The Body Positivity Movement Is Lying To You

By Isabel Brown··  6 min read
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A movement designed to celebrate and love the skin you’re in, or one glorifying the dangers of unhealthy habits in the name of progress? The body positivity movement has become one of the most controversial cultural fads of our time. Here’s where it may be lying to you.

BBC says the body positivity movement began in the 1960s, when Bill Fabrey, a young engineer from New York, was frustrated with the societal treatment of his overweight wife, leading him to form the National Association to Aid Fat Americans. Today, the organization is known as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), the world’s “longest-running fat rights organization.”

The movement grew from there to create a culture of “fat activism” throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, with people taking to the streets worldwide to protest what they believed to be unfair expectations of female beauty standards and to encourage women to feel beautiful in their own right. With the dawn of the internet in the 2000s, the official “body positivity” movement was born and spread with the help of Facebook groups and hashtags.

Today, the body positivity movement is everywhere – from our Instagram feeds to glossy magazine covers. Its outward message seems to be a positive one, encouraging us to all embrace our God-given beauty over the constantly fluctuating expectations of the era.

Does the movement secretly have a nefarious message, though? How far is too far when it comes to acceptance of what we know will hurt us? What is “positivity” supposed to be, anyway?

The Future of Fitness?

A few months ago, SELF magazine published a cover story entitled, “What the Future of Fitness Really Looks Like,” featuring a photo of fitness personality Jessamyn Stanley, an influencer and yoga aficionado with nearly half a million followers on Instagram. The cover featured a photo of Stanley and introduced an entire issue of the publication focused on what the outlet calls the “Future of Fitness.”

The digital issue featured articles like “The Relentless Reality of Anti-Fatness in Fitness,” introduced the new Fitness Advisory Board focused on “working hard to end anti-fat stigma in the fitness world in order to make gyms, clubs, and the overall world of wellness much more welcoming to all,” and tips for fitness instructors to practice “fat allyship.”

Social media erupted in response to the issue in both celebration and criticism. Many praised the inclusion of nontraditional fitness influencers and models in the community, while others claimed the magazine cover glorified obesity and unhealthy habits and behaviors. It became abundantly clear that Americans are particularly divided on the issue, and begs the question – what is the body positivity movement really preaching, anyway?

It’s one thing to welcome anyone into the fitness community – that shouldn’t just be acceptable, but encouraged in American society as we encourage people to take responsibility for their health and lifestyle. Promoting obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle as right where you should be, however, is a fundamentally different message rooted in the opposite of reality regarding health and fitness.

The Truth About Obesity

Though some of the prominent cultural leaders of our time may glorify it (looking at you, Lizzo-wearing-a-thong-getting-on-a-plane), obesity is not something remotely worth celebrating.

Clinical obesity is specifically defined by the World Health Organization as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.” Not only is it a health concern in and of itself, but obesity is directly linked to a multitude of other diseases, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which later contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems like asthma, joint problems like osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, and even a higher risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19.

In the midst of the body positivity movement gaining significant traction worldwide, subsequent generations find themselves at higher and higher risk for becoming obese or being diagnosed with any of its affiliated illnesses. In fact, “the percentage of obese children in the United States aged 6 to 11 increased from 7% in 1980 to 18% in 2012,” according to the CDC.

The percentage of obese children in the U.S. aged 6-11 increased from 7% in 1980 to 18% in 2012.

Of course, the body positivity movement should absolutely be recognizing the dangers of being too thin, too. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia have wreaked havoc on many generations of young women as they desperately try to perfect being physically thin, neglecting holistic health and putting themselves at risk.

Like obesity, being clinically underweight is also tied to disease, including osteoporosis, skin or teeth problems, anemia, irregular ovulatory cycles, and more.

Ultimately, the body positivity movement ought not to be centered on “fat allyship” or celebrations of fat bodies – nor should it be centered on being excessively thin. Rather, body positivity should be celebrating holistic health through healthy eating and fitness to live as the best version of yourself.

What Positivity Really Means

To be truly body “positive,” we must reframe the concept of positivity entirely. Far too often, we conflate the concept of being positive and loving toward someone with allowing them to continue down a path that will ultimately be harmful to their future. Today, this can be said for encouraging hookup culture, enabling substance abuse, and of course, refusing to identify the dangers of obesity.

Truly loving someone starts with telling them the truth.

Truly loving someone starts with telling them the truth – compassionately, of course – that unhealthy lifestyles centered around a lack of exercise, eating processed junk foods, and a lack of responsibility are not “progressive” or “positive” in the slightest. Rather, they’re setting our society up for a world of trouble exponentially growing with each subsequent generation.

We all should be at peace with who God designed us to be, but also living in the understanding that we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves in recognizance of that fact. You are beautiful, but you are not “perfect just the way you are” as our culture constantly insists. To truly celebrate and be aware of your one-of-a-kind beauty, it takes a whole lot of responsibility to care for yourself beyond emotional acceptance of what you look like.

Closing Thoughts

Body “positivity” can no longer remain entrenched in lies, so let’s do something about it. Encourage your friends to head to the gym with you. Take ownership of what food you’re putting into your body, even if it takes a little extra time. Start your day with a walk around the block instead of scrolling through TikTok. Cultural change starts with each one of us, so moving forward let’s take on a whole new meaning of body positivity together!

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  Body Positivity  Wellness  Society
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