I’ve been very active and appreciative of the body positive movement for several years now. A lot of the negative messages that were ingrained in my brain have been re-recorded in a positive light, to include the fact that I do not need to lose weight to be happy, or need to eat a certain way to be happy. I am at a point in my life, however, that I now want to lose some weight I put on during a stressful time period. I got into some habits that make me feel uncomfortable physically and would like to change them. What are some positive messages that I can utilize at this point so I can encourage myself to make pro-weight-loss choices? How do I reconcile these two philosophies?
I thought long and hard about how and whether to answer this question.
At first I thought I would avoid answering, and then I seriously considered answering it privately, but I realized that my desire to do so was largely motivated by fear of seeming upset and wanting to hide that out of some weird sense that I might alienate people. But I am upset.
This question has upset me, and I don’t want to promote the idea that writing about anger is bad or shameful because that is some sexist, respectability shit.
Further, as I thought more about the confusion that I feel permeates this question I realized that maybe it was a product of the double-speak that characterizes the national discourse on this issue. The “War on Obesity” posits that we as a nation just want people to “move more” and “eat better” so they can “feel better” with the presumption that with these behavior modifications we can entirely eradicate fatness. This is totally absurd, patently false and promotes a flattened and bigoted way of thinking about bodies.
Perhaps it’s important to look at the murky territory of the newest iteration of “body positivity,” which seems to gain traction, indeed, because of its vagueness on the issues of fat and weight loss. The increasingly vague language that permeates body positivity is itself a product of fatphobia and a lack of commitment to the idea that all bodies regardless of size, shape or health status are good, and that there is no upper weight limit on that statement.
I asked my friend Isabel Foxen Duke to chime in on this because, honestly, of all the people I know, she’s the best at talking about the weight-loss conversation. Here’s what she had to say:
“I think there is some serious confusion about what ‘body-positive’ really means from a historical perspective. The body-positive movement stems from a collective understanding that intentional or forcible attempts at weight control (e.g. dieting) are more problematic, destructive and oppressive than any potential ‘benefit’ that may result from the very rare possibility of long-term weight-loss ‘success.’
Putting aside the fact that most perceived ‘benefits’ of dieting only exist in relation to a weight-discriminating system, body-positive activists suggest that dieting is both physically dangerous and emotionally traumatic, and is therefore not an appropriate prescription for self-care.”
With Isabel’s words in mind, I decided the best thing to do was to use this as an opportunity to clarify my stance on the issue of weight loss once and for all. I also decided that if I am going to get all worked up about it anyway I may as well not privatize the exchange because that would in essence sweep this issue under the rug. I do not want to hide the fact that there are people actively pursuing weight loss and also identifying as “body positive,” which legitimately and deeply befuddles and troubles me.
So once and for all:
Though I often use phrases like “fat liberation” and “body positivity” interchangeably, I am at the end of the day resoundingly a fat feminist and a fat liberationist who is anti-weight loss.
Though I believe it is ultimately your choice to do what you feel is right with your body, asking a fat activist for “pro-weight-loss choices” is callous at best. That you are asking me — a fat woman – for weight loss tips is an example of your inability to see me as fully human because if you could see me as fully human you could understand that you are asking me for tips on how to be someone who looks less like I do.
Please do not confuse my belief that every individual has the right to do what they want with their body, with the recognition that I personally do not see all possible choices made under that banner as “body positive.” To ask for me specifically to give you tips is both a request for some kind of free-fatphobia-pass as well as the request for me to do the intellectual labor of somehow convincing you of the impossible: that you aren’t activating fatphobia when you in fact are.
I am a fat woman who has undertaken starvation and years of self-loathing in the name of weight loss. This question really set me off. Dear Virgie is a platform that centers fat people and offers support to people with questions about navigating and surviving fat shame and stigma, not promoting it.
Hope this helps.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.