By: Corinne Santiago, writer & Professor of English at SUNY Purchase
While a Google search for “body positivity” still turns up with mostly weight-centered articles, the movement has slowly begun to morph into something more inclusive for groups of people that are, more often than not, marginalized or ignored completely. The community has even made space for those identifying as men in a movement that has, for decades, been focused solely on women. Even though the term ‘body positivity’ was “borne out of treatment for anorexia recovery in 1996,” it has since evolved to include issues of racial justice, LGBTQ+ representation, as well as the disability and mental health movements. There are still, however, people who believe the movement is something negative.
All too often, we as a society forget that our bodies are much more than what we can physically see when we look in a mirror. Most detractors of the body positivity movement criticize it for “promoting obesity,” but too many of them have been brainwashed into believing that society’s unrealistic standards of beauty are actually attainable. The wrinkle-free faces, perfectly pouted lips, impossibly tiny waists, and blemish free skin we see on our screens and in our magazines are invented – created by Photoshop in order to diminish the things we see in the real world.
In the real world, there is a remarkable amount of ways a body can look and no one way is better or more “correct” than another. On my own personal journey to both physical and mental enlightenment, I’ve learned three very important things when it comes to understanding what the body positivity movement is really all about:
1. Health looks different on everyone.
Many people see larger bodies and immediately think of words like “lazy,” and “unhealthy.” The fact of the matter, however, is that “health” cannot always be determined by looking at a physical body. A person’s health is between them and their doctors. There are a multitude of reasons a body can be larger that have nothing to do with diet and exercise. While unhealthy eating habits and a lack of physical activity may be the cause for some people’s weight gain, it is not everyone’s. This brings me to the next thing one should always remember.
2. Never make any assumptions or judgments.
If someone is taking their fourth bite of a food you deem to be unhealthy, it’s no one else’s business but their own. Everyone’s story is a different one and we have no right to claim that we know anyone else’s better than they know it themselves.
3. Everyone is worthy of respect, even you.
Every single person is valuable, important, and worthy of being treated with respect if only because they are another human being. The movement, at its core, is about respect. It’s not about the qualities you may think are attractive or the foods and practices you assume to be healthy; it’s about offering respect and kindness, without exception. What is right for one, may be wrong for another.
We are, unfortunately, a society riddled with insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. It’s important to realize that if we were all supposed to look and act the same, we would have been designed that way. We weren’t, so why don’t we start embracing our differences instead of tearing each other and ourselves down for the very things that make us unique?