After reading "Unpopular Opinion: Body Positivity Has Become an Excuse to Be Unhealthy," I cried. Then I wiped the tears with the back of my hand and continued to eat the slice of cake I was having for dinner.
It took me nine years to be OK with me doing this.
Here's why I cried:
Saying that someone is hiding behind their body positivity as an excuse to get out of trying to achieve a thinner physique is not only wrong but incredibly dangerous rhetoric for many reasons, one of which being that it encourages people not to partake in pursuing body positivity now. To wait to be body-positive until they're "healthier" and have attained a more acceptable standard of beauty. To wait because they're not worth it right now in this very moment, that they should hate their bodies instead because they can't possibly love them as is right now.
In our country, there is absolutely an obesity epidemic and an issue with adapting to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I'm not saying that those two issues don't exist. But to associate thinness with self-esteem is dangerous, because when you criticize women who don't fall into societal beauty norms by accusing their self-love as a veil for laziness or some other negatively stigmatized trait, what you're saying is: You can't possibly be happy looking the way you do. You don't deserve to be happy at your size. There is something wrong with your body and somehow I have made it my business.
And I have been hearing this messaging all my life. So have you. There is a billion-dollar junk food industry and a billion-dollar get-your-dream-body magazine/diet pill/fitness/weight-loss program industry that is really great at trying to convince us that our bodies are the result of our lack of discipline despite bombarding us with colorful images of sweets, sodas, processed crap and toned stomachs, perky tits and cellulite-free thighs in equal measure — the output of billions of dollars' worth of advertising. These two industries are also really great at getting rich off of miserable women at any size.
I was sad to think that a passionate, powerful author could be so easily swayed to think this way about herself, that the constant messaging we receive as women encouraging us to hate our bodies not only claimed another victim, but inspired her to shame others who are pursuing body acceptance. Hating our bodies is what drives girls to bend over toilet bowls with a toothbrush rammed down their throats. It makes women starve themselves to the point their head is too fuzzy to focus. It makes moms skip their kids' class plays to put in an extra hour at the gym. It makes people binge. It makes people depressed. It causes women to hate other women.
And aren't we already getting enough hate as it is? We're making less money than men in the workplace. Many of us aren't given enough time to recuperate and bond with the baby that we just pushed out. Almost all of us have been harassed on the street. When we try to speak up about any sort of misconduct done to our bodies, we're asked, "Well, what were you wearing?" instead of, "Are you okay? Who did this to you?" When we're covered up we're called a prude, when we're showing too much skin we're called a slut, when we're overweight we're called lazy, when we're too thin we're called anorexic. Billions of dollars are made when we're trying to fit into our wedding dresses, a bikini, an outfit for a class reunion.
We have enough shit to deal with. We have enough pressure on our bodies as it is. We've had enough.
Body positivity isn't about hiding behind some guise as an excuse to not pursue a healthy lifestyle. It's about not making yourself want to pull your fucking skin off while doing so, if you choose to do so. It's about treating your body with respect — and sometimes just plain indifference — instead of hate. It's about ignoring the small voice in your head that is telling you that you should wear the pair of shorts only when you're thinner and wearing them fucking anyway.
And not for nothing, a plan to pursue healthier eating and more exercise that's being fueled by a lack of self-acceptance and a desire to be thin is not sustainable in the long-run. A real commitment to being healthier can only be the result of a deep respect for our bodies. A plan fueled by hate doesn't teach our daughters, our sisters, our friends or our peers how to truly take care of ourselves. We're just perpetuating this myth that so desperately needs to be dispelled.
Because the thing about self-hatred is that it is so, so easy to do. I imagined someone reading the words "I have never worn any kind of shorts. I have decided not to wear a pair of 'short shorts' until I have the legs of my dreams" and thinking about their own legs. I was sad to think that so many women read this piece and had every negative thing they've ever thought about their body reinforced. I was sad to think that someone was just convinced to wait.
And here's what I'm going to say to that:
Fuck waiting. Wear your goddamn shorts now. Wear the bikini and pose like a total bozo like how I am in the picture below, even though your stomach isn't toned (mine isn't either!). Because if you're going to wait to wear that bathing suit until your stomach is flatter or that top until your tits are perkier or that pair of shorts until your legs are thinner... chances are you're going to wait on doing other stuff, too.
What other things are you going to wait around for until your body fits your satisfaction? What if it never does (which is more likely than not)? Do you think that body positivity automatically comes once your body looks the way it "should"? Spoiler alert: it probably won't.
So, here's what I'm encouraging you to do:
Work on it now. Because here's the thing about hating your body: it's easy. It is so easy to see the woman pinching her stomach in the mirror in a locker room and stand next to her, joining in. It's easy to hear a friend complain that she "shouldn't have eaten that" and nod your head in agreement, claiming the same thing. It's really easy to point at a body in a magazine and choose that person's body over your own. To want something other than what you have.
You know what's really difficult though? Being constantly flooded with messaging to hate your body and deciding that you're going to refuse to listen to it. To go out and live your life even though the thought of someone's eyes falling on your arms or legs or face makes your stomach clench. Anyone who can figure out how to turn off the radio static in her head of negative self-chatter is a goddamn warrior regardless of their size. Anyone who can do it has my utmost respect and admiration. And we should be supporting that journey in others instead of criticizing it or making sweeping generalizations about people who are trying to stay on that path despite literally millions of people telling them not to every single day.
I hated my body for six of the hardest years of my life. Six years where I would take one look at the cannoli cream cake I had for dinner last night and think immediately about its calorie content or where it would end up as a fat deposit on my body or how I was too ugly to be eating it instead of thinking about how good it tasted. It took me nine years to reverse the self-hatred I harbored for myself.
Body positivity is a journey that takes years, sometimes decades, to complete. And, saddest of all, sometimes women go their entire lives without experiencing one day of being at peace with their bodies. So if someone is on that path — regardless of their perceived quality of health — please don't try to push them off. Give them a thumbs up or a wave — or better yet, don't say anything at all — and continue going along on your own path.