There is a big difference between feeling positive about your body and the body positivity movement, but it can be a very nuanced topic to understand. While diet culture is part of a more extensive set of oppressive systems to people with marginalized identities, the body positivity movement has moved so far away from how it started. Social justice and body positivity are heavily intersected, and it takes some time to unpack just how deeply that runs in our society.
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If You Want To Understand The Difference Between Body Positivity and the Body Positivity Movement, You Should:
- Educate yourself about the history of the body positivity movement
- Understand the systemic ways that people in marginalized bodies are oppressed
- Unfollow anyone who is co-opting the body positivity movement with disproportionate motivations
The Difference Between Body Positivity and Systemic Oppression
The body positivity movement has started to center around people who don’t represent the individuals that this movement was really created by and for. Although originally created for people in marginalized bodies, we have seen a change in the ‘face’ of body positivity shifting away from marginalized bodies and towards others that are co-opting the movement.
While it is still totally possible and common for people in straighter size bodies to dislike their bodies and relationships with food, it is not the same as experiencing the kind of systemic discrimination and oppression that people in larger bodies experience every single day.
What You Can Do To Stop the Co-Opting
There is still judgment for people in larger bodies who embrace the body positivity movement in the same way that people in non-marginalized bodies do. By being clearer and discerning with the terms that we use on social media and in real life, we can stop the systematic oppression found in the body positivity movement and start including the people who might not look like you.
With some learning, some listening, and some questioning, you can start to peel back the layers of the body positivity onion and understand the time and place of these hard things.
How are you going to dig deeper into the differences between body positivity, fatphobia, and the systemic oppression of marginalized bodies? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.
In This Episode
- A brief history of the body positivity movement and why you shouldn’t co-opt it if you are in a straight size body (5:54)
- How social media has impacted the body positivity movement and plays into oppressive narratives (14:35)
- The difference between systemic oppression and discrimination because of the body that you are in (17:58)
- How movements aimed at people with marginalized bodies are being subsumed by people who they were not designed for (20:20)
- Suggestions to help you be more clear and discerning around your understanding of body positivity (24:27)
“It is kind of important to bring up this idea of co-opting, and how it removes the emphasis away from the people or the concepts that it was really designed to support.” (7:52)
“You start to see that predominantly thin, white, young, cisgender people who are being featured as the ‘faces’ of body positivity. And that is so different from the origins of the fat acceptance movement.” (15:46)
“What I am trying to say in this episode is that yes, you may have negative feelings about your body. Even if your body is very thin, you may still have body dysmorphia, you could still have an eating disorder, you could still have disordered eating, you could still not like your body. But it’s still not the same as experiencing the kind of systemic discrimination and oppression that people in larger bodies experience every single day.” (19:10)
“There is a difference between feeling bad about your body and experiencing systemic discrimination.” (22:23)
“I don’t want you to just listen to me; I want you to really go seek out and follow and listen to people who are in larger bodies as a start.” (27:44)
Featured on the Show
Is Body Positivity for You? FULL TRANSCRIPT
This is Episode 321 of the Listen To Your Body podcast. On today’s show, I’m exploring the question is body positivity really for you?
Let’s dig in.
The Listen To Your Body podcast has one bold mission, to help change-making women like you give themselves radical permission to listen to their bodies get free with food and fitness, and channel their energy, and to be a force for good in the world. I’m a certified intuitive eating counselor, nutritional therapy practitioner, and strength coach Steph Gaudreau. This weekly show brings you discussions around dropping diet and exercise extremes, letting your inner wisdom lead and taking up space from an inclusive body neutrality health at every size, nondiet nutrition perspective, we’ll examine how diet culture and the patriarchy keep women busy and distracted by the quest for body perfection, and how we can break free to live life on our own terms. It’s bound to be fiery, and ultimately, to make you think, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s dive in.
