As with any activist movement that gains mainstream traction, original intentions can sometimes grow convoluted. Such is arguably the case when it comes to contemporary body positivity versus fat acceptance: The latter undoubtedly serving as the catalyst for the former's existence.
In 2012 when I began blogging, it was the term "body positivity" that led to my discovery of fat liberation work. "Body pos" was utilized by many of the plus size bloggers I followed; by many of the writers tackling actual body politics, all the while dissecting the institutionalized ways that fat folks are discriminated against on a daily basis. Perhaps it was rooted in the notion that "all bodies are good bodies," but by "all bodies" it actually seemed to mean it: Fat people above a size 24 were included in conversations; so were trans bodies and queer bodies and bodies of color and boxy, non-hourglass fats.
In 2016, "body positivity" is everywhere. But it's arguably evolved into a term as rooted in fat acceptance as "loving of all people" might be to Donald Trump. Where, for many, body pos was once a sister or BFF to fat acceptance, it can now often seem to focus primarily on conventionally attractive, thin celebrities openly discussing body image, or brands that believe that by extending their size ranges to a 20, they are taking radical action towards size inclusivity.
All this in mind, I spoke to 11 influencers within the umbrella of fat acceptance to discuss the differences they perceive in 2016's interpretation of body positivity, and the fat liberation they each fight for. Here are their thoughts.
1. Isha Reid
"I'm an avid subscriber of everyone feeling good about themselves and their bodies, so I believe in body positivity in a very stripped down concept. However, body positivity had a predecessor — fat acceptance. When I first started blogging, fat acceptance was the tag used to show self-empowerment and anti-societal rules and regulations to how a body should look.
As a fat teenager and adult, fat acceptance was relatable, it was comforting, and it was the driving force to how I see and appreciate my body now. Unfortunately, fat acceptance has all but fallen by the wayside in favor of body positivity — even I have found myself rarely using this term anymore.
It feels like anything used by those most marginalized gets ambushed and taken over by those who are not marginalized. Black lives matter? No, no, ALL lives matter, and it's the same with fat acceptance. We've been told that ALL bodies should be accepted and ALL bodies should be seen positively; but we know that's not the case. We know that the more body fat you have, the more you are hated, stigmatized, made fun of, and seen as less worthy.
Those who fall into the mold of what society deems as desirable may indeed get some sort of scrutiny regarding their body, but that level is nowhere in comparison to those, like myself, who have a visibly fat body. Fat acceptance is not just a phrase. Fat acceptance is a movement — a defiant war cry for all of us who have never felt like we belong. It's so important to never forget that," Isha Reid, plus size blogger of An Autumn's Grace.
2. Meg Elison
"When I think of body positivity folks, I see an average-looking woman holding an umbrella in the rain. Body positivity is a big umbrella, giving cover to a lot of people who have had to stand in the rain. So, under her umbrella are huddled her friends who are like her; imperfect and on a journey toward self-love. However, they're not really fat. They're up against an impossible standard, but most of them are fatphobic at this point in their journey. They see themselves as self-accepting and maybe willing to look at someone lumpy like Lena Dunham without being cruel.
However, they do not want to share that umbrella with fat people. We're still morally bankrupt, still too noncompliant, still too culpable for having let ourselves get so, so fat. We don't belong under the positivity umbrella because we can't shop with them, dance in ads with them, or share our mild stories of unrequited love with them. The fat people who are still standing in the rain need something bigger than that umbrella. We're over here putting up a big tent that houses our outsize anger, our stories of terror and isolation, our alienation from everything from sex to a marketplace that will ostensibly accept money for anything but will still not sell us clothes.
We are too big to get under the body posi umbrella, even if the people holding it would like to try to share. I think some fat people can use that umbrella when they need to, but may also need the roomier shelter of fat acceptance. I think many find one or the other a huge relief after standing in the rain of people's hate and disgust for so many years, and they're both great for that. And I don't mean to divide the movement by saying these things are separate, but we are different and diverse despite our many shared goals," Meg Elison, author, columnist, and writer of "My Friends Would Rather Have Their Guts Cut Open Than Be Like Me."
3. Bethany Rutter
"Body positivity has been co-opted so comprehensively as to have become meaningless. Since not all bodies are discriminated against, and there are specific characteristics that mean some most definitely are, it stands to reason that a term as generic as 'body positivity' does not work.
It's frankly offensive to pretend that thin bodies are treated as badly as fat ones, or white bodies treated as badly as black bodies, and yet that's where body positivity leaves us: Erasing the genuine, tangible, meaningful difference between bodies.
Fat people are hired less, paid less, have poorer access to medical care, are intensely ostracized in all forms of media. We need to specifically name the stigma and hatred that puts us in that position, not have it erased by thin women who want a piece of the action without having to deal with any of the stigma," Bethany Rutter, queer fatshion blogger of Arched Eyebrow.
4. Aarti Olivia Dubey
"The study of fat feminism is an amazing one that details the start of the movement from late 1960s, and just like today, the contemporary fat activists are not given as much credence even though body positivity as we know it was created thanks to the former.
