The Problem With Body Positivity
Lately, I’d say over the past few weeks or even months, I’ve had a nagging issue that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My thoughts would spiral around and around until I simply got tired and frustrated that I couldn’t leave my own brain with a concrete answer. I knew it revolved around the body positive movement, I knew something didn’t sit quite right, and I had no idea why that was.
I’m a chronic overthinker. In some ways it’s how I grasp for control despite knowing that there is none. When I think and think and THINK and still don’t have an answer, that’s when I start consulting outside opinions. I go to therapy. I have long talks with Neil. I outsource for varying perspectives. Usually one of these will provide me with a view that I hadn’t considered or reframe a situation differently and allow me to finally connect all the dots.
So I did those things. I spent the better better part of two hours discussing it with Neil. I posted yesterday on Instagram looking for your opinions because I really wanted to get a feel for what you thought. In responding to those comments and reflecting on those conversations, I finally started to shape what had been bothering me.
At the root of it all, I really, really, want people to like themselves. I never want people to feel the way that I’ve felt about myself and treat themselves the way I’ve degraded myself. Just like I can’t control anyone or anything except myself, I can’t force people to feel certain ways about themselves, as much as I want to. I put up pictures and wrote captions TELLING people how to feel as if it were that easy. As if reading something would magically flip a switch in each and every person’s brain and it would just click. As if my own self-acceptance didn’t take years of work and therapy. IT’S OK GUYS, I LIKE MYSELF NOW SO YOU SHOULD TOO.
I read Christy Harrison’s book Anti-Diet, which I mentioned a couple of times on here and bought as a giveaway on Instagram because I felt so strongly that people should read it. And they should read it. It’s a fascinating read about the power that diet culture has over us in this society and challenges accepted ideas about obesity and health issues. What reading that book also did for me, however, was highlight the fact that body positivity can be just as damaging as diet culture.
After I had Miles, I legitimately lost the body hang-ups that I would periodically experience. I thought, “what is a body? It’s just skin and organs and it made this baby and why in the world is so much emphasis put on it??” I felt no need to diet or restrict in order to immediately “bounce back” to how I looked before I got pregnant. What was the point of that?
I loved reading posts and seeing pictures from moms who embraced their postpartum bodies. I shared my new mom thoughts and really felt good about where I was and this new little person that I had MADE INSIDE ME. As time went on, however, I realized that I didn’t love my body all the time. I had my bladder prolapse and got mad at my body. Fitness became different – not bad – just different. I never felt like wearing anything besides leggings and sweatshirts because I just didn’t feel like myself. At nine months postpartum I’m still hanging on to about 10-15 lbs more than I was before getting pregnant and I don’t love that every day. Some days I don’t care, but some days I do and I felt more and more ashamed of those feelings given the content that I was putting out. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to feel that way.
As I sat down to write this, I researched for almost two hours about the term body positivity. I found out that I wasn’t alone in feeling like body positivity was actually making me feel worse about myself. A movement that preaches “loving your body no matter what” leaves no room for days when you just don’t. It’s impossible to wake up every day, look in the mirror, and absolutely love everything you see. It’s also an offshoot of a much deeper political and social movement, which you’re welcome to research for yourself (and should), but for the purposes of this post isn’t really relevant.
A movement that preaches “loving your body no matter what” leaves no room for days when you just don’t.
I felt like wanting to lose some weight was bad, despite not feeling like myself. I felt shame at not loving my body at this size every day, no matter what. My desire to change my body didn’t come from low self-esteem, the media, or wanting to look a certain way for anyone else. I simply didn’t, and don’t, feel like myself.
Upon reflection, discussion, and research, diet culture and body positivity exist on two opposite ends of a spectrum and are equally as damaging. Diet culture causes feelings of shame by telling us we need to shrink ourselves to be accepted, while body positivity’s shame comes from not allowing us to ever feel negative thoughts about ourselves. More appropriate terms, and ones that I feel far more comfortable with, include “body acceptance” and “body neutrality.” I can accept my body without always thinking positive thoughts about it.
I’m not entirely happy with my body right now, and my desire to change it has nothing to do with self-hatred or insecurity. I love myself now much more than I ever have when trying to change my body in the past. And that’s the thing. You never know what another person’s motivation is in doing something. Only they do. This is why I constantly check in with myself to ask why I feel a certain way, why I’m acting a certain way, etc. It’s taken a long time to learn, but it’s the only way I can really get to the bottom of things and work to improve myself as a person.
So to anyone who I may have marginalized or ostracized in my attempt to emphasize the importance of loving yourself, I apologize. Telling people what and how to feel is never as successful as helping them learn to do it themselves. At the end of the day, your body is yours and you’re free to do whatever you want with it.
(Just try and do it with love).