were really a feminist you wouldn't be objectifying yourself by showing your body all the time"

All of these are carefully cloaked versions of the troll with a profile picture of a car who creeps along and says something like 'U NOTHIN BUT A FCKIN HOE WHO WANTS ATTENTION SLUT' (the best ones are the dudes who then have topless pictures of themselves all over their accounts). So let's break them down...

1) Equating sexuality with self respect is one of the most sexist double standards there is. Apparently a lot of people haven't realised that we're in 2016 and the way a woman decides to express herself sexually has absolutely no bearing on how much she respects herself as a multi-dimensional, complex person (ya know, more than just walking genitalia). Female sexuality has been suppressed and demonised for centuries as a form of control, and the seeds of those outdated ideas are still everywhere. You are allowed to embrace your sexuality however you want, as long as it's consensual, and however you do that isn't a reflection of your moral character. Judges of 'self respect' also make the mistake of assuming that showing your body is always sexual...

2) We live in a world that can't see a female body in its most natural form without sexualizing it. Our inability to see flesh without thinking sex is a seriously damaging aspect of rape culture. Our bodies are not inherently erotic and we should be able to appreciate beauty without throwing arousal into the mix. A nude painting isn't necessarily pornographic - that's something that we've imposed upon it. When I show my body I don't do it for the viewing pleasure of creepy straight guys, and I certainly don't want any unsolicited sexually explicit comments. They make my skin crawl. We have to realise that we can embrace our bodies without it being for the gratification of someone else. Your body doesn't exist to please others, and the amount of skin you show is never an invitation for sexual advances.

3) The most important aspect of body positivity is recognising your value beyond your physical self. Yes we can celebrate our cellulite and learn to see ourselves as beautiful, but ultimately we are all more than that. In an ideal world we wouldn't even need body positivity because we wouldn't be judged as bodies first and people second,  but that's not the world we're living in. The world we live in is filled with people consumed by self hatred because they don't believe their bodies are good enough. Which means that body love is necessary, if we're gonna reach full, all encompassing self love. And body love includes seeing more diverse bodies, celebrating our features, and honouring our outer shells.

Fearlessly rocking a bikini picture isn't the same thing as objectifying yourself. You are not turning yourself into an object whose only value is the physical. By reclaiming your body you're reclaiming so many aspects of yourself - your courage, your mental health, your happiness, your badass attitude. You are celebrating your whole self. Besides, you should always be skeptical of any feminist who tries to tell women what to do with their bodies.

What 'I'm all for body positivity, but...' people don't realise, is that true body positivity doesn't exclude anyone. There should be no weight limits or fitness requirements. Self love isn't reserved for people with perfect physical health or bodies that are 'curvy' but not 'too big'. Body positivity isn't glorifying obesity, it's glorifying happiness, and living in the body you have now. You don't need to be able to run a mile or eat nothing but quinoa to be worthy of that.

If you think someone needs to be under a certain size or within an irrelevant BMI category to deserve body acceptance, then you're not 'all for body positivity' at all. You're actually 'all for' judging people based on their weight and making assumptions about their health. You're pretty ableist, too.

If you think someone needs to show less skin in order to stand for body positivity, then you're not 'all for body positivity' at all. You're actually 'all for' using shame to dictate what someone should do with their body. You're pretty sexist, too.

This movement began in the 70s as radical feminist fat acceptance, and since then it's been watered down into something that's almost as restrictive as the beauty ideals it rails against. Mainstream body positivity still isn't size inclusive, it's still whitewashed and hourglass shape obsessed. It still doesn't represent bodies of all abilities, all ages or all genders. And I'm not okay with people trying to make it even more exclusionary by policing the bodies that deserve it. We all deserve it.

I'm all for expressing your opinion, but... don't be a fatphobic, slut shaming dickhead about it.

* The best response I've ever seen to 'YOUR FCKN FAT!' is 'I can assure you that Fat and I are just friends'.