Yesterday I read your article entitled “Why the Positive Body Image Movement is Bad for Women” (HERE is a link to the original article) and to put it quite frankly, I was pissed. There are so many things that are off with this article and I am ready to list them one by one in this open letter, but first I am going to take a few deep breaths and grab a glass of wine.
I will begin with the title of your article. After reading your entire article, I have come to the conclusion that it should have been titled “Why We Need to Change The Positive Body Movement to Be More Effective”. Saying that the positive body image movement is bad is very black and white thinking (which as a psychologist I would think you would be smart enough not to do that). Labeling something ‘bad’ or ‘good’ makes for a good headline but is very irresponsible for someone with a background such as yours. Having contributed to Mind Body Green myself, I understand that they are at liberty to change the title and that they are also trying to grab the attention of as many readers as possible so I will give you the benefit of the doubt that Mind Body Green changed your original title.
In the first paragraph you illustrate how crappy you feel in your body and you mention all the mixed messages we receive about body everyday. I can completely agree with you here and this is where my suggested title would more appropriate. The way in which most non-professionals approach boosting body image is missing the mark because the emphasis and attention is still place on appearance. Case in point, your example of looking at yourself in the mirror. This is a horrible way to improve body image and I hate that so many so-called health coaches advise this practice. They suggest looking in the mirror with little or no clothing on and saying what you like about yourself. This is completely wrong because as you said the emphasis is still on appearance. You also give the example of how you never say anything about your son’s body but advise your daughters to love their body at any size. In this example, you are placing emphasis on weight and body size instead of their self worth and importance, which is at the root of many an eating disorder. I too have a child, a son who is three years old. I do not tell him to love his body at any size and even if I had a girl I would not tell her that. Instead, every night when I put him to bed I tell him this; “you are kind, you are smart, you are important” (from the movie/book “The Help”). This is where positive body image begins! Knowing that you are important and are worthy is at the root of establishing positive body image and it is essential to having a healthy relationship with your body at any size.
I must define what I mean by a healthy relationship with your body. This is where someone loves himself or herself enough to take care of their body so that it operates at its highest level. Eating foods that are both emotionally and physically satisfying as well as finding enjoyment in using ones body to experience positive activities. It also means knowing that your body does not define you and that your self worth is not based on your body.
Next – comparing obesity to anorexia. Where do I begin? This is like comparing schizophrenia to obesity. Anorexia is a mental disorder and obesity is a classification of body mass. See definitions below:
Definition of obesity (from the website www.obesityaction.org):
Obesity is a condition that is associated with having an excess of body fat, defined by genetic and environmental factors that are difficult to control when dieting. Obesity is classified as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater.
Definition of Anorexia (medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com):
Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder characterized by an unrealistic fear of weight gain, self-starvation, and conspicuous distortion of body image. The individual is obsessed with becoming increasingly thinner and limits food intake to the point where health is compromised. The disorder may be fatal.
As you can see from these definitions, one is a psychiatric disorder, Mrs. Psychologist, and one is not. From your comparison, you clearly have no knowledge of what an eating disorder is and that is very unfortunate for you patients. Yes, there is binge eating disorder however obesity and binge eating disorder are not one in the same. Do your homework.
Next you mention how we as women should focus on the amazing feeling of flexibility, physical strength and power and being athletic. As well intending as this may sound it too misses the mark. Some people (if not many people) do not posses that ability! I know because I am a personal trainer, Pilates instructor and Yoga instructor and have been one for 12 years. There are so many women that hate to work out and are not at the level of physical fitness. So placing emphasis on physical ability is also a poor choice. You mention how emotional strength comes from good health and I argue that it is the other way around. Having emotional strength paves way for good health! I firmly believe that you must first love yourself before you can love your body. Without love and understanding for yourself and who you are regardless of anything related to the external, the physical, or one’s abilities you will never properly care for your body.
Your last few paragraphs get closer to hitting the nail in the head. YES! The emphasis should be placed on things other than appearance, however, if someone loves the way they look and wants to celebrate that, we should not shame that no matter what size they are. We should never think we can decide if someone falls into the obesity classification or has an eating disorder. We need to stay in our own lane.
Real positive body image comes as a result of placing emphasis on things other than appearance. Feeling good in your body is a result of being kind when it was difficult to be kind. It’s a result from when you stand up for yourself when it was scary to do so. It comes when you live your life in love and live your life authentically. When you have the courage to do this you will in turn feel amazing about your physical body. No stretching or athletic ability required.
So in conclusion, no, I will not drop the body love talk because I am worthy and I am important and although my body does not determine my self worth I am not ashamed to look in the mirror and say “damn, I look good”.
Navigating the Murky Waters of Body Positivity, Thin-Privilege and Eating Disorder Recovery: Part Two