Hello, hello, and welcome back to the podcast today. Thanks so much for being here with me. On today’s podcast, I am presenting this question is body positivity really for you? And this is a big question. It really plays into some of the other topics that I’ve been talking about in this brand new season of the podcast that started back on episode 316. That episode is called what food freedom is and isn’t. And I’ve just been spending a lot of time in these new season episodes talking about the different nuances of things like diet, culture, and how the diet industry affects us differently. Based on our lived experiences, I’ve talked a little bit about how dieting keeps us busy, what it takes from us. I also covered some things about fits bow and why shame is not a good motivator for change. Now this question about body positivity really comes from a previous podcast episode that I did. Where I briefly mentioned that there was a difference between feeling positive about your body and the body positivity movement. And some folks got really miffed by this mentioning that body positivity as a movement is not really created for people in thin bodies or who have thin privilege or are in a straight size body. And it sort of surprised me, but sort of didn’t. Because when I first started learning more in-depth about diet culture, not just how the diet industry preys upon us. But really, the origins of diet culture, in systems of oppression, fatphobia, racism, specifically white supremacy, and patriarchy. I didn’t really understand why using body positivity as a person in a, a straight size body could be a problem. So this is something that I’ve had to learn as well, over the years is really teasing apart this nuance and peeling back the layers of the onion. Earlier this week, I shared a post on Instagram that was about healthy eating being both a healthy balance of food and a healthy relationship with food. And there was one comment that was left and the person was essentially confused about, you know, the use of the word healthy and pointing out that it is such an individual thing, which I completely agree with. My comment back was something like, you know, it’s really hard to capture all of the nuances of what is the healthy relationship with food in one single Instagram post because we are limited by character length and the number of words we can use. So the podcast here is really my attempt to tease apart some of this nuance. And also point out that there are aspects of diet culture that affect all of us. However, diet culture affects us all differently because some of us have marginalized identities, more than one marginalized identity, et cetera, et cetera. So as I’m talking about this concept today, please keep in mind that because the body positivity movement is really rooted in anti-fat bias and fat acceptance, it’s really important that you also go seek out and learn from and listen to people who are more marginalized, people who
have that lived experience. So for example, I have a straight-sized body, I am white, I am able-bodied, I am cisgender, and so on, and so forth. So I don’t have the same lived experience. It’s my hope that through this podcast because I do have a platform that I’m able to raise awareness. So what I wanted to present today is a very brief history of the body positivity movement. And why if we are in straight sized bodies, it’s important that we don’t co OPT the idea of body positivity because it ends up taking visibility away from those who are more marginalized, who these movements were really designed to support, give a voice to, and really fight for the rights of it’s similar to what really makes me a little bit miffed when I see people out in the world, who are co-opting things like intuitive eating for weight loss, saying that they are intuitive eating coaches and that they use the 10 principles of intuitive eating. And yet here are the before and after pictures of their clients. And they’re using those before and after pictures to sell the idea of weight loss and using it under the guise of intuitive eating. because more and more be your coach or nutritionist or a trainer, who advertises themselves as a diet expert or being really somebody who promotes dieting is kind of passe, right? It’s not fall, it’s not in fashion anymore. So to say, people are getting savvy or, and it’s one of the reasons why even things like WW, weight watchers, says that it’s, you know, it’s not about dieting, or it’s a lifestyle change, or new, the app, right, we’re not a diet, it’s about lifestyle change. But then when we see people are being recommended 1200 calories a day or less like, it’s a fucking diet. So it’s kind of important to bring up this idea of CO opting, and how it removes the emphasis away from the people or the concepts that it was really designed to support. So with all that being said, here’s a super overview. A very, very quick overview of where body positivity came from as a movement. And again, please also go and find the folks on Instagram who are really at the forefront in teaching this stuff, because I’m not the foremost expert, I’m just sharing what I’ve learned as well, so that you can take it and go, Hmm, maybe I want to stop posting pictures of myself, and my, you know, teeny tiny fat roll and then saying that it’s body positivity. So if you kind of trace this back, and by the way, I’m willing to be wrong on this timeline. So if you are like this isn’t exactly correct, then please feel free to get get a hold of me and say, like, their timeline isn’t exactly correct on this, in the late 60s is really when the fat acceptance movement began. And the National Association to aid fat Americans was founded in 1969, primarily to address weight bias and the discrimination that fat people face as a civil rights issue. So this right here is kind of a touchpoint to just stop and think about for a second. In that we tend to oftentimes, we collectively, tend to look at diet culture, and just think, you know, it affects how we feel about ourselves as individuals, we feel bad about ourselves. And we do we may have a low body image or low self-esteem, we may even develop disordered eating or even an eating disorder because of our experiences with diet culture. And diet culture is a part of a larger set of systems that are oppressive to people with marginalized identities.
