Friday, 7 October 2016

Why Aren't There More Thin Bodies in Bopo?

It's time to straighten this one out.

One of the biggest criticisms body positivity faces is that it excludes thin people. Most of the popular accounts or activists are people with bodies that are seriously curvy, visibly fat, or at least a little bit chubs (oh hey). So occasionally a thin person, noticing this, says that they feel excluded, usually with something along the lines of:

"I thought body positivity was supposed to be for all bodies, why aren't there more thin people on your account?"

And their observation is pretty much right, there aren't that many thin people reppin' bopo right now. The big players in the bopo world are mainly plus size models, fatshion bloggers, curvy activists and fat (fat) acceptance writers. There isn't a whole lot of skinny going on - but there is a reason for that, and it's a really important one too.

But before we dive into that, I need to make it clear that all people can and do struggle with body image issues, whether they're fat, thin or anything in between. Even people we see as physically 'perfect' battle the same internal demons about food and weight as the rest of us. Some of the most iconically beautiful female figures of our generation have struggled to accept their bodies - Demi Lovato talks openly about her battle with eating disorders and body image, Kim Kardashian has spoken about sitting in the bathtub in tears because she hated her curves so much, and even Beyonce apparently dislikes her ears (and we all know that Beyonce's ears are gonna be as flawless as the rest of her). Seriously, anyone can hate their body, regardless of how they look to the outside world. And every single person's struggle with body image is valid, important, and worthy of being heard.

So why does it sometimes feel like body positive spaces aren't celebrating thin bodies the same way that they're celebrating fat bodies? The simplest answer is to just look around you. Thin bodies are celebrated everywhere we turn, they fill our TV screens, they dominate social media, they grace the covers of millions of magazines, they sell us everything from toothpaste to designer jewels, and their prevalence helps to uphold the message that the only way to be beautiful is to be thin. And it's been that way for a long while. The 67 Project by Refinery 29 recently estimated that although 67% of women in America are plus sized, only 2% of the images of female bodies we see in the media are plus sized. The overwhelming cultural message of the last 100 years (give or take a Marilyn Monroe or two) has been that thinner is better and that the rest of us need to spend our lives chasing thinness or hating ourselves forever. Our culture already celebrates thinness, it's ingrained into everything we know, body positivity was made to be the counter-culture.

The aim of body positivity has always been to give representation to the body types that aren't recognised as beautiful or valid in our culture. In other words, the body types that the media doesn't want to acknowledge actually exist - fat bodies, bodies with 'flaws' like cellulite and scars, rolls and blemishes, people with different skin tones (women of colour especially, since mainstream media has always been incredibly whitewashed), disabled people, older women and members of the LGTBQ+ community. Basically anyone who has a body that does not fit the conventional beauty standards of today - that is who body positivity was made for.

Bodies that fall outside the thin ideal specifically have taken centre stage because obsession with our weight is something that affects nearly all of us, including the people who belong to other marginalised groups as well. The thin ideal is so widespread in our culture that none of us get out unscathed by the pressure to conform to it, body positivity gives us a way of escaping that pressure. Bopo itself has roots in the radical fat acceptance movement - in the 1970s a feminist group called The Fat Underground brought size prejudice to the attention of the world (and did awesome things like storming Weight Watchers meetings and asking the leader to provide a single shred of evidence that dieting is effective (which of course they never could)). Fat, queer women of colour fought damn hard over the years to be recognised, to be seen and heard and to refuse to have their identities invalidated. So it's understandable that when a thin, white, conventionally gorgeous woman comes along and says that she feels excluded from the movement, despite the fact that the media has excluded everyone BUT her for decades, people get frustrated. It's kind of like one woman being given a whole cake every single day while the woman next to her lives off the crumbs, and when that second woman finally gets a little slice of cake for herself the first woman wants that too. Mmm cake.

The body positivity we have today is an extremely watered down version of what it once was - even my existence in the community proves that. I totally recognise the privilege I have - I don't face the same prejudice and discrimination that the people who fought for this movement did, and do still experience. I know that the success of my account is largely because people think I haven't taken it 'too far' aka. 'too fat' (you can read more about that here). I do believe that there is a place for all bodies in this community, but we have to be respectful of its roots, its core values, and not turn it into something that it was never intended to be. Weight Watchers claiming to be body positive is a perfect example of this movement being torn to shreds and co-opted by the very people the movement has always been against - you cannot make billions convincing women that they need to lose weight to be good enough and then claim to be body positive (no matter how different WW is now than it was, it still profits from our insecurities and pedals the message that thinner is better).

Recently more members of the bopo community have recognised the need to branch out more fully into fat acceptance, and to see it as a distinct from the bopo we have now. Visibly fat women in our culture face a completely different experience in the outside world than those of us with smaller bodies do. We might have equal internal body image issues, but how the world treats us based on our appearances just isn't the same, and fat acceptance specifically focuses more on those injustices and forms of discrimination based on size. I fully support the fat acceptance movement, but I understand that I don't really belong in it. And I can respect that 100%.

So do thin women belong in the body positive community? I think they can. Like I said, we all battle body image issues, and thanks to photoshop the ideal bodies we see in the media don't actually represent any of us anymore. And in the eyes of diet culture we're all flawed, thin and fat alike. Which means that we all need to reclaim our bodies and speak out against unrealistic standards of beauty. Not to mention the fact that the current cultural ideal is super curvy, super toned, hourglass bombshell - leaving even naturally thin people behind and creating a whole new set of insecurities about being too slim. Body positivity is about teaching us all that we're good enough exactly as we are - thin people are included in that as well. As long as we recognise our privilege and don't distort the true meaning of the movement, the more the merrier.

And let's be real for a minute - the body positive movement is not claiming that thin isn't beautiful. It's not trying to push the current ideal out entirely. It's not saying that 'real women have curves' and using body shaming to lift one group higher than the other. It's simply saying make room for us all. Let us all be seen. Let us all feel beautiful. And thin people have to realise that their bodies have been occupying that spotlight for a damn long time, and that maybe it isn't such a bad thing if a movement comes along that tries to even out the playing field a bit. They're welcome to join in too, as long as they don't try and turn it into the same oppressive standard that people come to bopo to escape from. Don't bring the diet culture. Don't bring the message that one body type is better than the other. What you can do is bring your insecurities, your 'flaws', and your want to be seen as more than just a body. Together we can all help to dismantle the idea that we're not good enough exactly as we are, no matter what size we wear.