The Problem with Body Positivity

So yesterday there was a bit of a shit storm of comments on a post of a group I follow – and am a member of – NONAIRBRUSHEDME. I made a couple comments on the initial post and I also commented on the post from the director… which a couple people didn’t like the comment. Which is fair! I went back and read what I wrote and can see how people could take it wrong. Originally I was going to create a post explaining what I meant but realized I would never be able to keep it short enough and that was part of my problem with my comment – I was trying to keep my comment brief as I feel that people lose interest after a couple sentences. At least if I put it in a blog post, people expect to read more than a couple sentences – so hopefully I can prevent putting my foot in my mouth any further!

“You are doing a fantastic job representing all bodies and I am thankful of this. I know body positive movement was started for marginalized bodies but it’s moved beyond that. I’ve been feeling a little lost lately because I sometimes don’t feel like I belong to certain groups.”

So do you see where I went wrong? This isn’t the full comment but I included the sentence before and after where I went wrong. In fact, I should have left the sentence about the marginalized bodies out – not because it isn’t true, but because having it there in my comment pretty much invalidates marginalized bodies.

However, there is a problem in the fact that the body positive movement was created for and by marginalized bodies but when you look at the hashtag #bodypositive, I scrolled down 52 images before getting to a black woman, and when I looked at the hashtag #bodypositivity I had to scroll down 23 images. And, on top of that, 80% of the images were of skinny white girls.

Now, please don’t go hating on me, saying that I’m trashing skinny white girls. What I’m saying is if you look at either of those hashtags, you’re not going to find bodies for whom the movement was created by and for. Part of this problem is because of the algorithm of Instagram – when you search a hashtag, you will see under the follow button, “see a few top posts each week”. So if you’re following a hashtag for a specific reason – like wanting to see marginalized bodies – chances are you’re not going to see them because other people, who the hashtag wasn’t initially created for, has completely inundated it with their skinny white privilege.

It’s sort of what happened with the “proud boys” hashtag and group. It was originally created by a militant right wing group – so to try to erase the hate, gays started to use that hashtag to inundate the hashtag and drown out the negativity the original group was promoting.

Now this isn’t the best example as it had negative origins and people tried to make it better but it shows how one idea can shift into something other than what it was originally intended.

Now, another problem with the shit storm post was that people were saying that the page itself wasn’t showing enough of marginalized bodies. I went through their posts and, yeah. Okay. I can see this – BUT have you asked yourself why? It’s my understanding that they repost from people who either tag their account or hashtag their account. So, if that’s the case, looking at the posts from people who tagged the account directly, I went through 150 images and saw only 3 black women and a handful of other ethnicities like Brazilian or Spanish, maybe. And there were quite a few women with privilege. Looking at the hashtag, there were even fewer black bodies visible. So, if they’re reposting from these two sources, they’re going to be hard pressed to find good content to show every body.

And here’s the thing. Non Airbrushed Me is about not editing yourself. So many accounts show highly curated and edited images, it’s easy to feel inadequate. Their page showcases people – though mostly women – who accept, appreciate, and embrace all parts of their body that go against the societal construct dictating what’s beautiful and acceptable. Women who don’t edit out their “flaws”. This group is supposed to be about embracing yourself in a safe place… but that last post caused a lot of tension and ugly comments. I felt bad for the woman – who was tagged and whom I follow – because she would have had to deal with all those comments as well. She literally put herself out there and was virtually attacked and probably was made to feel like shit because people felt her body didn’t belong on that page.

Yes, people need to be angry that the original meaning behind the “body positive movement” has been lost. However, being mean and hateful towards someone who doesn’t align with that construct isn’t the way to do it. If you want to help those who have gotten lost in the white noise of white privilege, here’s a few things you can do:

  • Become an ally to them
  • Follow their page
  • Like and share their content
  • acknowledge your privilege
  • stand up to those who try to silence them

It doesn’t sound like much, but every bit helps.

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