When Does Body Positive Activism Cross The Line Into Personal Reality Denial?
A recent Yahoo article featured a series of plus-size bloggers — a yoga devotee and pole dancer among them — in an article entitled “Meet The Women Proving You Can Be Fit At Any Size”.
Yes, you can.
There’s no question that exercising to increase strength, flexibility and endurance is beneficial no matter your weight or body fat percentage. It’s completely possible and desirable to get into better shape and enjoy an improved mental state regardless of what the scale says. And of course, a person of any size can be athletic and move beautifully.
But as a woman who’s been both heavy and thin and is right now heavy, I can’t let the above statement go without, if you’ll forgive the expression, expanding on it.
Beyond Body-Shaming: The Cold Truth
A lifetime of carrying excess fat as a single woman has impacted my quality of life. Badly. It’s hurt and limited me physically, socially, romantically, occupationally and psychologically. Is it right or fair? No. But it’s the truth. I can’t see the point in soft-soaping it. So far, well into my forties, I haven’t ever been able to maintain a lean shape and healthy weight for very long, and I consider it a personal failure. Overcoming binge-eating is a real bitch.
Sometimes it’s negative beliefs and attitudes that hold a person back. But sometimes, really, it’s the weight.
The message of loving and supporting yourself unconditionally and fighting back against social cruelty and disrespect is, I think, the best thing about the body positive movement. But not when it comes at the expense of the truth. The truth about just how life-destroyingly difficult and unhealthy being significantly overweight can be. A humanistic way of thinking is problematic when it clashes with fact. Would you call a smoker with precancerous cells on her lungs who’s at peace with not trying to quit ‘nicotine dependency-positive’?
It’s not about being intimidated by media microaggressions. The cold damn truth is: I feel a thousand times better when I’m at a weight that’s healthy for my height. And I can’t pretend otherwise. Not because I’ve been body shamed — although I have. But because when I’m thinner, my second-to-second existence free of the extra sixty pounds crushing my skeleton is a relief and a joy.
Equal treatment? Yes. Sexual special snowflake treatment? Stop it. Lack of interest isn’t a thought crime. Click To Tweet
Yes, The Media Blinders Have Been Removed, But What About Your Own?
Right now, my weight is up again. My bloated upper arms and fleshier waist have enough heft to lightly tap the air when I turn around. And no amount of strength training I do eases the physical burden as much as my getting thinner ever will. My stomach is where I carry most of my extra weight — visceral fat, which is linked to a higher risk of heart disease in women. My thighs chafe themselves raw because they rub together when I walk. This minor but relentlessly uncomfortable and hobbling condition known as ‘chub rub’ is not a good time. Nor is the pain shooting through my feet when I’ve been standing too long. Or the sadness/discomfort I’ve experienced over and over following cookie and ice cream-laden eating binges.
Let me be clear: I do think it’s great that women of all shapes and sizes are being appreciated for their unique beauty. Of course! The super-slender yet busty runway model archetype has finally yielded some ground to allow images of mainstream people, i.e. real humans, to be reflected. The backlash against airbrushed and photo-shopped images of women was long overdue and a welcome change.
Yet, there’s another facet to the body positive revolution that smacks more of entitlement than promoting social decency. It’s an angry defensiveness that sometimes comes to the surface with those supporting fat acceptance and body positivity, and it can be off-putting. No one is obligated to find another person sexually attractive, and at times that seems to be the prevailing attitude of those advocating for the movement. Equal treatment? Yes. Sexual special snowflake treatment? Stop it. Lack of interest isn’t a thought crime.
How ‘Kind’ Is Kindness If It’s Not Authentic?
For me, I feel most authentically body positive when I’ve successfully established healthier habits and reaped the rewards. The raging compulsive binge eating I’ve fought all my life is a very pleasurable and effective way to temporarily escape pain. Unfortunately, what’s most comforting is often self-defeating and damaging, and I think refusing to acknowledge that is the opposite of self-love.
Body positive thinking works best when it deals in kindness balanced by reality. Loving and supporting yourself as you struggle to complete a task — in my case losing the weight I need to lose — is not a replacement or substitute for quitting the task. It’s stagnation and stasis semantics. It’s quitting. I can’t let myself off the hook and pretend I don’t know the difference.
Self-delusion, for me, has never been much of a calorie burner.