Monday, October 5, 2015

Defending the Body Positivity Movement

Body positivity has been around for a while now, so you’ll please forgive your friendly Unlaced Librarian for not being on the cusp of current events with this post, but lately I’ve seen a new cycle of social media posts raging against the body positive movement. Some arguments are as follows:

·         The movement still focuses on women’s appearance, not their goals or well-being.

·         The movement excludes men, thin woman, and other minority groups such as disabled people.

·         Body positivity promotes laziness -- if something in your body needs fixed but you are told to just be happy with it, you'll never get better.

·         The movement makes women even more likely to have loose morals -- if they are happy with their bodies they are more likely to wear revealing clothing or engage in casual sexual relationships.

·         Loving your body is a narcissistic thing and people should focus more attention on things that will make the world better, not just being comfortable in your own body.

·         We are too obsessed with body and gender in today's society, we should just let it go and things would be a lot better.

This is, I'm sure, just a small smattering of the arguments levied against loving your body and the body positive movement in general. The one I tend to agree with is that the movement excludes men – I have witnessed far more websites, blogs, and campaigns focused on women and I do think there needs to be more discourse about body image and men. (If you have any good resources for this please share them in the comments!) The other arguments, however, I find are more or less a matter of perspective.

So, since I’m blaming perspective, I’m going to use mine to defend the body positivity movement, and write a little about how it has helped me personally.

First of all, I get why some people don't get it. I grew up in a body that is far from perfect or functioning. I was born with a birth defect that caused extensive nerve damage. I can't feel half my body. I've needed some organs reconstructed using tissue from my small intestine. I've been stapled, fused, and pinned. I've been underweight my entire life and am currently about 20 pounds underweight for my height, and I've dealt with many body image issues in this regard.

On top of this, my disability has impacted how others view me -- my body has been asexualized, my husband has been asked why he married me (I mean, why would anyone marry a disabled person?) and others have refused to acknowledge aspects of my femininity or my ability to be a “real” woman.

I get that most people around me have never had to pay as much attention to their bodies as I have. Most people around me have never had their identity as male or female challenged. Many people around me have not experienced the kind of instability you feel about your body when you have major nerve damage.

Now, as much as I'm throwing around "you just can't possibly understand!" the fact of the matter is I don't see myself as a special little snowflake with super unique needs and perspective. I am a person with my own set of personal circumstances and experiences, just like everyone. And it is in this vein that I support the body positive movement. Because I have learned about my body and understood things about my identity by hearing stories from a massive range of different bodies and identities. If you've never had a body battle, never felt your identity was inextricably bound to your flesh, all this body positive stuff probably does look fairly wackadoo. I know. But for the most part, I think the movement is serving a much needed purpose, not feeding some egotistical machine of shallow society.

For me, I couldn't focus on my life goals and well-being without first feeling comfortable in my own body. Call it whatever you want – loving your body, body acceptance, some psychological complex regarding cognitive dissonance, I don't care. I couldn't properly care for my body or make balanced decisions about my mental health, life, and relationships until I reached a certain understanding and appreciation for my body. I couldn't take care of myself if I hated certain aspects of my body for constantly being in pain or being something I couldn't even look at in the mirror.

As for the body positive movement making women more promiscuous and wearing more revealing clothes or hooking up more, I'd have to say that's true. I could have never walked around naked in a kink club before I found body acceptance. As far as clothes, though, I wear what is comfortable. Sometimes it's revealing and sometimes it's not.

As for the movement being all about appearances, the truth is when I wasn't loving my body, I was far more obsessed with appearance. I would look at little dips or juts in my flesh and be crushed. I spent so much wasted time in front of the mirror agonizing over what clothes made my body look more proportioned, what covered the most, what looked the most "normal." Now I wear what feels good to me because I know that's more important than these "imperfections" that are really not that big of a deal to begin with (even my leg braces, even my ostomy, even my surgical scars). So now I do make healthy decisions about my well-being instead of making decisions based on how well I can cover something up or minimize the look of something on my body. In that way, body positivity has removed appearance from the picture and put nearly all my energy on making healthy decisions and looking outward into the world, applying my mental energy on ideas and relationships – much more productive that withering in front of a mirror all day.

Since embracing body positivity, I'm more willing to take chances. Not to be selfish and indulgent and hedonistic, but to actually have some god damned experiences and make some meaningful memories. Body positivity has helped me do that.

Everyone has different interests and passions. I've been passionate about these ideas in sociology, psychology, relationships, sexuality and embodiment since I was fairly young. To tell me I'm too obsessed over this would be like telling a law student maybe they should just chill out for a semester and stop worrying about all that law stuff, because geez wouldn't life be easier if you weren't so obsessed? Just because I'm interested in bodies and identities – something everybody has – doesn't mean it takes any less effort to figure all this stuff out and help other people. My perspective can help other people.

Finally, let's not get in to the whole unicorn glitter argument about you should "respect," "appreciate," or "care for" your body but not "love" your body, because “loving” your body is narcissistic and stupid. It's the same thing, whatever you decide to call it. I encourage you to call it whatever you like, but don’t trash someone else over semantics.

At the end of the day, certain authors and representatives of the body positive movement have been exclusionary toward some people, including disabled people or thin people, like me. We won't stop that from happening altogether. But I look beyond that to the bigger picture, the platform the movement has served to let unheard voices be heard and stories be shared.
A great place to hear some stories and voices is a series called BODIES by Raconteurs Storytelling  A few of the videos are below but check out their YouTube for more.

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