What is Body Positivity? And What to Do When it’s Nowhere In Sight
A lot of people have heard this term thrown around, used in our culture and specifically, within social media recently. But what exactly is it, and how can we use the term to our best advantage?
Body Positivity. It’s the concept that all bodies are good bodies. Fat bodies, skinny bodies, trans bodies, cis-bodies, short bodies, tall bodies. Cellulite-y bodies, amputee bodies, muscular bodies, flabby bodies. All bodies are good bodies.
It’s a concept that is quickly starting to pick up steam and is being noticed everywhere: in expanded plus-size sections of department stores, viral Facebook posts of a mother’s love of her stretch marks, and on Ashley Graham’s cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. And it seems fairly easy, right? Love the skin you’re in. You don’t have to change, because you’re perfect as you are.
But it’s so much harder than that. For years we have been influenced and taught by the media and our culture what the “right” body is. For women, it’s thin, sleek bodies with no cellulite and flowing, shiny hair. For men, it’s all about tone and muscle. So how are we supposed to switch gears so easily? How do we just accept that our imperfections are worthy of our love all of a sudden?
Let’s start with something easier: what body positivity is NOT. Body positivity is not being accepting of some bodies, but not all. Body positivity is intersectional, meaning it does not put other body types down in order to lift others up. For example, body positivity does not put down thin and slender people in order to glorify and embrace people who are curvy, have fat, etc. Body positivity does not include intentional weight loss. A friend of mine, Sarah Vance (link at the end of this post) has a lot of great resources and things to say about intentional weight loss and body positivity. Basically, the traditional “diet” in order to lose weight directly contradicts one’s acceptance of themselves as-is. I’m not the best at explaining this and would suggest that any and everyone should check out Sarah’s information on this topic, as she is pretty bossly.
If you find yourself understanding what body positivity is not, yet still not feeling totally accepting of yourself, you might consider body neutrality. Body neutrality is the understanding that you may not feel totally comfortable, totally loving or totally accepting of your body AT THIS TIME, but you understand that you’re on a path to get there.
Body Positivity: “Ooh, look at my legs in this dress, so cute!”
Body Neutrality: “Meh, I’m here. I’m allowed to fill this space with my body. I wish I could change how I look, but I can’t, and that’s okay.”
When you’re feeling the body positive vibes, and you’re all like:
And when it’s a struggle to love your body, you might be like:
But you could be like this:
Some may find body neutrality as a slippery slope: It can be easy to use body neutrality as a means of not caring for oneself. I, on the other hand, disagree completely. Body neutrality is a vehicle in which you can continue on in the journey to body positivity. Body neutrality suggests that there’s more to a person than their looks. You might be feeling particularly low about your body one day, and the idea of accepting that you’re neutral in your body allows you to look deeper into the other amazing parts of you: Your intelligence, your caring nature, your amazing ability to read people, etc.
Body neutrality forces us to consider all of the non-physical aspects of our beings that are rockin’. Body positivity is the acknowledgement that all parts of our beings, including physical and non-physical qualities, are rockin’. Catch what I’m sayin’? In all cases though, body neutrality is not a resting place--it’s a jumping off point, towards further self-love and acceptance, and hopefully, a place of body positivity. And body positivity, that’s what we need more of in this world. To love, care for, and respect each and every person’s body, just the way it is.
Basically, we need body positivity so we can be a little more like this kiddo:
Link to Sarah Vance: http://www.sarahvance.com/body-positive-movement/
Hi!! My name is Kelsi, and I’m a therapist here at Crown Counseling. I’m a licensed mental health therapist as well as the Eating Disorder Treatment Program Coordinator. If you see me around our office, you can guarantee I’m either wearing jeans or leggings and talking way too loud about the TV show “Shameless.” Seriously, it’s amazing. Go watch it...after you read this blog. I have a big heart that is put to good use here at Crown. I play many roles: wife, dog-mom, daughter, friend, and cheerleader of personal growth. I’m an advocate for women of all ages to accept and love their bodies as-is. While I can with certainty own most of those roles throughout my life, this advocate role came along more recently.
Four years ago, I became interested in improving my life by making what many in our culture call a “lifestyle change”: I began an exercise and healthy eating regimen and began to lose weight (Disclaimer: I NEVER needed to lose weight, I needed to feel in control of a life that you’ll soon read was so very out of control at the time). I had recently found myself single and with the excess weight of months of happy, blissful, bored, and eventually stressed eating. But now, I was free of that burden and ready to focus on myself.
About five months into this regimen, I had lost some weight and was feeling much more confident with myself. And then my life was turned upside down and shaken like a snowglobe. My father was told that he was losing his battle with cancer, and there was nothing else we could do to help him survive.