So the book, Fearing The Black Body by Sabrina Strings is an incredible read on a subsection of this idea, and a really powerful and important one, I would highly, highly recommend that you read that book if you’re trying to understand diet culture, and how there is a connection between things like weight bias and discrimination, fatphobia, racism, specifically white supremacy, the patriarchy, and so on and so forth, and how black women and other women of color are the most affected by this. Oh, that’s to say, there are so many incredible educators who create resources to go very, very deep into this stuff. And that’s not my agenda here on this podcast, but as to rather just say, like, hey, let’s think about this for a second. But if you’re on Instagram, you know, photographing your baby role, because you’re sitting hunched over and you’re like, I’m just trying to accept my body. That’s not wrong. But to call it part of the body positivity movement, isn’t exactly accurate, because of the origins of that movement. So in the late 1960s, you had organizations like the NAAFA, that were really created to support people in larger bodies, people, in fact, bodies. And to address these issues of things like weight bias and health care, right, we see that all the time to address things like weight bias in education in the workforce, and these are really institutional systems, right? So from there, there was a continued growth of different you know, as, as, as happens with any movement, right, you get different arms of these movements that grow. And in the 1970s, you really started to see that there were a lot more activism and political grounding in different arms of the body positivity, or what was called the fat acceptance movement at the time. And what’s really important to note is how the social justice aspect of this really intersected with things like, yes, feminism, but also black women and women of color, queer folks, trans folks, right? Not, not cisgender individuals, and so on and so forth. Right? Again, the most marginalized folks in our country. And in 1979, I was really surprised to learn this. And I found this out through my recent research. And I didn’t even know that there was a book published by Susie Orbach called fat is a feminist issue. And it’s really considered to be kind of the Genesis, one of the Genesis points of the anti-diet movement, right. And we think about anti-diet now and how it’s becoming more and more mainstream. And it’s really started to grow in the last few years, and how Yes, things like health, and every size, and intuitive eating are all part of that. But this goes back to the 1970s. And so when we tend to think about it as, like a new thing, it’s really not a new thing, and just put a vintage on it, I was born in 1979. So when I consider that I’m like, well, it’s been around for 40 plus years. Bring it in for a minute, if you are ready to get free with food and fitness, and I mean, true freedom, not just going back on another reset. If you fall off the wagon, if you’re ready to explore radical permission to listen to your body and to live life on your terms, the tune in membership is ready for you. inside of this monthly membership, we learn how to drop extremes when it comes to diet and exercise. You’ll learn how to let your inner wisdom lead, how to take up more space, and ultimately to take the energy that you were spending on the endless quest for body perfection, thanks to the patriarchy, and handle that into being a force for good. All of that happens in a supportive judgment-free community, the mobile app, not on Facebook, and the doors are open for you. So if this sounds like you, please head over to StephGaudreau.com/Insider. We would love to welcome you to the Tune In membership.
So fast forward to now what we have as a very social media-driven world, obviously a very media-driven world and we can kind of think about how our larger-bodied individuals, fat individuals, etc portrayed even till today in media, right and there’s just so much there. That’s not cool and much that’s really hurtful and really continues to play into oppressive narratives. But when we think about social media, body positivity really started to go mainstream, and the voices of the most marginalized people really who the movement was created by and for began to be not centered. So you started to see that predominantly thin, white, young cisgender people are really being featured as the faces, if you will, of body positivity, and how that is so different from the origins of the fat acceptance movement. So I can even think back to an example of mine that happened not all that long ago, last year, I posted a video, or maybe it was a picture of myself on Instagram. And I don’t use the hashtag body positivity on my own posts. But just as a conceptual example, I posted this picture, and it was kind of I was outside. So it was a bit of a bright day. And it was like a high contrast picture. And you could, you know, you can see the cellulite on my legs. And for me personally, my issues of body image have spammed my entire life. And I am also someone who is in the street size body. And I have a lot of social privilege. So it was interesting to see when I posted this picture of myself on Instagram. And the caption was something about like cellulite being really normal. That picture got so many likes, I think it was something like over 10,000 likes, which was probably one of my highest engaged with photos of all time on Instagram, right. And, in a way, looking back on it, I felt a certain sort of way about this picture, because I just thought, you know what, people are gonna look at this and think, Oh, well, you’re embracing your body and all of its, you know, quote, unquote, perceived flaws. And I think there were even people who are saying, you know, this is really brave of you to, to show your body in this way. And to me, it’s really complicated because yes, no matter where we are on the sort of body diversity spectrum.
