I decided that this site needed yet another new series. Feminist Dictionary will focus on buzzwords that have recently become popular in feminist (and mainstream) media that you should know about. There have been a lot of these buzzwords lately, and I feel like it’s important to address not only their definitions and origins, but their functions and flaws as well.
Today’s phrase, “body positive,” is something you may have come into contact with before on some female-powered website here or there, but most likely you’ve heard it used in the negative, such as “that article wasn’t very body-positive.” Not that the phrase only applies to women, by a long shot – it’s just more likely to come out of the mouth of a 21-year-old social work student than that of my father. So what does it mean to be “body positive?”
The phrase generally refers to behavior and ideology that is accepting and even loving of all bodies and the people inside them. It’s not just about fat and thin, either. Bodies with disabilities. Pregnant bodies. Bodies that are 7 feet tall. Bodies of color. Transgender bodies. Being body-positive means being open to all kinds of bodies, not just attractive ones or ones that we are used to seeing. The idea is that these bodies belong to real people who feel desire and who crave acceptance just as much as people with more mainstream physiques. Even people who have a less challenging appearance often don’t see themselves that way, and need to be encouraged to remain body-positive as much as the rest of us.
A lot of very politically and socially influential blogs have sprung up around this phrase, such as http://fuckyeahbodypositive.tumblr.com/. People who have been hiding their bodies their whole lives, people who have been made to feel ashamed of things they have no control over, are finally beginning to be empowered to love themselves. The sharing of photos of unique bodies and the celebration of this uniqueness are just some of the examples of how body positivity has changed the internet and the world. Most of us aren’t used to seeing pictures of fat women in their underwear. We haven’t been taught by society how to love these pictures and find their subjects attractive, but it’s something that, as members of the human race, we need to learn to get over, sweetcheeks.
This may sound like just another way the world has come up with to be obsessed with ourselves, but let’s face it – my body is something I have to deal with every day. I need to feed it and water it. I have to clean it and empty it of waste. I must exercise it and rest it. I probably spend more time thinking about my body than any other thing in the world, because my soul is inextricable from it. My body is a conductor for both pain and pleasure. Me and my body are dependent on each other for survival. So when an issue arises with it, I need to deal with that issue. Maybe the issue is that I gained five pounds. Maybe the issue is that I have ovarian cancer. Maybe it is that I have decided to stop shaving my legs. Whatever it is, I deserve to still love myself as a person. Body positivity encourages that self-love in the face of whatever insecurities we are told we should have about the way we look.
There is one thing we must be careful about when it comes to this sort of language, and that is using it as a weapon rather than a tool for personal growth. If someone attacks your body verbally (or physically, of course), you have every right to defend yourself. But other people do have the right to speak negatively about themselves. You can let them know, gently, that what they are saying isn’t body-positive and could be triggering for others who have struggled with self-image, but you cannot control how they feel or speak about themselves. They didn’t say it to hurt you, and they don’t need to be accused of anything. Trying to silence others isn’t body-positive, either. Instead, say something positive to them as a good example, or let them know how much they mean to you. Someone who is trying to change their outward appearance (losing weight, putting on makeup, etc.) doesn’t necessarily dislike themselves; in fact, they may have great love for their body and their mind, and “bettering” themselves is their way of loving themselves.
Body-positive talk and actions can be one of the healthiest conversations a 21st-century woman can engage in, as long as it is used constructively and supportively. For more fascinating reading on the subject, try http://www.thebodypositive.org/index.htm, or http://www.loveyourbody.org/, or the hilariously named http://gtfothinspo.com/.