The whole time period of watching my father slowly pass away, the time of funerals and memorial services and figuring out what life looks like without a dad, that time was really hard. I clung to those daily workouts, so much so that in a 90-day time period I did not skip a single workout. In the world I had started to surround myself with, I was something to be applauded and looked up to as a source of inspiration. In addition, I had something to distract myself from the travesty my life was becoming. So to further this distraction, I became a representative of the company who’s products I was using to lose weight. A “coach” of sorts, as the company-that-must-not-be-named markets their representatives as. Basically, I used my weight loss “success story” to get people to buy products and try to achieve similar results. But my experience as a product-pusher is a different story for a different day.
When my dad died, I used exercise to keep me from legitimately losing my mind. I got tinier and tinier and pushed my “healthy lifestyle” onto others. I judged others for not pursuing the same goals as I was. It was the only coping skill that I could come up with at the time. Reflecting back on it, I can’t believe that as a therapist, I could not help myself cope more effectively. But for that moment, it worked. Now, I see that my addiction to exercise, obsession with healthy foods, and intense pull to influence others in the same way was an eating disorder. But it got worse before it got better.
As I navigated the grief process, my life continued to transition in every single way possible. I met the man who would become my husband, I moved in with him and we were forced to build a long-distance engagement, I started my grad school internship, and I learned what it was like to be a real adult. A real adult with an eating disorder. My relationship with food and my body got progressively worse. Meals became stricter and stricter, and my workouts became more and more intense. Sometimes twice a day I would lift weights, do cardio, and put an extreme amount of dangerous stress on my body. Eventually I learned from the book Health At Every Size, that long-term dieting and restriction leads to a metabolism that is snail slow and the inability to maintain weight loss. But at the time, I became frustrated that my weight loss slowed to a stop. In fact, I gained weight while doing the same obscene routines, but now, because I was heavier, they were even more intense. I became miserable...depressed, losing hope in my go-to coping skill, and possibly most importantly, extremely irritable and all-around not fun to be around.
Just ask my husband, and he’d tell you that he could never be certain what food I was or was not eating, where we could go out to eat, the little quality time we spent together (when we were planning a wedding nonetheless), and the obsession I had with flexing my muscles in the mirror. Honestly, it was ridiculous. I put my friends and family through the same rollercoaster, and through it all, I was praised for how “great” I looked and how proud of me they were (not my husband though. No sir, that man had long ago figured out that my behaviors were disordered, way sooner than I had even considered the thought). The cycle continued until one day in November of 2015, I had my epiphany. To realize that for so long, I was wasting a part of my life, a part of me that could have been filled with life experience and joy, and love, and I sacrificed all of that to be skinny. On my wedding day, I wasted joy wondering if I looked fit enough, skinny enough, in my wedding gown. Same goes throughout our honeymoon, and the months following where we learned how to build a life together.
It wasn’t until vacationing in Paris that I learned that maybe, just maybe, I could sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride that is life. I began to refuel my body and feed it the foods that I deprived myself for so long. I learned about the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement and Intuitive Eating. I ate Poptarts every day for a month. I gained weight, and it was excruciatingly painful to watch my body grow back to the size it originally was. Loving one’s body regardless of the number on the scale is much easier said than done. I’ve said out loud how much I hate myself. I’ve searched for a granule of love in my cellulite and fat rolls and come up empty handed. Every day I learn to love myself with more passion and unconditional love and acceptance. I’ve come so far, and yet have so far to go, and yet I know I could never return to the person I used to be.
Recovery has been the most difficult thing I have ever experienced. It has been the farthest thing from a linear path, with ups, downs, and a tangled mess of emotions. This experience has allowed the opportunity of being an eating disorder treatment specialist to drop into my lap. My work brings me the joy and passion that I lost out on all those years. It keeps me motivated to continue loving myself on the days when I feel it’s most difficult. Having been through a history with disordered eating allows me to be able to truly say that yes, I know what you’ve gone through and yes, I know it’s not fair. I’ve learned that there can in fact be hope found in the bottom of a carton of ice cream, and you can love every dimple of cellulite, every jiggle, and every nook and crevice that our culture would have you believe otherwise.
This is my story, my thoughts, and my perspectives, and I hope you’ll continue to follow this blog as I unpack some of the most frequently addressed topics of eating disorders within our culture that I have discussed with clients throughout the last year.
Until next time, eat the cookie.
Thanks for checking out the blog! I'm Kelsi, and all these thoughts and experiences are my own. I've got a pretty extensive journey with ED NOS and Orthorexia and I'm passionate about helping others with food and body image issues. I'm an advocate for women's rights, one of THOSE dog moms, and I am in a devoted, long-term relationship with my Netflix queue. Finally, I'm a strong believer in the concept that leggings are pants, and that jeans are leg prisons.