Resisting the Body Negative Empire


My self-care resolution to myself is to (when possible) no longer support environments and people in authority positions that make body negative comments. So far, this has mostly been in places of “physical activity,” and “wellness." I’ve dropped yoga classes, dance classes, therapists, doctors, and community spaces this way. The more time I spend doing this, the more I realize how difficult it is to find spaces that are body positive, and the more I also realize that this is more than self-care—it’s political, and it’s about solidarity and coalition.

The following examples are mostly related to body size and shape, though for different people and contexts, “body negative” can take the form of fatphobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and ableism. 

When I say “body negative,” I’m talking about comments like,

"We have to get ready for bikini season,"

"You used to be a… ya know… ok-looking girl, but now you’re really a pretty girl,"

"Are you losing the l-b's? Looks good!"

I'm talking about doctors who say, "Why don't you just journal about it?"

Trainers who say, “Those lower abs can be really…problematic.”

Family or friends who say, “You’re so cute these days!!!—have you lost weight?”

I could go on and on. 

I am endlessly shocked that anyone thinks that backhanded "compliments" are appropriate, or even compliments at all (they're not). These kinds of comments contribute to a culture of shame and apology, and I'm so angry about it.

I'm angry that these kinds of environments make us feel that we have to apologize for the space we take up, that we do not have a place in the world, that we will be more valued if we get in better shape or change certain physical attributes about ourselves. I hate that these systems of shame are operating as mechanisms of “motivation.” I'm angry that we often feel that we have to apologize for the way that we are. Body negativity is so engrained in our culture that most of us don't realize how problematic these comments are—in fact, sometimes they’re masked as “compliments” and “inspiration” or just "the truth." Even if that person you’re speaking to thinks of your body negative comment as somehow positive (“I’m so happy you noticed!”), someone else might be triggered by overhearing this interaction. And that’s reason enough not to say it. And then there’s the way that we subconsciously internalize all of it and end up knowingly or unknowingly contributing to a culture that values some bodies over other bodies.

In case you missed it:

The fitness of a body does not make someone more deserving--of a cupcake, of a date, of a loving partner, of friends, of a job, of healthcare, or of real medical advice and treatment. That shouldn't be a revelation, but I've been taking in a lot of information lately that indicates otherwise.

There are structural issues in place that keep this valuation of some bodies over other bodies firmly rooted in society and also cause people to continue to replicate these harmful social structures.

It's difficult to alter your idea of success of beauty.

It's difficult not to feed into the system.

It's difficult to even see the system at work because it's enormous and it's swallowing us whole. 

And it’s so much more complicated than the size or shape of bodies. It's the same system that values white and light-skinned bodies, non-disabled bodies, gender-conforming bodies, “healthy” bodies, “happy” minds, sanity, alertness, youth. If you feel overwhelmed by this, it's because it's really. fucking. overwhelming.

I'm lost in the depths of how endless it is, but I'm trying to take a step forward even if that step feels negligible sometimes. I'm trying to find the end of any small thread and follow it out. I'm trying to trust that addressing structural issues and voicing them into the world, even to a single person, does something important. I'm trying to trust that a single statement against the hegemonic body negative norm can add to the collective consciousness. And I’ve noticed that the more I do this, or even think about it, the more comfortable I feel in my own skin. I’m reading your beautiful Not Sorry posts and following your lead that says, "I will not apologize for the space that my body takes up in the world," "I'm not sorry for being a yoga teacher who ate fried chicken for lunch," "I'm not sorry for rejecting the narrative that there isn't enough room for me," “I’m not sorry that I ate that cookie,” "I'm not sorry for having a disability," “I’m not sorry for loving the sound of my own voice,” “I’m not sorry I have this really great facial hair,” "I'm not sorry that my recovery has taken longer than you thought it would." Thank you for every one of these comments and so many more.

I will continue to remind myself and others that it’s unacceptable to talk about someone's body and place value on it. I will continue to ask why it’s considered appropriate to value some bodies over other bodies and to project narratives onto people. And then I will also ask people to stop projecting narratives onto other people and their bodies. I will do this in situations that I feel it is safe to do this. I will do this because I’m often in a position of privilege where I can do this.* I will do this because it's important coalitional work and I know that I deserve to be in spaces that are body positive and unapologetic. We all do.

*I want to acknowledge that it is not an option for people to speak up about this for many different reasons, including safety and personal comfort. As a person of privilege in many of these situations, and someone who often feels safe in confrontational interactions, I have made it my own practice to speak up when I feel safe and comfortable with it. Other times, I simply decide that I will not go back to that space, that person, that class. Other times, I take care of myself in other ways. It’s all about context. It’s all valid.