Whew, all sorts of humans can have body image issues and be affected by diet culture. And yet, it’s not the same as having experienced and continuing to experience things like discrimination and systemic oppression because of the body that you’re in. And so this is where when I start to talk about the difference between like negative feelings about your body being different from this kind of larger-scale discrimination, that predominantly people who also are in straight size bodies feel a little bit defensive because they think Yeah, but I’ve struggled with my body, I don’t like my body, I haven’t liked my body, right, I’ve wanted to keep wanting to lose the same few pounds, or I’ve always felt like I was too big, even though I still kind of have thin privilege. And I am in a smaller body relative to the rest of the body diversity spectrum, or I can go into a store and buy straight size clothes. So what I’m trying to say in this episode is that, yes, you may have negative feelings about your body, even if our body is very thin, you still may have body dysmorphia, you could still have an eating disorder, you could still have disordered eating, you can still not like your body. But it’s still not the same as experiencing the kind of systemic discrimination and oppression that people in larger bodies experience every single day. For example, weight bias if they go to the doctor, or if they’re experiencing discrimination when they’re out in the workforce, looking for a job, and so on and so forth. So we need to be really clear about that. And that’s my main focus of this particular episode.
So what’s interesting is how the body positivity movement really started to gravitate to our center around people who don’t represent the individual individuals that this movement was really created by him for. So for example, when you go on Instagram and you type in body positivity on the Explore page, what you still tend to see are thin straight-sized white women predominantly who are younger, who are shorter A lot of their body, which again, is totally fine. But they’re sort of like, you know, here’s the on a, where I’m bending over, and you can see my fat rolls, and then they tag it body positivity. It’s not even necessarily to criticize the individual. But it is an interesting point to look at and say, hey, how our movements that are really aimed at folks who are in marginalized bodies, oftentimes subsumed by people who they weren’t really designed for. And when you look at something like Instagram, and you see, now I think it’s starting to change a little bit, you’re starting to see more influencers who are gaining, rightfully so a community around them, because they are the ones who are centered, but it’s, there’s still a long way to go. But it’s really interesting to notice. And when I say interesting, I don’t mean like, Oh, this is cool and interesting, but like, interesting, and why is this happening sort of way? The other thing is that, and I mentioned this in a previous episode, what somebody in a thinner body you can get away with and say it’s body positivity. And I love myself and people are like, yes, you go, girl. Yes, yeah, I agree with you. There’s still judgment for people in larger bodies who do very similar things. If they’re like, Hey, I’m celebrating my body.
And automatically, it’s like the concern trolls come in, or their validity of what they do, and their professionalism even is questioned, because of how they look. And I touched on that idea of concern trolling in the last episode. But people, for example, who are trainers, or who are nutritionists, and don’t fit, the sort of diet culture, thin ideal, are still seen, oftentimes, as not being valid to show up in the spaces that they’re showing up. And because of just how they look. So my point here is to say, there is a difference between feeling bad about your body and experiencing systemic discrimination. When we say things like, I’m working on body positivity, are we even clear of where that term really kind of came from in terms of again, like, the fat acceptance movement? Or are we thinking of it more in the sense of, I’m working on feeling less negative about myself? And I think that yes, language does matter. And our word choice does matter. And the hashtags that we use on social media, do matter. Because if we’re a, we’re in a thin body, we’re in a straight size body, and we’re tagging everything as body positivity, then it does water down and take the emphasis off. The folks who thought that movement was really created for and by, and the reasons for it. So it’s not to point fingers and say, You’re bad if you’ve done this, or if you’ve made posts about your body. But it’s just to say, in the future, you know, can we be more clear with the terms that we use? Can we be more discerning, if we’re out there on social media, talking about what we’re doing, and the work that we’re doing internally and say, You know what, I’m not going to use the hashtag body positivity, because now I understand a little bit more about where that movement originated, and the purpose of that movement. One of my really good friends is in AI, her name is Di. She’s amazing. I love her so much that she was talking to me about algorithms and how algorithms, like what we see on Instagram or Tiktok, for example, oftentimes, bias toward thinner people, white people, lighter-skinned people, and so on and so forth. It’s a really interesting conversation that would love to have her on the podcast about but suffice to say, I do think we can do our own part in terms of how we hashtag things and what our goals are when we post pictures of our body and looking how it looks. That’s totally fine. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But what is the reason? What are we trying to get at and I think it’s important to consider those things when we’re posting things on social media, for example, a few other suggestions that I have for you in this episode. So again, not tagging things as body positivity of your industry size body, because words do matter.
