The dilution of a movement
It’s discouraging when social movements progress slowly, but it’s even harder when they go backward. Today’s “body positive” movement has been popularized on Instagram by those in recovery from both eating disorders and similar unhealthy behaviors perpetrated by diet culture. Very few people know that body positivity, aka #BOPO, originated from a decades-old radical movement called fat liberation — a movement for freedom for people of all body types to be free liberated from the constraints of patriarchy that function to eke the energy and potential out of specifically girls and women everywhere. Why has it come down to something like this? Because we as a society are terrified of fat, straight down to the word itself.
Some of this Insta action is absolutely used for good. Sometimes these posts are very real, depicting individuals dealing with the weight gain, weight loss and/or other body changes that accompany eating disorder recovery process. There are people, primarily women, posting pictures of their stretch marks, their surgery scars, the rolls on their stomachs. There are women, many of whom are eating disorder survivors, who are working to acknowledge their thin privilege in the way that many in the activist community are recognizing their white privilege as well. People post videos of their participation in dance and yoga and marathons and other activities that have been culturally reserved for people of certain body types and, more importantly, with certain intents: to create or maintain thin bodies. Sometimes, however, these posts aren’t real at all. They’re #aerieREAL.
#AerieREAL is a hashtag that accompanies Aerie, an offshoot of clothing company American Eagle that focuses on bralettes, underwear and swimsuits, and its move toward using unretouched models. Aerie is formally an ally of NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, and helps sponsor their NEDA Walks, events to raise awareness and show support for eating disorder survivors and their allies, across the country. At the helm of many of these events is “plus-size” “body-positive” English model Iskra Lawrence. Lawrence has spoken honestly about the body shaming she has experienced in the modeling industry and how for many years she used unhealthy food and exercise behaviors to maintain a weight unrealistic for her body.
However, earlier this year, she was on the cover of SELF Magazine promoting a plan she collaborated on with them, posting on her Insta: “And you can all start 2017 with me & #TeamSELF by getting my FREE four-week workout and healthy eating plan when you sign up!” According to Fashionista.com, this was met by significant criticism from other body-image activists because of the restrictive nature of the meal plan and therefore her own hypocrisy. SELF ended up pulling the diet plan, and Lawrence apologized, posting: “After seeing many of your comments and DMs, I spoke with SELF’s editor-in-chief, Carolyn Kylstra. We had a meaningful conversation about the Challenge, after which she made the decision to remove the meal plan. My involvement with the Challenge from the beginning was the fitness aspect—I wanted to share some of my favourite workout moves with you all that aren’t for weight loss, but to feel healthy, strong and to look after our bodies. I knew that there would be recipes involved but did not know that they would be put together in the form of a meal plan or be so restrictive / low cal.” This isn’t body positivity, and it’s miles away from the movement’s origins.
Fat liberation became fat acceptance became body positivity. Fat liberation was, like many radical movements, focused on changing social institutions. A piece by Evette Dionne for Revelist, “Fat acceptance activists explain why body positivity is becoming meaningless,” delves into this still-existing discrimination: “Size determines many life outcomes, including work promotions and wages,” Dionne writes. “The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination found that plus-size workers are paid $1.25 less an hour than average-size workers, which could lead to a loss of around $100,000 over the course a career. Additionally, women of size make 6 [percent] less than thinner women, and also receive fewer raises.”
Solving these problems was the initial goal of the fat liberation movement. The informal fat liberation manifesto entitled “FAT PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE ….” was written by Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran in 1973. Principle 3 reads: “We see our struggle as allied with the struggles of other oppressed [sic] groups against classism, racism, sexism, ageism, financial exploitation, imperialism and the like.” Principle 6 talks about the bullshit of “health concern” for people in larger bodies decades before the proliferation of the Health at Every Size movement, saying: “We repudiate the mystified ‘science’ which falsely claims that we are unfit. It has both caused and upheld discrimination against us, in collusion with the financial interests of insurance companies, the fashion and garment industries, reducing industries, the food and drug industries and the medical and psychiatric establishment.”
All people deserve to feel at home in their bodies. We can’t heal as a culture from the mental and physical toll of fucked-up attitudes surrounding food, exercise and bodies while maintaining this faux body positivity. As Virgie Tovar, a writer and fat activist, said on “anti-diet dietitian” Christy Harrison’s FoodPsych podcast: “At the end of the day, if we we’re all terrified of becoming fat, whether fat or not, fatness needs to be the central theme of the work.”
Alexa Salvato is a fourth-year journalism major who unfollowed every fake #bopo account on Instagram once she finished this article.You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.