I’ve encountered quite a bit of backlash against the body positive movement. I see it in the fitness forums, social media, and even among some of my acquaintances. For every positive message I see, it’s not uncommon for me to read or hear statements such as:
“You’re fat, unhealthy, and ugly. Stop lying to yourself.”
I should note that body positive thinking isn’t just for those who may be larger than what is perceived as normal–it’s for everyone, but there’s a skewed perception going around that it’s just a fat apologist strategy, centered around a core of body denial and blindly optimistic rhetoric. It isn’t. But fat shaming men and women who struggle with their weight isn’t helping. I’ve tried creating a dialogue with these individuals, telling them that cultivating a positive self image isn’t rooted in blind optimism, as they seem to think. It’s about finding solutions to problems, taking a proactive approach to life, and at bottom, not hating yourself. In fact, self hatred and negative internal monologue often fuels destructive life patterns, such as compulsive overeating and social isolation. When we encounter people who reinforce this negative self image, it doubles back and intensifies the behaviors we’ve developed to cope with how we feel.
Do You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?
I undressed for my bath this evening, and took a good long look in the bathroom mirror. I’m 33. Most of this culture would assert that the best days are behind me, physically speaking. From here on out, we’ve been taught that our bodies will start to sag or age. This isn’t the case. I think it’s a fiction. In fact, while I’ve put on some weight since returning to the South–read that: the Southern Spread has begun to take hold again–I’m in better shape than I ever was in my 20s.
However much I objectively acknowledge that, as I stepped into the shower I heard my inner voice begin a familiar catalog of my physical shortcomings. I stopped myself short and instead tried to think of a positive way to frame those thoughts. This, to me, is an essential part of body positive thinking. Not ignoring the state of reality, nor hiding in a tub of chocolate ice cream, but assessing that reality and thinking of healthy, fun ways to be better, feel better, and yes, to look better in a realistic way that is derived not from the opinions of others but from how I want to look.
Wasted Years, Not Just an Iron Maiden Song
I spent most of my adolescence and my second decade feeling really shitty about being who I was–too tall, too fat, too masculine, too assertive, too unconventional looking. Now that I’m comfortably situated in my third decade, I have a very polite “fuck you” to offer the world, my younger self, and every last individual that contributed to that twisted view of me. Because it bled into everything. Even when I was healthy, quite trim, and looking toward an active, full future–I still felt enormous, fat, ugly.
I wasted so much time caring about what other people thought and felt about me that I never realized I thought the worst of myself. I didn’t respect or love myself. And so I didn’t take care of myself, show myself love in the little things, or recognize my own achievements. If you think that doesn’t impact how you interact with others, I can tell you now, it certainly does. I was hypercritical of others, lacked compassion for the shortcomings or mistakes others made, and was downright unapproachable to most.
It’s not because I was actually stone cold or a total perfectionist, but I walked around with a spirit that felt as if it wore shoes two sizes too small all the time. I felt pinched and blistered constantly, and that showed in the way I treated other people. Body positivity is like wearing the right sized shoes. It’s about being comfortable in my own skin. And if I should be less than satisfied with what I see in the mirror, I encourage myself to seek a proactive, healthy course of action to change it naturally and gradually.
Because I want to cultivate a healthy body that will carry me through the world comfortably. To hell if it’s not a body anyone else likes–they don’t have to live in it. I do. Much like a house, I’ll work to make this body a beautiful place in my own eyes–I want a space that feels comfortable with loving and laughing. If it’s a larger house than anyone else has, well, more room for me. If you don’t like it, get off my lawn. No one is asking you, because this house is not for sale.