This article has been edited since first published, see below for details.*
I’ve been biting my tongue about a recent hot topic that hits close to home for me. I recently realized, however, that keeping quiet does just as much harm as the people and comments I’m about to call out.
I’m lucky to be witnessing first hand the rise of the body positivity movement. With the use of modern technology and new media, women who have been silenced for so long are finally able to speak up about their bodies, their feelings, and their beauty.
For so long, society has blindly accepted the thin body ideal with open arms. Women have put their bodies through turmoil to fit in to the socially acceptable silhouette with the help of shape-wear, crash diets, and dangerous behavior. They’ve dragged their self-esteem through the gutters while believing that as long as they dropped x dress sizes, they’ll be happy, be loved, be adored, belong. But now, that’s changing. With help from advocates such as the beautiful Tess Holliday, Ashley Graham, Courtney Mina and Brittany Gibbons, finally we can start to see change. We can start to see women of all sizes feeling beautiful without having to drastically change their bodies for it. Beauty is being redefined, as it often is every century or so, to become more inclusive and body positive.
Meanwhile, everyone is being mean & I’m just over here living my dream One of my favourite #bts from my shoot with @torridfashion #tessholliday #plussizemodel #milkcurve A photo posted by +Size Model || Feminist (@tessholliday) on
Unfortunately, with every fuller framed woman gaining her confidence to feel beautiful and perhaps even display her body, fat-shamers are becoming more creative with their jabs. Instead of pointing out the fact that they are not what society (media) has considered beautiful for years, the focus has turned on their health. Yes, suddenly everyone has an advanced degree in diagnosing deadly disease via one picture on the internet, and it is their mission to end the obesity epidemic.
you cannot pass off larger people who are clearly obese and unhealthy and on the brink of death as body positivity
— jaye (@slxwburn) May 15, 2015
Tess Holiday is a new obese model that has attracted attention lately. She’s a size 22 and definitely unhealthy. — Nat (@fat_tush) May 26, 2015
There is a difference between “plus-size” and morbidly obese. No, you should not be proud of your 300lb body frame.You’re severely unhealthy
— Sideshow Dee (@duff_girl_ohyea) May 27, 2015
so tired of hearing about Tess Holliday, ya she is pretty. But she is extremely unhealthy. That shouldn’t be the image for society to follow — Alexia Storey (@tell_meaStorey) May 27, 2015
@Tess_Holliday what you promote and stand for is dangerous and unhealthy. You face serious health issues in the near future
— Matt D (@MattD5722) May 23, 2015
What these commenters, and those who agree with them, fail to realize is that the fight for body positivity has absolutely nothing to do with health. It’s not here to convince everyone to be fat. It’s not here to downplay the serious effects of heart disease or diabetes. In fact, I’ll just slip a link to a study here showing that overweight and obese individuals can be in overall good health. Regardless, body positivity advocates are showing everyone the finish line, but people are too hung up on what brand of shoes the runners are wearing to cross it.
Look around you. Advertising suggests that being fat is bad. But the overtones to the weight loss discussions are not by way of health. Headlines like “Get an Insane Body: It’s Hard, But You’ll Look Hot,” “I Lost 10 Pounds in 10 Days: Ready to Date!” and “Kim’s Nightmare: 65-LB Weight Gain!” offer thinness as the solution to social problems. It enforces that being thin will get your life on track, get that guy you’ve always wanted, and land the job you’ve worked all your life for. It convinces us that if we are fat, we’ve lost control and are doomed to a life of loneliness, judgement, and self-loathing. All forms of media serve up thin bodies as the default; any other body is deviant for the use of comic relief or pity.
What body positivity advocates are trying to show is that being anything other than thin does not mean that you are less worthy of love, happiness, and success. Being fat does not mean that you are any less in control of your life. Your size should have nothing to do with the swimsuit style you wear, or eating in public, or dancing in a club, or literally any other thing you want to do. Your size does not dictate your worth and it sure as hell does not dictate your destiny.
