If you do a quick Google search of “Body Positivity” you’ll see thousands of cute clip-art graphics with little sayings about how important it is to love yourself. How, if YOU know your worth then you can do anything and everything and there is NOTHING standing in your way. As someone who has struggled with my self-esteem and body image my entire life, I have heard this mantra more times than I can count.
I’ve spent years trying to love myself out of an eating disorder, toward confidence and happiness, and I have come to the conclusion that this entire idea is bullsh*t. Okay, maybe not entirely, but the idea that true happiness comes from self-love is one that works far better in theory than it does for real people.
When I first began my journey toward healing my relationship with my body, I fully believed that if I could love myself enough, I would be invincible. That if I accepted my rolls and cellulite and believed that I was capable, I would be able to go through the world unbothered by criticism and able to accomplish anything.
I definitely am guilty of posting some of those mainstream body positive messages as I was learning what “body positivity” means to me. I have now reached a point where when I am sitting alone in my room and look in the mirror, I DO like the way my body looks. I appreciate how strong my body is for all it has done for me, and have learned to love it.
The problem is that I don’t spend my life living in my personal little bubble. I exist in the world where diet-culture permeates life and fatphobia is rampant.
There is hardly any aspect of life that is is separate from diet culture and the weight-loss or “wellness” industries. When we are being constantly inundated with messages of how to “fix” our bodies or lose weight or how we should look differently, it’s damn hard to look in the mirror and love the body that you’re in.
The problem in and of itself is this system that tells us the key to happiness is to be thin, white, and rich. Personal ability to love yourself or accept yourself plays a virtually nonexistent role. If we weren’t constantly seeing messages telling us that we should be smaller or different, it would be a whole hell of a lot easier to love ourselves as we are.
By placing responsibility on the individual rather than systemic ways people in fat bodies, disabled people, people of color, and queer people are oppressed, we are stuck blaming ourselves when we still aren’t happy.
Fat people can’t love their way to medical professionals taking them seriously. They can’t love themselves so much that they get paid the same as their smaller sized coworkers. They won’t be able to be treated with basic respect by virtue of just really loving their body.
These are all very real, very prevalent examples of anti-fat bias that exist in our daily lives, and self-love has no place in making any of this better.
The idea of loving your way to happiness is also SO inherently problematic and privileged.
The faces of mainstream body positivity are predominately thin, white women who have bodies that are deemed generally acceptable by society. I am not doubting that these women have dealt with insecurities, or have faced pressure to change, but their stories of overcoming insecurities aren’t necessarily relatable to a fat person of color since their body is not the model of what is deemed desirable by society.
This is why thin people can post a photo about eating an entire pizza like it’s a personality trait, but if a fat person references eating anything other than lettuce, they are accused of being unhealthy and a burden on society and receive death threats (yes, this actually happens).
Thin people are so much more supported than fat people on this journey to self-love, and can interpret their successes after achieving this “self-love” state to being as a result of their new mindset, when in reality these accomplishments have come fairly easily due to the lack of barriers that ever existed for them in the first place.
This is why it’s harmful for a thin person to preach self-love to a fat person as the solution to their problems, when the thin person has no frame of reference for how anti-fat bias appears everywhere.
I know this can be a lot to think on. As a straight size (not plus size) woman who is predominately white, I know first hand how uncomfortable it is to sit with your privilege. Recognizing this privilege doesn’t take anything away from the awful things that you have experienced.
Realizing that I have a body that society accepts doesn’t make my experience with eating disorders or body dysmorphia any less real, but does mean that I have to unpack where a lot of this stems from and make an effort to not perpetuate fatphobia.
Through my experience recovering from my eating disorder, I have learned that often times the people with the worst internalized fatphobia are the ones grappling with their own body image stuff. Step one is recognizing this, and then making an effort to stop spreading messages that could be harmful to others, even if coming from a place of personal struggle.
If you are lucky enough to truly have an impenetrable shell and not have a single care in the world about what people think of you, then good for you! I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with loving yourself or being confident. We all SHOULD be our own biggest cheerleaders! But that is nowhere near enough.
In reality, we ALL care what other people think about us and how society treats us, even if we claim that we don’t. We are human. No one is impervious to the messaging that surrounds us.
Body positivity and self-love mean nothing without fighting for equality and the dismantling of diet culture from a social justice perspective. Whether or not someone loves themselves, they deserve to be treated with respect and equality.
Body size shouldn’t play a role in whether people deserve medical care, equal wages, opportunities, or kindness from other people. There is no moral value attached to what bodies looks like or whether or not someone is trying to change their size.
Basic human rights should apply to EVERY SINGLE person, regardless of what their body looks like. So don’t tell me to love myself – let’s work on changing the culture of society so it’s not so hard to in the first place.
Also published on Medium.