Sunday, 1 October 2017

An Apology To All Of The Fat People I've Hurt With My Account

When I found the online body positive community, I was thin. I wore a UK size 10, I had spent my entire life trying to lose weight, had battled anorexia, and had hated my body with every fibre of my being every step of the way.

So when I finally found a space in a tiny corner of the internet where people of every shape and size were embracing their bodies, I jumped straight in. They welcomed me, allowed me to learn from them, and cheered me on in overcoming my own lifetime of body hatred. None of us set out to become 'internet famous' or grow large followings - we were just a group of people healing together, figuring things out, trying to find our own happiness in a world that had taught us we weren't deserving of it, in one way or another.

It never once occurred to me that any of these people didn't deserve to be there, no matter how big their bodies were, no matter how healthy or unhealthy. To us the message was clear: all bodies really did mean all bodies.

But then the numbers started rising. An online article here. A repost from a large account there. Then all of a sudden our tiny corner of the internet had a giant spotlight shining directly on it. The media realised that something called body positivity was happening on Instagram and people started flocking to it.

In the process, my account was one that blew up the quickest, and I know exactly why that is. Because I was saying the same things as the people around me whose bodies were bigger, whose skin was darker, who were differently abled, who were outside the gender binary, whose bodies placed them further outside of our cultural standards of beauty than my own. But from my body, that was just a bit chubby, that wasn't too unruly, that still fit several of those cultural standards, the message was more easily palatable. It wasn't as threatening. And for the mainstream media, it could be watered down to whatever they wanted it to be. My privilege made my voice louder than others.

Soon the idea of body positivity had changed from what we'd known it was. It started to include the requirement of "as long as you're healthy". It started being taken by fitspo and diet culture. It started to expand in numbers and look closer and closer to the cultural beauty standards that it was supposed to be railing against. Thousands of people with thin, white, cisgender, young, conventionally attractive, able-bodies swarmed into this once tiny space, desperate to find the answer to their own body image issues (and I'm not for a minute denying those issues or saying that they don't deserve to be solved, see more about that here., but we need to talk about the effect that had). 

Soon the community didn't look anything like it once did. And the message didn't sound anything like it was supposed to either. And it would be irresponsible of me to deny that I played a part in that.

Because so many of the people who flocked to the movement for their own salvation will have seen my body, made their interpretation of my words, and decided what body positivity meant for them, without spending the time that we all had discovering what it truly means. Which says one thing: I wasn't shouting the truth loud enough.

I wasn't advocating for fat bodies loud enough. I wasn't fighting against faux health concern loud enough. I wasn't saying loud enough that yes all bodies can be here but if we're only celebrating bodies that look like our own then we are failing this movement. If we're allowing healthism, ableism, diet culture and fatphobia to creep in we are failing this movement. If we aren't being intersectional we are failing this movement. If we are only focusing on individual self love rather than fighting to free marginalised bodies from oppression and discrimination we are failing this movement.

And because I wasn't saying it loud enough, all of the people who saw my account and started their own didn't realise that they had to be saying it at all. Body positivity became whatever they needed it to be for their own personal healing, and in turn, started hurting the people who it was created for by excluding them from their own movement.

Nowhere is this more obvious than when I post a picture of someone whose body is bigger than mine, and hundreds of comments roll in that body positivity isn't for fat people, that there's a limit, that health comes first, that true body positivity is something else. Or rather, they've been told that it's something else from somewhere on the internet, where the actual meaning of body positivity has been watered down beyond recognition in order to please the most people.

I'm sorry for the part I've played in that. I'm sorry for not shouting loud enough. I'm sorry for allowing myself to be watered down. I'm sorry for leaving any room for misinterpretation. I'm sorry for taking up so much space in a movement that was not created for me. I'm sorry for not fighting for you hard enough. I will do better.

And to everyone reading this who lives in a body with any amount of privilege: I need you to do better with me. I need you to recognise any brand of body positivity that excludes marginalised bodies, and ask them to do better. I need you to call out fatphobia and healthism in body positive spaces. I need you to support and celebrate the voices of the people this movement was made for. I need you to be willing to keep growing, keep learning, keep admitting when you've fucked up, even though it's uncomfortable as hell. Because until we free all bodies from oppressive cultural ideals, marginalisation and discrimination, and get to the root of how those systems got put in place, none of us get out of this.

If we truly want to create a world where every body is valued, celebrated, represented, safe, and even loved, we have to do better. Re-centering this movement around the bodies it was made for is where we start.