Navigating the Murky Waters of Body Positivity, Thin-Privilege and Eating Disorder Recovery: Part Tw
Fighting to Support VS Fighting to fight
“I raise my voice not so that I can shout but so those without a voice can be heard”
- Malala Yousafzai
A couple months ago I posted part one of a two-part piece all about the body positive movement and where someone like myself (with thin privilege and in eating disorder recovery) fits into this community and movement.
This is part two, so if you missed part one CLICK HERE.
In this part-two post, I’m exploring how to actively, authentically and mindfully participate in the body positivity movement in a way that makes a positive impact and hopefully elicits change but doesn’t take center stage or steal the spotlight away from those living in bodies that are less privileged than my own.
[Before completing this post, I asked several leaders in the body positive community that do not have thin-privilege how we can best support their work and their efforts. Their suggestions are part if this list]
To briefly recap and slightly expand from part one; The purpose of the body positive movement is to disrupt what we typically see portrayed in media as the “beautiful” or “perfect” body, create a discussion about it and ultimately elicit some kind of change in the culture. Because I have a body that benefits from thin-privilege (regardless of my eating disorder past) using my body as a way to promote and spread body positivity just does not jive. Although I’m not as thin as the runway fashion model, I’m still on the thinner spectrum and showcasing my body in the name if body positivity would simply be more of the same bullsh*t that’s already populating the media at large.
There is NOTHING revolutionary about my body in a bikini telling people to love their own body. Period.
Regardless of how hard I worked to reach recovery and how difficult internally it may be to wear more revealing clothing like a bathing suit, the visual representation of my body does not promote size diversity. If this statement triggers you because you embody thin-privileged and are in recovery or are recovered from an eating disorder, I get it because it used to trigger me too (and still can depending on the day).
Please hear me out.
To those with thin-privilege and in recovery:
Although the visual representation of our body type does not advance the body positive movement, it does not take away from how proud we should be of ourselves for all the hard work we’ve put into our own health and recovery. Recovering from a mental illness in a culture that says and does everything to keep us sick is indeed an incredible feat. This took a long time for me to recognize and come to terms with; that I can be proud of my recovery and heal my body image while also recognizing that promoting my body (with thin-privilege) as “body positive” on social media does not create more visual diversity nor a disruption of the visual and ideal norm we are already infiltrated with.
This, however, does not mean we shouldn’t feel free to post what ever photo we want of our body in recovery on social media for other reasons (this is another post for another time); within the rules of each social media site, we have every right to post what every photo we want of ourselves. So this is not to photo police you in any way but rather an attempt to draw awareness to our individual actions and the possible (all be it unintentional) harmful repercussions of calling something “body positive” when it’s not.
Eating disorder recovery or not, promoting body positivity via perpetually and primarily showcasing a body that fits into the socially constructed ideals of beauty does not advance the body positive movement and may even have negative effects on those struggling in their eating disorder.
Also, acts of “healthy” behavior in order to manipulate the size and shape of a body to more readily fit into the socially constructed ideals of beauty is not body positive and is a misrepresentation of the body image movement.
This is something I hope more fitness peeps start to understand as well as how “health” and ablism have seeped into the body positive message; When photos of someone’s “hard work” toward manipulating the size and shape of their body via exercise are promoted on social media as “body positive”, it misrepresents the body positive movement and is just more of the same old bullshit. By same old bullshit I mean the message of, “you can love your body by fixing what is “wrong” with it on the outside” or “changing the appearance of your body and the size of your body is taking care of your body and loving your body” or “accepting your body means changing your body first.”
Not only is this messaging more of the same old propaganda the body positive movement is trying to change, it ultimately harms those believing they’re healing their relationship with their body regardless of whether or not “good intentions” involved.
Good intentions are no longer a justification.
Those that distort the body positive movements message need to understand and take responsibility for the harm their misrepresentation can create and they need to stop using it as a way to profit or further their social media popularity.
As someone who embodies thin privilege and works as a Pilates instructor, personal trainer and yoga teacher, the body positive movement will not be advanced from my overly visual posts of exercise routines or glamorous yoga poses. This is not to say I have no right to post these types of things, I just need to be mindful of what I claim these photos represent. And while I may not be able to help promote the message of the body positive movement via the visual medium of my body, there’s still a place for my voice, my influence and my work in the body positive movement along with any other thin-privileged persons willing to recognize their privilege, speak their privilege and truly understand why the work of the body positive movement is so important.
So without any further rambling, here are 3 ways to make an impact and promote body positivity with thin-privilege while in recovery or recovered from an eating disorder…
1. Be a size-neutral bridge to the Body Positive Movement
As open minded as we collectively think we are as a society, many harmful and insidious discriminations still exist and heavily influence our thoughts and actions. One in particular is the idea of fat and what it means to be fat in our society. Studies show size discrimination is just as prevalent as racial discrimination*. And because of this deeply ingrained prejudice**, those that are part of the body positive movement who exist is larger bodies can often face much ridicule and shaming, especially when they’re seeking justice and speaking out for their basic human rights in the name of body positivity.