Kiss your fears goodbye! Life is about taking chances & stepping out of your comfort zone daily. Choose to be the better version of yourself today! #bebrave #bealeader #lovetheskinyourein #beautybeyondsize #sexystateofmind bodysuit by #ashleygraham x @additionelle available in March A photo posted by A S H L E Y ✨ G R A H A M ™ (@theashleygraham) on
Since when has hating your body become more accepted than openly loving it? Cue the scene from Mean Girls when The Plastics all try to one-up each other with self-deprecating body comments.
While media that reinforces the thin ideal alienates every other body type, diverse and body positive media is inclusive. Our society is obsessed with thin for the sake of aesthetics, not health. Plus-sized women are ridiculed and treated like second class citizens because of socially constructed body standards, not health. Clothes and shape-wear are marketed as slimming and concealing so that women can hide their bodies’ (apparently offensive) appearance, not to feign health! Yet, self-credentialed online commenters feel the need to voice their concerns for the health of Grahams and Minas of the world, and the message they are sending to other women.
In Brittany Gibbon’s new book, Fat Girl Walking, she talks about a time when she was at her thinnest:
“Within seven months I had lost close to ninety pounds and was wearing a size 12 jeans. My fingernails and toenails began to crack in half. My hair fell out, leaving quarter-size clumps around my hairline and scalp. I was actually anemic, reliant on laxatives for bowel movements, experiencing tachycardia… and everyone told me I looked stunning. Truly, that I’d never looked better” (pg 225).
We give most thin models the benefit of the doubt in terms of health because of their outer appearance, yet many onlookers feel entitled to backhandedly show pseudo-concern for a larger someone they do not know, have never met, and have never examined after earning a degree from medical school.
Ask any overweight woman, and you’ll probably find nine times out of ten that woman has already gone through lengths to try and fit into the one body type society finds attractive and acceptable. And nine times out of ten, you’ll probably find that they did it because of appearance, not health. So when we come across a woman who is perfectly happy in a body other than the thin ideal without the validation of others, why must we continue to push self-hate?
Let me finish off with a personal story: as a kid/teenager, I dreamt of becoming an entertainer. I poured myself into music and acting, and went on auditions regularly. The closest I got to “my big break” was singing in front of a woman whom I was told was an influential agent. She told me that I had the talent, but I would have to lose weight before I became marketable. I was sixteen, and I was told that I couldn’t follow my dreams in the body I was in, and it sure as hell was not about my health.
Here I am now, 22 years old and at my absolute healthiest after losing 30 pounds two years ago. I eat clean and drink plenty of water. According to my doctor and the BMI scale, I’m healthy, but I still have a round tummy and flab on my arms. I’m only human and the rolls and folds that remain still hold me back some days, due to the years of being told they (not my health) were what made me lesser. It doesn’t happen overnight, but these women and images inspire me to embrace who I am one day at a time, and value myself and my body with no regard to society’s perception of it. They inspire me to continue to share the message so that other women can join us and start to live happily in the skin they’re in, too.
Body positivity is not about physical health. It’s about loving your body instead of constantly fighting to change it for the sake and approval of others. It’s about realizing that being fat and being happy are not mutually exclusive. It’s about allowing yourself to genuinely enjoy curves and rolls without it being a fetish. It’s about breaking down the walls that society builds around plus-size people and showing everyone that you can be kick-ass with any size ass, and actually have it all. It’s about coming out of the hiding plus-sized women are coaxed into, and knowing that you have every right to proudly show off your body as any other woman does.
If you want to talk health, become a doctor. Until then, stop trying to tear happy women down.
*EDIT: The first line of this article originally read: “If a thin person smokes, can you still consider her beautiful? It seems that a lot of people misunderstood this and let it cloud their understanding of this post. To clear things up: I was trying to point out the health vs. social acceptance difference in that scenario. Many thin and attractive models and celebrities are open smokers, yet are not made to feel less worthy of their personal or professional success because of that fact. Even though they do not hide their participation in an activity harmful to health, there is a very different collective reaction to their appearance. In contrast, plus size women experience ridicule when in the spotlight for the “sake of their health”… which is what I’m calling bullshit on. Anyway, I cut it so people don’t get hung up on it and miss the actual point.