Trigger warning: If you are recovering from disordered eating and might be triggered by certain words or stories pertaining to dieting, weight loss or exercise, perhaps save this article to read later on in your recovery journey. It will be here waiting for you when you’re ready 🙂
What is Body Positivity?
There’s no doubt about it, society treats you differently based on the body you have. This too depends on the society you live in. Here in North America, we have strong beauty ideals that are projected from media, culture and ourselves. Whether it’s a desire to be thinner, more muscular or curvier, there are messages from diet culture encouraging us to go after a particular, often unattainable body size.
But why are only a certain few body types elevated as superior? Are not all bodies equal? My body, your body, her body. They are equally beautiful and strong. Segregating people based on body type is harmful and damaging. And it happens on TV, in movies and in mainstream media.
One study found that “thin women were overrepresented (5% of women in American culture are underweight, although a third of television characters are underweight), while 24% of male characters and 13% of female characters were overweight or obese. Heavier characters were more likely to be in minor roles, were less likely to be involved in romantic relationships, had fewer positive interactions than thin characters, and were often the objects of humour”. 19,20
Body Positivity is the notion that all bodies are equal. That’s it. Nothing crazy, just the simple notion that all bodies are deserving of the same love, respect and admiration.
Fat bodies, tall bodies, large bodies, small bodies and bodies in wheelchairs are all equal. Sally’s body is not better than another body because it appears to be physically stronger or thinner. If Sally chooses to subscribe to health and wellness and is working out for enjoyment purposes, they are not any better than someone who does not subscribe to those things. Even though health and wellness are relative, it is a choice.
PS – as our photo caption states, we could really only find stock photos of straight sized, able-bodied women. We understand this is not representative of society, and are working towards diversifying the imagery we use. However, we all must do our part to demand more from mainstream media to push for more representation, so this is not an issue moving forward!!
Diets don’t work
Taking up less space will not make you happier. Even if you think this might be the case, studies show diets don’t work.1 Your metabolism is complex and undereating or over exercising will not lead to permanent weight loss.
Body Positivity and politics
How can a body be political? Well, women’s bodies have been political for a very long time.
Everything from reproductive rights, to the way women dress, has been up for debate by society. And with the help of diet culture, certain body types and sizes have been made politically unacceptable. According to Christy Harrison, Registered Dietician: “Diet culture is a system of beliefs that: Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others and oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health”.”
This leads to the externalized or internalized hatred of others or one’s own body. And with billion dollar dieting corporations profiting off of diet culture’s messages, they have a lot to lose when people practice body positivity.
“In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.” – Caroline Caldwell
HAES – Health at every size
If you’re new to learning about body positivity you might have some objections or feel hesitant to the idea that all bodies can be healthy. Here at Pranin Organic, we are firm believers in HAES – Health at Every Size. Yes, EVERY SIZE. When it comes to health and wellness, so many things are broken down into a quantitative number. Calories, steps walked, portion amounts, km’s walked and pounds weighed. Yet, there is so much to health and wellbeing that can’t be tracked on your iPhone’s health app. What about hours spent laughing with your BFF? The endorphins released after enjoying your favourite meal? Delicious food enjoyed with friends? All of that is healthy and not trackable via an online application.
“But doesn’t body positivity encourage obesity?” No. It does not. Remember, fat bodies are not bad bodies, just like short and tall bodies are not bad bodies. Fat is just a descriptor word, it has no moral value. Just like the word thin. Thin is not better than fat, they are just ways to describe what a body might look like. It also needs to be stated that body size does not show someone’s health. The idea of fat equating to unhealthiness or obesity leading to an overall worse health state comes from the Body Mass Index system which has been debunked.2,3 The BMI system was originally created by a mathematician who said “it could not and should not be used to indicate the level of fatness in an individual.” as it was designed 200 years ago to provide the government with a quick and easy way to measure obesity in a large population. It has been referred to as “mathematical snake oil”.4
The size of one’s body will not show you their health status, level of fitness, what or how they eat or their relationship with their food, mind an body. Credit: @nutritionforgood
Again, Body Positivity is the notion that all bodies are equal. Larger bodies are not better than small bodies and vice versa. They’re all equally beautiful! And the stigma our society has against those in fat bodies is very damaging.
Medical Biases in health studies
Research shows medical bias’ and societal discrimination towards people in fat bodies causes stress.5,6 And as you may know from other articles, stress can cause Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (brain fog), poor gut health and negatively impact your sleep cycle.7,8,9,10 So, is obesity the biggest health concern, or is it how we treat those in larger bodies?
“Stigma and discrimination toward obese persons are pervasive and pose numerous consequences for their psychological and physical health. Despite decades of science documenting weight stigma, its public health implications are widely ignored. Instead, obese persons are blamed for their weight, with common perceptions that weight stigmatization is justifiable and may motivate individuals to adopt healthier behaviours.”6
A recent example of medical bias towards people in larger bodies caused one woman to pass on due to her doctor not looking into her symptoms of chronic pain, and dismissing it as a need to simply lose weight. She used her obituary to advocate against fat shaming in the health and medical industry.11
“But I’m just trying to help people with their health and wellbeing, isn’t being obese unhealthy?” We admire those who are worried about other’s health, but we do challenge you to dig deeper and ask yourself some questions. If you’re worried about a loved one’s health, perhaps ask them questions about how they’re feeling. As we know from HAES, health is not related to body size.
