I never looked like any of the girls I saw in magazines when I was a teenager. Where they were long and lean, I was usually thick and muscly. My eyebrows were swarthy, and my hair was frizzy. And to boot, I was always the shortest girl in my class.
While these differences might be very apparent to me today as an adult, it never bothered me as a teenager that the models and actresses I idolized had a different figure than I did. But that all changed when I first heard of body positivity.
I was in college at Emory University when I initially heard the cries of body positivity. An older girl I knew—a cool senior who always had perfectly slept-in waves—talked a lot about raging against the system by refusing to shave our armpits and letting our belly fat hang out in a bikini. She also wanted to reclaim the word “bitch” as a positive description of powerful women. Fast forward a few years later, and I was a body-positive darling who loved everything the movement represented.
But that all changed in 2017. Here’s how my relationship with body positivity has changed throughout the years—and why I no longer support the movement today.
Why I Used To Love Body Positivity
Growing up, I’ve always been a little bit different from the girls in my school and my church. But like I said earlier, this never really bothered me (my parents always raised me to embrace our differences and be grateful for my ethnicity) as a young girl or as a teenager. However, college years bring about a whole new round of insecurities that we’ve never had to face before. And I was suddenly aware of the fact that my thighs were big, my waist didn’t have the hourglass shape, and my shoulders were broad.
Body positivity spoke directly to my insecurities.
The bottom line is, I was insecure about my figure. Body positivity spoke directly to my insecurities. I found myself fist-pumping at the notion that there was nothing wrong with having a figure that wasn’t a size 0. I found myself cheering when I heard a body-positive activist insist that we shouldn’t have to diet ourselves into starvation to try and look like the supermodel who was probably suffering anorexia anyway. All this sounded great to me!
In my early to mid-20s, I struggled a lot with my health. I had a pulmonary embolism when I was 20 years old—from the birth control I was prescribed. The blood thinning medication I was forced to take afterward caused immense weight gain and fatigue. I also struggled with my mental health and had trouble juggling a lot of financial stresses. Body positivity came to me at a moment when I needed a boost of confidence. And that’s exactly what it offered me. Rather than feeling bad about the extra weight on me, I scrolled through body positivity content and told myself the problem was the beauty standard, not me.
What Body Positivity Has Turned Into Today
I started writing for mainstream media when I was just out of graduate school. I enjoyed writing body positivity content because I truly thought I was helping young women build their confidence. However, even in the few years I worked in media, I saw the body positivity movement change immensely.
We went from celebrating everyday bodies to glorifying obesity. Even the images we were using for body positivity content started to get more and more extreme. Where we used to use a photo of a normal-sized woman, we were now using photos of morbidly obese women. I also watched as body positivity went from an affirmation of different body types to a witch hunt for women who decided to lose weight.
We went from celebrating everyday bodies to glorifying obesity.
In 2018, model Ashley Graham was attacked by body-positive fans and followers when she encouraged a contestant on Khloe Kardashian’s show Revenge Body to lose weight. This contestant had survived a car accident and had gained a lot of weight during recovery. Apparently, Ashley Graham offering encouragement to her in her weight-loss efforts was offensive.
Last year, actress Amanda Seyfried got involved in an Instagram squabble when an influencer Arielle Charnas posted a photo of her post-baby body. Amanda Seyfried and her anonymous friend accused Arielle of “perpetuating the patriarchal notion that mothers should ‘bounce back’ after birth.” Body-positive activists also attacked Arielle on her page and accused her of being insulting and demeaning to women. Arielle’s Instagram page is now private.
And let’s not forget the reactions to the singer Adele’s weight loss just a few months ago. Apparently, the body-positive police decided that praising her incredible weight loss was an insult to women everywhere and that we should never celebrate any kind of weight-loss achievement.
Judging a woman by her size sounds like the exact opposite of what body positivity was meant to be.
I was forced to ask myself: Is body positivity a movement used to shame and attack women who lose weight or are naturally skinny? Because judging a woman by her size and bullying her because of her figure sounds like the exact opposite of what body positivity was meant to be in the first place.
Why I No Longer Support Body Positivity
Watching all of this unfold made me take a step back from body positivity and look at it with different eyes. However, the vitriol of the body-positive police was only the beginning of my exit from the movement. As I got more involved in health and fitness as a trainer and coach, I learned more and more about how prevalent obesity is today.
In 2018, 42.4% of Americans were medically obese. This number has increased by 12% since 2000. Even worse, the prevalence of severe obesity rose from 4.7% to 9.2%. The demographic suffering most from obesity is black women. Low-income communities disproportionately struggle with obesity due to a lack of resources and education. Obesity is a highly common denominator among the leading causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and many cancers.
Obesity isn’t something to aspire to, just like type 2 diabetes isn’t a state we’d wish on other women.
Obesity is a medical condition that deserves to be treated as such, rather than glamorized in an attempt to boost clicks and views. Imagine the outrage if magazines started putting smokers on the covers—gray, haggard, and coughing—and tried to boost “representation” of women who were addicted to cigarettes. It wouldn’t be taken well, and we shouldn’t take it well either when we see a clinically obese woman on the cover of a women’s magazine.
Obesity is not something to aspire to, admire, or praise, just like type 2 diabetes isn’t a state that we’d wish upon our friends, daughters, and sisters. When I saw how media companies so flippantly perpetuated the notion that obesity doesn’t have negative consequences (and any science that suggested otherwise was not valid because it was conducted by a sexist white male who attempted to control the beauty standard) without a care of how that would affect women’s lives, I knew it was time for me to part with this movement and never look back.
While I do support the celebration and acknowledgment of normal, everyday female bodies, imperfections and all, I can never get behind flat-out lying about a serious health condition just to build a brand or to coddle insecurity.