With the recent swell of renewed feminism, I’ve noticed an open and honest uptick in hand-wringing over the idea of body positivity. Articles like Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age in the New York Times Magazine and What Should A Feminist Weigh? on Medium, throw light on the internal debate that rages in so many of our hearts and minds over what we think of our bodies as they are and the reasons behind any efforts to change them.
The way to deal with our bodies used to be clear—unhealthy perhaps, but clear. For most of us, that meant LOSE WEIGHT. Above all else, that was the goal. Lose the fat. Lose the cellulite. I, for one, was never “thin enough.” There were always another 5 or 10 or 30 pounds to lose. In my mind, my relationships and professional potential depended on being as skinny (a.k.a. “attractive”) as possible. But over the past few years, there was a cultural shift rising up beneath that drive to be super-thin... a defiant and sometimes defensive movement pushing back, saying NO. My body is what it is, and I love it that way, and if you don’t like it, you can shove your opinion where the sun don’t shine.
It was a relief really ― a middle finger to the inadequacy and insecurity a lot of us carried around. As a trainer who has worked with people as heavy as 400 pounds, I saw my clients take solace in it. They found a community and a new language for acceptance that they had never experienced before—but then something began to happen that undermined that sense of peace.
People started to realize that, though they were supposed to feel better about their bodies, many of them didn’t. The message that thin is better was still pervasive, and their bodies still felt physically heavy. They still felt weighed down, and instead of feeling guilty for being fat, they felt guilty for not being okay with being fat. “Body positivity” is an important and valuable goal, but it became a facade for some: daylight positivity followed by nighttime disparagement. Of course, this wasn’t true for everyone, but I heard about it from a lot of my clients and honestly felt it myself. It was confusing and disorienting.
When this confusion happened, people also didn’t feel free to talk about it. They were afraid of being rejected by their new loud and proud community if they said, I don’t feel good, and I still want to lose some weight. New questions arose. Is it still okay to try to lose weight? We’re not supposed to care anymore, right? So why do I still care so much? If I actually do lose weight, am I betraying myself and all the other curvy girls? Am I not a feminist? Am I caving to societal expectations or just doing what feels better for me?
These questions make sense, and they are achingly common. The answers are as varied as our exquisitely unique bodies, but there is a single truth we can all rally around. Our best, most beautiful bodies are the ones that enrich and invigorate our lives. None of them will look the same. They will be as different as wildflowers in an Iowa prairie or turds at the dog park. Nature requires variety. There is a vast spectrum of humanity, and we all get to represent one little part of it.
The only question to ask is: Does my body feel right to me, or would it feel better if I moved more or ate more real food? How we look has nothing to do with this question. Feminism isn’t about being any particular size, large or small. It’s about honoring our individual bodies and giving them what they need to be at their strongest. Whether we look “right” or “wrong” is a question constructed for us by the outside world.
True feminism, true freedom comes to life when that question no longer applies.