These days it can seem like brands and publications reveal a new campaign or makeup-free social media post meant to be "body positive" every day. But just a few years ago, the term body positivity wasn't part of the mainstream lexicon at all. While the concept is often interpreted as the assertion that all bodies are good bodies, the phrase is actually a bit more layered than that.
An individual's introduction to body positivism can be very personal. Learning to love yourself and accept your body without wanting to change it are both so important. I know that discovering other individuals who looked like me and loved their fatness was life-changing. But body positivity isn't just an individualized experience.
Born from fat activism and size acceptance, body positivity has been politicized and monetized in ways that often end up leaving individuals above a certain size out of the conversation. It has arguably become a term that, in some cases, is just a substitution for existing outside of the beauty norm in one way. It's not to say that challenging beauty standards isn't important, but if doing so is not creating a more inclusive picture of beauty for all identities, then it's not doing all that it can.
As body positivity continues to grow in popularity, I wanted to speak to influencers in the fat positive and plus size fashion communities to see how they define the term. Their answers are beautifully diverse and show that body positivity is more than a headline: It's a conversation.
1. Ariel Woodson
"I generally don't identify as a 'body positive' individual because I think the term in its current iteration actively excludes fat people and other marginalized bodies. However, if I were to define it in a way I'd be happy with, I would say, aside from a few snarky answers like 'defanged fat activism repackaged suitable only for corporate use and coddling the feelings of thin, able-bodied, cisgender, white women' or 'I'm positive I don't give a damn what you think about my body,' that body positivity should mean you don't always have to feel positively about your body, but you have the right to do so and that you also have the right to exist in your body and have whatever feelings about it without a constant stream of external imagery and rhetoric telling you that you should feel otherwise.
Body positivity should be about self-determination and the elimination of societal forces that impede it. Body positivity isn't #allbodiesmatter. It's about removing the structural inequities that make some bodies worth more than others," Ariel Woodson, co-producer of feminist, intersectional podcast Bad Fat Broads.
2. Kelly Augustine
"Body positivity is a frame of mind, not a minding of the frame. It's all about how you feel about your body, regardless of size. I know women who are a size 2 that are so uncomfortable in their skin, and women who are a size 22 that are living their lives fearlessly and unapologetically. Body positivity is also the acceptance of other bodies, which I don't think enough people acknowledge. Being happy in your body does not grant you permission to steal joy from others. The body positive movement began as, and should always be, an inclusive one, and I think some are losing sight of that," Kelly Augustine, plus size fashion and beauty blogger.
3. Kelvin Davis
“Body positivity is for every size, age, race, and gender. It's more than hashtags. It's about being POSITIVE that your BODY is awesome and spreading that positivity to others. That's what being body positive is all about to me," Kelvin Davis, founder of Notoriously Dapper, a body positive men's fashion blog.
4. Aarti Olivia Dubey
"I see body positivity as an extension of fat acceptance (which has been around for quite a while) and a wider spectrum of inclusivity for all bodies. I consider myself a fat acceptance activist and a body positive activist because the significance of the latter has definitely changed since its conception. While it is supposed to be all-inclusive, some fail to understand that, and plus sized women size 20 and above tend to get left out of the movement," Aarti Olivia Dubey, self-proclaimed "fat brown feminist with a penchant for fashion" of the blog Curves Become Her.
5. Ragen Chastain
"To me, body positivity means viewing and treating my body as a treasured friend. It means that instead of hating my body for not looking like a photoshopped picture of someone else, I am grateful for this amazing body just as it is. It means that when I do face difficulties, it's always me and my body against a problem, and not me against my body. It means that I wield my glorious fat body like a weapon against sizeism and fat shaming — I love it, I show it proudy in public, and I viciously defend my body against anyone who seeks to classify it as anything but amazing," Ragen Chastain, fat activist and blogger of Dances With Fat.
6. Chenese Lewis
“I define body positivity as having self-esteem and a positive body image. The body positivity movement is about health (at any size), identity, and self-respect. The ultimate goal is to combat unrealistic ideals about beauty and health, as well as to promote self-acceptance,” model, host, positive body image advocate, and actor Chenese Lewis.
7. Jes Baker
"I'd love to see our culture move our goals beyond the 'body positivity' part of redefining beauty and into the space of something I feel really invested in right now: We can call it 'body equality.' [Author] Sonya Renee Taylor has always beautifully articulated what this is about when she says: 'When we make peace with our body and the bodies of others, we will turn the world into a more copacetic and compassionate place.' Making peace with our bodies and learning to love them is also about radical social justice and change. It includes a deep look at racism, violence, biased health care, fatphobia, inaccessible spaces, discrimination, limited resources, gendered bathrooms, sexism, irrelevant age limitations, and so much more. I'd love to see Body Positivity fully encompass Body Equality, but as of right now we haven't be able to merge them in the mainstream. Yet.
I'm hopeful. For now, though, I think we can access Body Equality through our current knowledge of Body Positivity... at least that's what I have seen happen for so many people, including myself. It's through the challenging of the status quo that we start to learn about how to buck the larger oppressive trend! But I want to make sure that we don't stop there. So YES let's reclaim our outsides for the magical things they are! And then let's demand respect, resources, rights, and radical change for every single body regardless of how it fits into a new or old definition of beauty," fat activist and author Jes Baker of The Militant Baker.