I am deeply appreciative of body positivity and the campaigning for representation and size diversity. That is how I got my feet wet as a plus size blogger. While there are marked differences between body positivity and fat acceptance, I wish they would work more hand in hand since body positivity does believe that all bodies deserve respect. The fatphobia that persists to harass visibly fat femmes is indicative of a need for a better understanding of what body positivity really encompasses.
If body shaming is not tolerated, why then do people report images of visibly fat people or hurt them with malicious intent or concern troll their social media spaces? I believe that the concept of respecting every body has yet to be grasped by all," plus size blogger Aarti Olivia Dubey of Curves Become Her.
5. Alysse Dalessandro
"When I discovered fat women who loved their bodies, it changed my life. This was my first introduction to body positivity and as I became more deeply entrenched, I learned that body positivity was born from the size acceptance and fat activism movements. Before body positivity became a part of the mainstream lexicon, I used the term to describe my work as a designer, an activist, and a writer, but now I feel as if the mainstream usage and over-usage has turned this term into one that I don't identify with as much anymore.
Body positive was term that I saw as a way to liberate and free fat bodies from societal stigma, but it has turned into a word to describe a mainstream ad campaign featuring all size 12 cis, white, hourglass women or a straight size celebrity's makeup free selfie. A size eight celebrity does nothing more than exist and she's labeled a body positive icon.
Meanwhile, fat bodies, especially fat bodies over a size 24, are being left out of the conversation completely in order to celebrate the bodies that society deems more acceptable. Body positivity cannot be viewed as positive or progressive if it's not for the liberation of ALL bodies. Yes, it's true that all bodies are good bodies, but not all bodies are treated in the same way. The societal pressure to look a certain way affects people of all sizes, but at the end of the day, fat individuals have their lives threatened and their humanity questioned on a daily basis. You just can't tell me that this treatment is the same.
This is where fat positivity comes in for me. Fat positivity advocates for the liberation of fat bodies because all bodies aren't treated the same, and until this approach becomes part of the mainstream body positive conversation, we need fat positivity," Alysse Dalessandro, plus size designer of Ready To Stare and freelance writer.
"I've been on the self love train since 2011 and in that time I've seen a change. Although I might not have come across 'body positivity' as a phrase at the beginning of my journey, I felt I was included in this new, more diverse self-love consciousness.
But over the years, I've seen body positivity turn into something that is overrun with predominantly cishet, white, young, able-bodied people in smaller fat bodies. I'm pan, disabled, over 40, and death-fat, and even I feel left out. How are people at the furthest reaches supposed to feel? The people who aren't white, who are LGBTQIA, and don't pass as straight? Who are perhaps a bit older and fatter than the poster children for body positivity? Where do they fit in, when society doesn't want them, but neither does the supposedly inclusive body positivity fold? Where do they go? What hope have they of self love and support?
For me, body positivity has been homogenized by the money, influence, and power of brands. This is why I consider myself fat positive rather than body positive and I always will," plus size blogger Leah of Just Me Leah.
"Body positivity, much like anything else that gains the eye of the media, has experienced a huge rush of brands moving in and stripping it for parts. It feels cynical, it feels hollow, and it has taken the bite right out of what used to be a radical stance.
Body positivity as it exists online in 2016 has been diluted beyond all recognition. The move to the mainstream and the involvement of brands has led to the shunning of true diversity and fat bodies in favor of a handful of marketable slim, able-bodied, cishet, white women. As I scroll through #bopo [or] #bodypostive and the like on Instagram, the evidence of this is right there: Where some time ago I used to see a variety of fat bodies being celebrated and encouraged, I now see picture after picture of flat, white stomachs.
I love that these ladies feel positive about themselves and I'm happy that they feel empowered to speak up for a cause, but I can't help but think how easy it must be to be a champion of 'body positivity' in the face of absolutely no social stigma based on your appearance whatsoever.
For me personally, I identify with fat positivity. I recognize my privilege as a white woman and a smaller fat, but I feel that there is no place for me in this new mainstream 'body positivity' that excludes those who are fat in the 'wrong' way, have the 'wrong' opinions, or aren't demonstrating that they are a 'good' fat. As 'body positivity' grew from fat activism, this co-opting of it by brands and this exclusionary attitude is just so at odds with its origins. It feels like swapping one set of body standards for another, and I am not here for that," Zoë, plus size fashion blogger of IKIWN.
8. Sarah Moffat
"While body positivity can and has been a force for positive change, its effectiveness is limited by its failure to fully articulate the root causes of the flawed and often deeply damaging relationship many of us have with our bodies, which is a toxic mix of sexism, racism, queerphobia, ableism, and fatphobia.
While coming to accept your body — its strengths, its limitations — is a positive experience for many people, that alone will not dismantle structural oppression. Society will not suddenly start treating us with respect if we learn to love ourselves just that little more; if anything, the opposite is true — those of us who are unashamed in our fatness are often more likely to be targets of harassment, intimidation and violence," Sarah Moffat, plus size blogger of Velveteen Femme.