The second thing would be following people In a wider diversity of bodies, I got a great question on Instagram last month from somebody who said, you know, it just seems like intuitive eating is only for thin people. What’s up with that? That’s, that’s who I see talking about it. And I thought you know what? It is a great point that sometimes who we see again, because of things like algorithms, or who we’re choosing to follow, can sometimes become a bit of an echo chamber. So are you following people who are in bodies that don’t look like yours, especially if you are thinner? Are you following people who are not in thin bodies as a start? And how important that can even be in, sort of, recalibrating your brain? To think that there’s a diversity of body types out in the world and, and to quote my friend Bree Campos of body image with Bri recently she posted on Instagram, if being fat is the worst thing in the world to you, I’d argue that you aren’t seeing enough fat-bodied people living their best life. And to and to me, I just thought, yep. Bri is in a larger body. And she’s been on this podcast before. So go back and listen to her episode, and definitely follow her on Instagram, she coaches body image, and she’s a therapist who works in that space. But I just thought, Yeah, exactly. If we’re not seeing that representation, we’re not seeing that diversity. And we’re not seeing that there are people in larger bodies who are out there being active and living full lives and doing fitness and in the nutrition space like it’s hard to conceptualize until you go and purposely follow people. If the algorithm is not going to give it to you, then you’ve got to go seek it out. So that would be another suggestion. listening to people who don’t have your lived experience, especially if they are from a marginalized identity or identities. And this comes back to Yes, I hope that you listen to this podcast and you go, huh, body positivity quote, as a movement, right? Like, quote, meaning the term as a movement, for it might not be for me if I’m in a thin body, and maybe it’s time for me to step away from using that term. But I don’t want you to just listen to me, I want you to really go seek out and follow and listen to people who are in larger bodies as a start. Right, and there are so many examples. Virgie Tovar, Sonya, Renee Taylor, Bri from Body Image with Bri, there’s Kanoa Greene, there’s Meg Boggs. I mean, there are so many women right off the top of my head who are speaking on this, and really, really leading and it’s important that, yes, like getting a little bit of a nugget here about it on the podcast is a starting point for you. But also, yes, go follow and listen to and learn from and pay these folks, buy their books, take their courses, listen to their podcasts, it’s really going to help to center them again, in this space. And then the last tip I have for you is to work to understand the differences between terms like body positivity, movement, positive body image, self-love, and so on. And I get it people oftentimes Tell me, well, I’m just new to this, and I don’t understand, and I totally get it. I feel compassionate, because I was there too, at one point. But once I started to learn what I started to learn, I just thought, hmm, there’s more here and it is peeling back that layer of the onion. And you can do hard things. I promise that with some learning, and some listening, and some introspection and some questioning and some curiosity, you can start to learn the differences as well. And you can start to think and know that there is a time and a place and that certain things may not necessarily be made for you like the body positivity hashtag if you’re in a thin body. And I’m going to push back a tiny bit here when I hear things like it’s just too confusing stuff. Look, you have a brain and you can do hard things. And I promise you that yes, it is nuanced, but so is the world and we love simplicity as humans, and we want to put things in boxes because it’s just more convenient. But how that misses the richness of the conversation and the nuance of the conversation. So I totally have compassion. If you’re just learning this stuff and thinking, I didn’t know. That’s okay. But now, you’ve maybe heard it for the first time and you can say, huh, okay, I didn’t know this. Like where else Can I go and learn more? Or how does this play out in my life? How does this affect me? What are the differences here? What are the nuances?
Yeah, I have had a really bad time with my own body image. And if I’m in a thin body, how is that different from somebody who experiences the ramifications of weight bias and systemic discrimination on a daily basis, and how that is much different? That is the goal. With that, I’m going to say thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of the podcast and considering the question is body positivity for me, learning a little bit more about the origins of that movement, seeing how it plays out on your social media, and considering how you might want to make some changes in the wake of what you’ve learned today and maybe what you will continue to learn from leaders in that movement. Thanks so much for being here this week. I’ll be back next week with another tasty podcast episode, and until then, be well.