Tuesday, 31 January 2017

One Thing I Got Really Wrong About Body Positivity

When I stumbled into the online body positive community two and half years ago I was thinner than I am now. I'd just finished yet another outrageously restrictive diet plan and extreme exercise regime and I'd hit my goal weight - 140lbs and a UK size 10. Of course, it didn't make me happy, there was always more weight to lose, more 'problem areas' to fix', and just when I was starting to realise that I couldn't starve and hate myself any longer, along came body positivity to save the day! I like to picture it flying in with a pink sparkly cape and a cake made out of rainbows and smiles that we can all eat and be happy.

The point being, I was thin when I found body positivity. I was welcomed into the community and given all the love and support in the world from the people there with bodies bigger than mine.
They recognised my body image struggles and cheered me on in overcoming them. One person who cheered for me the loudest was my friend Christine. She was one of the first bopo pages I ever followed, and to this day is one of my greatest role models in this movement (her IG page is @thechristinecho, go check her out).

One day, Christine made an Instagram post about never realising that a fat person and thin person could have such a connection and become such good friends. A little later on I mentioned her post in a post of my own, saying something along the lines of ' OF COURSE  a thin person and a fat person can be friends, because, like, we all go through the same things with our bodies no matter what size we are'. And that right there, is where I was so spectacularly wrong. And I continued to believe it for a long time, that all people's body image struggles are the same regardless of size. So now I know better, I wanna talk about it:

Internal Vs Real World

Picture this: a thin person and a fat person come together, both of them have experienced a lifetime of negative body image, both of them hate their bodies and fight against internal body shaming voices every day. Despite their size difference, their body image issues are both equally valid, equally serious, and equally worthy of recognition. But that doesn't mean their size difference should be ignored. Because no matter how much both of them struggle internally to overcome those issues, in the outside world, their bodies are still treated very differently in our society.

Both the thin person and the fat person are battling against internal voices convincing them that they're the most disgusting, hideous, worthless person in the world. But only one of them is likely to have those words echoed by other people in the outside world whenever they leave the house. Their mental struggles may be equal, but the thin person probably won't have those struggles reinforced by the constant stream of abuse, hatred and harassment that the fat person faces every day simply for existing in our fatphobic culture.

That doesn't mean the thin person's body image issues are any less valid, it simply means that they are different to the fat person's body image issues, because no matter how the thin person feels about their own body, they still benefit from thin privilege in the outside world.

Fat Prejudice and Thin Privilege

If you've never experienced any of the following things, then you are currently benefiting from thin privilege:

  • Public harassment and humiliation based on your size e.g. heckling in the street, public commentary on your clothing or food choices, people taking pictures of you without your consent, being stared at wherever you go, ridicule, snide comments, laughter

  • Public spaces that are inaccessible to you because of your size e.g. aeroplane seats and other public transport, seating in restaurants, cinemas, parks etc., your doctor not having medical equipment in the correct size for you (and when equipment like too small blood pressure cuffs are used, ratings are inaccurate and usually inflated)

  • Having your size blamed for everything that's wrong with society, from economic crisis to global warming

  • People assuming everything about your character, both physical and mental because of your size e.g. being stereotyped as unhealthy, lazy, gluttonous, unintelligent, and unhygienic by people who've never even met you

  • Professional discrimination e.g. being overlooked for employment opportunities and being paid less than thinner co-workers, despite equal or superior qualifications

  • Being unable to find your clothing size in the majority of mainstream stores and having to pay extortionate amounts for fashionable items in your size 

And that's only the beginning. We are living in a culture that teaches us that fat is the worst thing a human being can be. Negative stereotypes of bigger bodies and fat hatred run rampant in the media. Fatphobia is the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice, and visibly fat people face the kind of discrimination that most decent people recognise is totally unacceptable to launch against any other marginalised group. Fat bodies are scrutinised, vilified and attacked simply for daring to exist in the world. And if you're currently part of the body positive community and do not experience real world fatphobia, then you need to recognise that

And like I said, checking your thin privilege and acknowledging the difference between your own body image struggles, and those of someone whose body is bigger than yours does not mean that your body image struggles aren't important too. They are. They always will be. No matter what size you are. But they are different. And seeing that, learning about fat prejudice and size discrimination is the real key to healing our cultural fear of fat that affects us all, regardless of what size we are. It means that we can be better allies in the fat acceptance movement and fight for all bodies to be free from oppressive expectations and societal ideals. That's when the real bopo party starts.

There is room for us all in the body positive community. And no matter what size you are, if you have body image issues that you need to heal then you'll be welcomed in with open arms, just like I was. We just need to make sure that we're recognising our privilege, and that doesn't just go for size either - those of us with able bodies, white passing skin, more acceptably shaped bodies (i.e. the hourglass figure that's still way more widely accepted in plus size spheres than other shapes), cisgender, heterosexual identities, and more youthful appearances have privileges that make our body positivity way more supported within society than other people's might be. And when it comes to thin privilege, let's always remember that body positivity was started by radical fat acceptance activists who fought against fatphobia and paved the way for what we have today.

To Christine, and to anyone else who's body is bigger than mine and who's ever felt invalidated by my position in the body positive community, I'm sorry. I promise to do my best to check my privilege and respect the differences in our journeys. I am so grateful for all the work you've done and continue to do, and I am so grateful that you took me in and let me heal, and in turn have allowed me to create a space for others to do the same. I won't ever forget that. 

If we rise, we rise together.