9. Amy Pence-Brown
"It was important to me when I began my own journey as a body image activist seven years ago to learn from the leaders of the movement I was part of. As a historian, academic, and researcher, I firmly believe that we cannot move forward and be part of something without learning about who and what came before us.
The fat acceptance movement in the U.S. is over 50 years old and was part of the larger civil rights movement, alongside rights for women, LGBTQIA, and people of color. While other marginalized people have found wider acceptance and some advancement in their movements, size positivity has been very slow to catch on in America.
There have been activists pushing and fighting bigotry against fat folks since the 1960s who have paved the way for all of us to claim 'body positivity' in the recent past. It's only been in the past five (or less!) years that the movement has reignited mainstream momentum, and part of that is attributed to the more palatable idea of body positivity, I think, which sometimes can be seen as a 'watered-down' version of the radical fat power of our past.
That being said, I prefer to look at body positivity as part of a spectrum of size acceptance, with it on one end and more radical fat positivity at the other. Many will start on the body positivity end of the spectrum and their eyes and hearts will be opened via education, reading, watching others, following activists, and generally participating in the larger revolution as part of their personal journey.
Ideally, they'll move along the continuum towards radical and revolutionary body acceptance and see that all bodies are valuable and worthy, be they super fat, differently-abled, ugly, unhealthy, and/or unapologetic. As an activist, I feel it's important to meet people where they're at on that spectrum and not alienate them, giving them the tools to move forward," Amy Pence-Brown, body image activist, writer, and artist.
10. Mallorie Dunn
"I think mainstream body positivity simply is lacking true fat acceptance. They want 'all bodies are good bodies' to have an addendum saying 'as long as they look healthy and are packaged in a way that's easy to swallow.' Case in point: I had a paid Smart Glamour ad go up on a plus site's Instagram of our [size 5X] model Linni in the Arianna dress, and all the followers/readers of this page that are always crying out for accurate representation came out of the woodwork to police her body. It was so saddening and enraging to me.
Bodies don't all look like perfectly airbrushed fashion images — and accurate representation doesn't just mean a larger version of the same airbrushed hourglass Eurocentric 'ideal.' Not everyone has perky breasts, no cellulite, clear skin, etc., and if you aren't OK with seeing those things, you aren't actually asking for accurate representation," Mallorie Dunn, owner and designer of size inclusive brand Smart Glamour.
11. Sarah Sapora
"I have always believed that 'fat acceptance' supports and promotes the viability and visibility of fat bodies on a whole — politically and by socially recognizing that 'persons of size' are equal contributors to society and should be accepted as this. Also, it is wrapped around the idea that being fat is not something that needs to be changed, fixed, or addressed in any way. I have often observed fat acceptance as being, what I might call unapologetically 'loud and proud' in many ways, and, those who are engaged in the activism [are] trailblazing figures. This is a smaller circle of persons and a group that sits more on the outside on the fringe of the current body positivity moment.
To me, 'fat positivity' has a softer connotation to it; it is less about activism and more about personal acceptance. It is the idea that all persons of size should feel accepted and empowered in their body.
Body positivity is a more encompassing idea: It addresses the idea that all persons of all shapes, sizes, gender identity, and ability are valid and good and deserve to feel happy, safe, and accepted in their own form, exactly as they are. It is an inclusive concept.
These days, the idea of 'body positivity' has become more commercially digestible. We are seeing women (and persons) of all sizes and weights proudly being outspoken 'body positive' supporters. Brands have adapted the concept and, in some ways, I feel negatively watered it down.
Also, body positivity as it currently exists allows for a level of personal interpretation. To me, personally, body positivity is about allowing me to love my body in ANY STATE that it is in. Heavy, thin ... at any level of fitness. It means that I deserve to show my body love, in whatever form I choose to experience that love of body," Sarah Sapora, plus size blogger of Sarah Plus Life and expert in marketing and social media.
If there's anything that speaking to these folks has proved, it's that contemporary body positivity is undoubtedly far removed from what it was only a few years ago. In many ways, it has all but abandoned the focus on the marginalized bodies who always needed the original activism most.
While it's possible that there is room for both "body pos" and "fat acceptance," mainstream body positivity, should it want to successfully represent the idea that all bodies are created equally, must evolve to actually be inclusive of all the bodies it claims to cater to. Should this happen, it might be able to exist alongside fat acceptance. It might be re-endorsed by the folks who once subscribed to the label, but now feel disenchanted by its co-option and over-use. Maybe "body pos" can become a way to address the social sexism and misogyny that lead most women and feminine people, regardless of size, to feel policed over their bodies, while recognizing that society still continues to place some body types on pedestals and others in the boonies.
But for now, it's clear that we need to remember a few things: All bodies might be good, equal, and worthy of acceptance, but not all bodies are treated as such. The reality is that in a world keen on denying fat people healthcare, making us the brunt of every joke on television, and equating the word "fat" to feeling ugly and inherently flawed, fat bodies are subject to a different kind of prejudice than their thin counterparts. To pretend otherwise is to ignore all the work that remains to be done on the road to deconstructing the social norms that aren't even close to believing that all bodies are good.
Image: Courtesy Isha Reid/An Autumn's Grace (1)