If I were to share one teeny-weeny gripe I have with Health At Every Size®, body positivity, non-diet, intuitive eating, mindful eating, etc, it’s that none of these are named very well and are often misinterpreted.

Health At Every Size becomes “healthy at every size”. Non-diet becomes “non-‘extreme’ diet”. Intuitive eating becomes the “hunger-fullness diet“. Mindful eating becomes “careful eating“.

And of course, there’s body positivity.

What is Body Positivity? {A History}

On the surface, it would seem that the definition of body positivity would be “feeling positive about your body”. So, why would people get up in arms when “body positivity” and “weight loss” are used in the same sentence? Can’t you love yourself and still want to change your body?

Dr. Deb Burgard, a psychologist and pioneer in fat activism, kindly hopped on the phone a few months ago to school me on the history of this phrase.

Dr. Burgard actually owns the trademark on the phrase “body positive“, which she has since shared with Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, co-founders of The Body Positive. There was also an HIV/AIDS organization called the Body Positive at one time, but how we define body positive today is based more on its fat activism and eating disorder recovery roots.

When I first started learning more about body positivity, I grappled with finding a definition. Yes, “feeling positive about your body” is a part of it, but I could sense that it wasn’t the full picture. Where did body autonomy fit in? What if you didn’t feel positive all the time?

It wasn’t until I read this definition by Ashleigh Shackelford (via this episode of Fearless Rebelle Radio) that I realized I was missing a crucial piece:

“The body positivity movement is largely based in intersectional feminism and encourages the end to body shame, beauty standards and violence against all bodies. The subsector movements within it include fat positivity to empower and protect fat bodies, disability empowerment and justice, empowerment and protection of trans and gender-nonconforming bodies, reproductive justice, an end to colorism and empowerment of dark-skin bodies, the empowerment and protection of non-straight-identifying folks AND an overall end to anti-blackness.”

—Ashleigh Shackelford

I’d been so focused on the individual that I didn’t realize that body positivity is actually a movement.

Body Positivity as a Sociopolitical Movement

Let’s take a look at that first sentence again (emphases mine):

“The body positivity movement is largely based in intersectional feminism and encourages the end to body shame, beauty standards and violence against all bodies.”

Pursuing and celebrating weight loss is not body positive because it upholds beauty standards that marginalize larger bodies and perpetuates the violence of dietary restriction and weight stigma. Centring white, cis-gender gay men during Pride Month is not body positive because it marginalizes the experiences of others in the LGBTQIA+ community.

In other words, if your “body positivity” comes at the expense of other bodies, it’s not body positivity.

That doesn’t mean your body positivity has to be perfect. We all have different intersecting identities, which in turn creates different blind spots. It’s inevitable that we will leave out, or even harm some people. As long as you are able to acknowledge your privileges and blind spots, and willing to apologize and listen when you are called in/out and do better, you are probably on the right track.

If your #bodypositivity comes at the expense of other bodies, it is not body positivity. Click To Tweet

Ack! I Didn’t Sign Up For This! I Just Want to Love My Body!

Keeping in mind that “staying out of politics” is a privilege and a political act in and of itself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with just wanting to love your body. Given the culture that we live in, that is difficult and valuable work. You can call it body acceptance, body love, body respect… but unless you are here to work toward ending the body shame, beauty standards, violence and oppression against all bodies, please don’t call it body positivity.

What are your thoughts on “body positivity”? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

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