Too often I’ve seen the vicious comments on posts created by larger bodied body positive leaders that are incredibly disgusting and rude. These hurtful comments typically say something to the point of how they’re using the body positive movement as an excuse to stay fat and that they’re just lazy and don’t care about their health. I’ve even read comments telling them to die and how they don’t deserve to speak up about their cause because they obviously don’t truly care about their body based on their size.
This infuriates me. But this is also where I can step up and use my voice (and my thin-privilege).
Because my body size is not typically shamed by our culture, I can speak up in the name of body positivity without it being seen as a defense for “allowing” my body to be the size it is (truth: no one “allows” their body to be a size in the first place, but that’s a whole other post). When the speaking up for the body positive movement is coming from someone embodying thin-privilege, body shaming me for being “unhealthy” based in my size is no longer effective (as seen through the shamer’s eyes). It can be completely disarming for the typical Internet troll for someone like me to defend body positivity (although they may find something else to bash me about). My body size can be a way for the haters to stop with the size bullying for a short second just; long enough to may be let some of what I’m saying seep into their mind. (This is much more effective in person FYI)
This is a very powerful role. And yes, it’s effective; especially since most of the time people are willing to listen to me in all my privilege. And although I may have the protection of my thin-privilege, it can still be super uncomfortable to speak up because inevitably when someone disagrees with the messages of body positivity (especially from behind the screen of a computer) there is bound to be a heated discussion. Best advice for this is to stay grounded through slow and purposeful breathing, be mindful of knee-jerk reactions, and do perspective taking before saying or posting something.
2. Actively promote, share, tweet, and post images of women’s bodies that are typically oppressed by the diet and fitness culture (not my own body).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared the work of Dianne Body or Erica Schenk with my clients who believe they just can’t do yoga asana or run for reasons of size, ethnicity, ability, etc. Me telling them they can do it in my privileged body verses them seeing it makes a big difference. And without me sharing the work of these body positive activists, my clients may never known they exist and that they too can accept their body just as it is and move in ways they may have been told are not possible.
Sharing other’s work (more often than my own) has required me to do 2 slightly uncomfortable things within myself:
Understand that by sharing other people’s work, I’m NOT making my own work less important or less essential to the body positive or eating disorder recovery space.
Some people may not agree with what I’m sharing and may get defensive or be confused and that’s OK. You can’t please all the people all the time (or most of the people for that matter).
It’s taken me a long time to embody the idea that there is enough space for all our voices to be heard, including my own. And that when I feel like it’s a competition to get my message out there, I’m only limiting my ability to build a more powerful community and connect with others which can serve to make the body positive message stronger. All be it cliché’, when we work together we are indeed stronger.
When I first began sharing more images of larger bodied yogis and athletes on my social media pages, I was met with a very mixed response. Some people loved it while others (particularly “friends” in the fitness and health field) were negative and/or confused. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder and heavily influenced on worrying about what other people think of me, I had a difficult time detaching from not getting everyone’s approval on my posts (and it’s still hard sometimes).
Letting go of the need for approval in order to live an authentic life where I felt congruent in what I said and did was not and is not easy. Allowing other’s voiced and images to be seen and heard above mine is also not easy but ultimately I know in my heart I’m helping to change a culture that played a big role in the development of my eating disorder. And this is what truly matters to me; doing everything in my power to prevent women and girls from developing and suffering from eating disorders.
3. Acknowledge my privilege over and over again (and again)
I’ve recently started to make more of an effort to acknowledge my thin privilege before diving into any talk about body positivity whether this be in person, podcast, video blogs or social media posts and it’s made a big difference not only in the reaction I’ve received from others that do not have this privilege but also how I feel internally.
In the past when I would speak about the need to change the fitness culture and the alarming prevalence of size discrimination and body shaming within the fitness and health environment, I would often feel like a fraud and that I didn’t know what I was talking about since my body fits into what our culture would define as a “fitness instructor” body. And this is true. I truly don’t have any idea what it’s like to exist in a larger body and to be negatively discriminated against because of my size. Acknowledging this fact is the best way for me to stay in integrity with what I’m saying as well point out the 2-ton elephant in the room which is the fact that I am thin. By speaking my privilege I can speak more effectively and sensitively about body positivity. Acknowledging my lense in which I see and exist in the world (which cannot be removed) is always a powerful thing to do, especially when speaking on something that I don’t experience first hand.
Speaking my privilege is an ongoing practice and there are times I still forget to do it or feel very uncomfortable when I do. But I’ve learned it’s always the best practice and ultimately keeps me in integrity.
So there you have it. These are just a few ways to be thin-privileged ally in the body positive movement. If you have any suggestions or comments about this, I’d love to hear them.