Naveen Bhat: “The [body positive] movement tends to place white, able-bodied women at the forefront, which is not at all okay.”

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If race is so entangled in body politics and body terrorism, why is body positivity barring it from the conversation? If body dysphoria is an issue for many (but not all) trans folks, how is body positivity serving them?

Naveen Bhat, who starred in the documentary Escaping Agra, has plenty to say on these topics and more in our series, which aims to take an intersectional look at the body positive movement. Bhat, a California-grown actor and director, talks capitalism, ableism and Meghan Trainor this week with Wear Your Voice.

Name: Naveen Bhat
Age: 20
Current Location: Davis, CA
IG: @naveenieweenie

Wear Your Voice: How long have you been an actor/director?

Naveen Bhat: For about five years.

WYV: What inspired you to start?

NB: For acting/directing, it’s really always something I’ve wanted to do. I only started about five years ago because I had access to education and opportunities in that realm of art. [As] for BOPO — I was tired of hating myself, and seeing so many people reject mainstream standards of beauty encouraged me to do the same.

WYV: What do you like about the BOPO movement? How is it successful or helpful?

NB: I like that it encourages folks to practice self-love. I like that it’s about being comfortable in a body that society has encouraged you to hate. I like that it’s about self-love as a form of resistance to Eurocentric, commercialized standards of beauty.

Related: Body Positive Photographer Rochelle Brock Wants a Bigger, Rounder, Blacker Movement

WYV: What do you not like about it? How is it failing?

NB: There are some folks that claim to be body-positive, especially some celebrities, that reinforce a certain sense of desirability and undesirability for certain body types. For example, a while ago, Meghan Trainor talked about being a role model in the BOPO movement while she reinforced that “having bigger boobs and bigger hips and butt” is great because men love them.

Not only does that further objectify women and reinforce heteronormative and cis-centric notions around what a woman’s body should look like, she is reaching a larger platform of people, some of which have never heard of the BOPO movement before. I guess that’s not necessarily the BOPO movement itself, but it’s associated with it by name. The movement tends to place white, able-bodied women at the forefront, which is not at all okay.

WYV: Who is it neglecting the most?

NB: Folks of color, disabled folks, as well as queer and/or trans folks are most often missing from discussions around BOPO, which is incredibly problematic, especially if we are trying to deconstruct society’s ideals around desirability and self-worth.

WYV: How has BOPO affected you personally?

NB: As a trans/nonbinary, disabled, queer brown person, I have struggled with internalized racism, fatphobia, ableism and many other things. Learning to love my body has been a long and difficult process and I’m still working on it.

WYV: How do you practice BOPO in your daily life?

NB: I’m learning to love every part of my body for what it is and remind myself that beauty standards are a result of capitalism. Recognizing this was a big deal for me, because I was able to deconstruct why I feel the need to look a certain way in order to have self-worth and validity.

WYV: If you could define BOPO in one sentence or phrase, what would it be?

NB: BOPO is an act resistance through self-love.

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