Additionally, we know from research that intentional weight loss is associated with a lower immune system and long-term effects on immune function.12
What about all of the studies that prove obesity and fat are bad for our health/lead to chronic illnesses? First of all, as we know health cannot be measured by numbers. Also, most health studies relating to obesity rarely include factors like nutrient intake, fitness or mental health. And if they do, there is no relationship between obesity and increased risk of disease.13
Additionally, it’s important to know that many diet and food corporations sponsor studies to sway results in their favour. After all, they have money to make off of our insecurities.
“Recently, evidence emerged that the sugar industry had paid scientists in the 1960s to implicate saturated fat, and not sugar, as a cause for heart disease.”14 – The Guardian
“Coke has made a substantial investment in the new nonprofit. In response to requests based on state open-records laws, two universities that employ leaders of the Global Energy Balance Network disclosed that Coke had donated $1.5 million last year to start the organization. Since 2008, the company has also provided close to $4 million in funding for various projects to two of the organization’s founding members: Dr. Blair, a professor at the University of South Carolina whose research over the past 25 years has formed much of the basis of federal guidelines on physical activity, and Gregory A. Hand, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health.”15
As one piece of research states:
“…researchers dealing with industry may be subjected to pressure, and they need help to resist such pressure. Most universities now have a code of conduct on relations with industry and conflicts of interest, but when the negotiations come down to the wire, and money and jobs are at stake, then a code of conduct may not be enough to keep a researcher on the straight and narrow.”16
Choose size acceptance and intuitive eating for your best life
Everyone was born as an intuitive eater. During the first few years of life, babies and toddlers eat when they’re hungry and move your body when and how they want to. It’s only after being subjected to societal pressures from diet culture that people feel the need to track their food and deem certain foods healthy or ‘good’ and others not healthy or ‘bad’.
One study shows that size acceptance and intuitive eating can improve the overall health of dieters in larger bodies.17
Getting back to your intuitive eating and exercising roots is one way you can live your best life. This can be a long process and requires work. It’s helpful to find a HAES therapist and Registered Dietitian or Holistic Nutritionist to help you on this journey. If these services are not available to you financially or geographically some healthcare practitioners will meet with patients via skype at lower prices.
Body Positivity and activism
Posting a #bopo full bod selfie might be where body positivity starts, but it should not be where it ends. As we’ve mentioned before, some bodies are political because a happy, fat body means less money for billion dollar diet companies. Fatphobia has also been perpetuated as a way to used to further oppress women by keeping them busy with diet activities, so they have less time to politically organize and protest.18
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
– Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
Here are some ways you can continue your learning about Health At Every Size, Intuitive Eating, Body Positivity and how you can be a thin or straight sized ally to those in larger, more marginalized bodies:
- Listen to the She’s All Fat Podcast
- Listen to Christy Harrison’s, RD, Podcast: Food Psych
- Books to read:
- You have the right to remain fat – Virgie Tovar
- Hunger – Roxane Gay
- Shrill – Lindy West
- Fat is a feminist issue – Susie Orbach
- Buy clothing from companies that are size inclusive: TomboyX
- Support establishments that are accessible to all bodies. Download the AllGo Accessibility App to help with this.
- Follow accounts that post photos of bodies not depicted or negatively depicted in mainstream media: @onbeinginyourbody @i_weigh @bodyposipanda @virgietovar @fatgirlflow @scarrednotscared @careyseuthe @tessholliday @aprilkquioh @_sophiack_ @aminatou @iamivyfelicia @mynameisjessamyn @diannebondyyoga @louisegreen_bigfitgirl @rebelliousnutritionist @body_peace_liberation @fionawiller @thebodypositive @chr1styharrison
- Follow fat activists and health at every size healthcare practitioners on social media (some of the accounts tagged above are one or both of these).
- Explore your own internalized fatphobia.
- Follow a diverse group of media companies. Examples: @ravishly @onourmoon @theunsungheroines @feministscript @futurewomen
- Tweet, email or contact companies/establishments and let them know you would support them if they were more accessible or carried more sizes.
Body Positivity intersects with feminism, racial equality, LGBTQi+ rights and all movements that aim to uplift marginalized voices. We encourage our readers to do their own research into global equality movements to allow for more knowledge, political change and ultimately love and compassion for all living beings on earth. Contact your local elected officials and ask them what they’re doing to make community and city spaces open and accessible to those in marginalized bodies.
We’ve worked with some amazing women in our community to bring you personal body positive stories with the hopes of bringing more women together and exposing diet culture for the monster it is. Send them to your soul sisters so we can work together to dismantle the systems that are holding us back from living our best lives.
COMING SOON: Part 5: Linday’s Story – Yes, there are two Linday’s/Lynsey’s 😉
5 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4381543/
7- Stress can impact how your body operates at every level – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/
8- Stress affects your microbiome in a negative way which can perpetuates an unhealthy Circadian Rhythm (sleep cycle). – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3039072/
9- Stress has shown to negatively alter the bacteria in your stomach, which in some cases can even be irreversible over time. – Rhee SH, Pothoulakis C, Mayer EA. Principles and clinical implications of the brain-gut-enteric microbiota axis. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2009; 6: 306-314.
10- Link between stress and Chronic Fatigue – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3617392/
14 – https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/dec/12/studies-health-nutrition-sugar-coca-cola-marion-nestle
16 – Does Industry Sponsorship Undermine the Integrity of Nutrition Research? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1761050/
18 – Bell, K., & McNaughton, D. (2007). Feminism and the invisible fat man. Body and Society, 13(1), 107-131. DOI: 10.1177/1357034X07074780
19 2003) Ortrayals of overweight and obese individuals on commercial television. Am J Public Health 93 (8): 1342–1348., , , , (