8. Marie Denee
"[Body positivity] means accepting your body, curves, rolls, lumps, bumps, and all and accepting it as worthy. Worthy of love, of existing, of receiving the same level of value placed upon it as the next body. It is radical self love, despite society's ideals of beauty. It is honoring and living life fully rather than waiting until your body becomes an 'after' body. It is throwing out the fashion rules of the past that force or shame us to hide and shrink away. It is no longer apologizing for existing and taking up space. It is daring to allow yourself permission to don that two-piece bathing suit, to slay that downward facing dog position, and learning to stare at your body in all of its naked glory and love on it," Marie Denee, founding editor of The Curvy Fashionista and plus size style blogger.
9. Marcy Cruz
"Body positivity to me means promoting body love to everyone and all bodies, not just ones that the media pushes, which seem to push the message that plus size means a size 14 and that's it. I think that being fat is sometimes not looked at as a desirable body to love and if we celebrate and love all bodies, we must be promoting obesity. Body positivity is not limited by size. It is a movement for everyone. It is about celebrating all of our differences and loving them. Being thin doesn't make you normal just as it does not make you 100 percent healthy. We are all worthy of love regardless of weight, size, color, gender, sexuality, etc.," Marcy Cruz, blogger of Fearlessly Just Me and blog editor of Plus Model Magazine.
10. Mike Byrd
"Body Positivity is the conscious decision to be confident, bold, and proud of who you are holistically, despite not meeting what society deems as attractive or normal. It's a movement of empowerment, courage, and uplift to build on the confidence of those who do not meet the standards of mainstream beauty," Mike Byrd, photographer and founder of positive body image hashtag #BigGuyTwitter.
11. Jessica Kane
"Body positivity is loving yourself and your body unconditionally. Looking at your perfectly unique body and realizing it's a temple that deserves to be loved. It's a radical acceptance of self and others in a world where we are trained to embrace a cycle of body hate," Jessica Kane, Creative Director of plus size fashion retailer Society+.
12. Leah Vernon
“Unfortunately, ‘body positive’ has become a sales tool and a trend for some. For me, it is so much more. I joined the movement because it meant body inclusivity — big or small. It meant that I could stop being embarrassed about my body around my smaller friends and actually enjoy it. To think that I lived many years being extremely self-conscious and starving myself because society just couldn’t believe that a bigger woman could be considered beautiful saddens me. This movement isn’t about popularity, it’s about that kid who can research the movement and be inspired to be themselves at any size,” plus size style blogger, model, body positive advocate, and writer Leah Vernon of Beauty And The Muse.
13. Jessica Torres
"Body positivity is learning to accept bodies in all sizes, shapes, and forms. Plus size women have begun a revolution that challenges the way society sees our bodies. However, it pertains [to] more than that. We are working for acceptance of people who don't fall into society's cookie-cutter image of beauty. It is a battle with society and even a bigger one with ourselves. We are relearning what beauty is. We are learning to accept the diversity in bodies and beauty," Jessica Torres, writer at Revelist and plus size style blogger at Tiny Red Shoes.
14. Kath Read
"I have a lot of problems with 'body positivity' and have come to see it as a movement for people who fall into the median of body types, to the point that it is usually exclusionary of those of us outside of that median. Particularly those of us at the furthest ends of the bell curve. I know that it was borne of fat activism, but the actual message has been diluted and softened so much that it’s unrecognizable from what those of us fighting for fat rights began so many years ago.
Body positivity wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the long history of fat activists fighting to change the narrative around bodies and weight. While yes, some people who refer to themselves as body positive do want to include all bodies, and try to do so, the vast majority of body positivity actively shuns those of us with bodies that don’t fit into a tidy definition. Any of us who are very fat, who don’t fall into a conventional beauty definition, who have bodies that are shaped 'weird,' who have disabilities or chronic illness, and all too often, aren’t white and cisgender.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen supposed 'body positive warriors' promote the old 'as long as you’re healthy' rhetoric, or even suggest that 'nobody wants to see that' in reference to very fat bodies, particularly if they’re comfortably exposing those bodies. Bodies like mine generally aren’t included in body positivity, so I have never claimed to belong to that community. I’m a fat activist who fights for the rights of fat people," fat activist and blogger Kath Read of Fat Heffalump (image by Paul Harris).
15. Jill Andrew & Aisha Fairclough
"The term 'body positivity' can be somewhat misguiding because it encourages a focus almost exclusively on celebration, acceptance, and frankly 'positivity.' The reality for many of us is our relationship with our body is a lifelong journey encompassing experiences across the spectrum. This spectrum must also include the bad days, the days when we are fighting body-based harassment, size discrimination, and other appearance-based discriminatory practices, and body neutral days when we can quite frankly take it or leave it.
The term 'body positivity' also sometimes excludes certain bodies. By glorifying or having over-representation of so-called 'good' fat bodies, for instance, other bodies that aren't as 'easy' for mainstream consumption often get pushed to the margins i.e. racialized fats, disabled, gender non-conforming, trans fats, and others that don't have the appropriately placed fat rolls (aka other than hourglass shaped).
Lastly, we want to mention that for us body positivity doesn't only include weight. Body activism is about our entire body and how our bodies exist in and are connected to the world we live in. From the top of your head to the tip of your toes — every inch of us should be part of body positivity," Jill Andrew and Aisha Fairclough, co-founders of Body Confidence Canada Awards.
Body positivity is more than a catch-all term. It can be used to define existing outside of beauty norms, yes, but utilizing it in a way that continues to leave out certain bodies is a complete disservice to its radical roots. From loving your body to fighting for equal treatment, the truth is that body positivity cannot be defined simply. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But the one thing that is for sure is that contemporary body positivity can do better.
Images: KellyAugustineB/Instagram; Courtesy Interviewees