When I started my Instagram, I was in my late 20s. I’d been incredibly unwell for many years, spending months at a time in hospital, weeks in intensive care and years of being unable to be active in a day to day existence. I mostly photographed impairment related stuff, hospital admissions and appointments, little bits of my day to day.
I’d not long met my future wife when I started and with improving health I decided weight loss would be an important next step. Very quickly things became about dieting, and that’s what my Instagram transitioned into.
Over the next 4 or so years, my focus moved from me as a person to this supposedly inspiring story about losing weight.
Before I go any further, I was to apologise for the harm I did during this time.
If you followed me, as a way to motivate your self to lose weight. If you beat your self up because the disabled woman managed it when you didn’t. If I made you feel shit about your food choices. If I made you feel judged, belittled, unworthy or sad. If I encouraged you to diet. I am truly sorry. I honestly thought that it was what would be best for you. I couldn’t have been more misguided, and I know the enormous amount of damage I’ve done by perpetuating diet culture.
In January of this year though, after flying home from visiting a friend and having binged on an entire family sized box of biscuits, I started following Alice on Instagram and the focus of my images shifted again.
I fell head first into body positivity, non judgmental compassion and self acceptance. I don’t do anything by halves, so as soon as I had committed my self to this total turn around, my feed was immediately filled with a totally different focus and perspective.
Having people who share in and follow my journey (can we think of a different word? This sounds a little too much like I’ve been in big brother!) is such a wonderful part of Instagram and is honestly a huge support as I navigate life. The support I gain from those around me, and the insights I’m offered by those who chose to interact with me is a constant motivation. I honestly don’t know if I could have made this change – and sustained it – never mind thrived on it – without you.
What I have noticed of late though, is just how many of those wonderful people are just dipping their toe. Fingers in many pies. Feet in both camps. I am followed by a whole cohort of ‘Slimming worlders’, people counting calories or people who run 25k a day.
I totally get it. You’ve been told your whole life that you need to be thin. That you should be small. That the definition of beauty is related to your relationship with gravity or a number stitched into the back of your jeans. You’ve been encouraged to shrink your self away. Encouraged to restrict, over exercise and morally judge your food as a way to maintain this.
Changing that mindset is huge. Moving away from diet culture is terrifying. Unlearning all the things you’ve been taught your whole life feels impossible and then the inevitable ‘what if I get fat’. Well, what if you gain weight? I have. I couldn’t tell you how much, but I’m at least 3/4 dress sizes bigger than I was this time last year, are you disgusted with me? Do you think me less beautiful? Less worthy of respect or compassion?
When leaping into the unknown of body positivity, its important to remember what this actually means.
Body confidence: This is just about you. It’s about feeling good in your own body. It is individual. You may even be able to see confidence in someone.
Body positivity: This is about everyone. This is a political movement.
Just to expand a little. Body positivity actually started in Fat activism. It began in the late 70s in America, and took until the mid to late 80s to make it to the UK. Over the next few years, the movement started to globalise and gain momentum. “By the 1990s, input from the fat acceptance movement began to be incorporated into research papers by some members of the medical professions such as new anti-dieting programs and models of obesity management”.
Fat activism, fat liberation, size acceptance, was started and is still needed because fat people face a level of discrimination that is simply unacceptable. But on top of that, women of all sizes are told constantly that they are not good enough, that their bodies need to be small, fit, toned. Body weight, beauty, fitness, it’s all being forced on us constantly and the diet culture it is all part of is what fat activism started to fight against.
Learning to be body confident is YOUR journey. That is about learning to love, feel happy in, accept the body you currently reside in, without judgement and with kindness.
But being body positive is about becoming a voice in a political movement, it’s about being an activist (ACTIV-ist). Its about rejecting the diet culture. It’s about encouraging body confidence in ALL BODIES. Its about supporting the fat activists who started this very movement and continuing to work with them to pull down the media driven, discriminatory, body focused world that is damaging so many people.
As Michelle Elman points out in this quote, true body positivity is about a complete acceptance of ALL BODIES. That includes all intersections of the community, including but by no means limited to, people of colour, fat women, trans women, disabled women and those from the LGBT community.
Body positivity rejects all fat phobia.
It is super important to discuss fat phobia because there is a large number of people recovering from eating disorders in the body positive community and they almost always come from a place where a fear of becoming a fat person drives at least some of their illness.
Fat phobia is the fear of being or of becoming, a fat person. It is dangerous because it means that fat people are stereotyped without justification. It is assumed that a fat person must be lazy, unhealthy, eat a poor diet and are entirely unlovable. On top of that, fat people are berated and bullied in the street, are paid less in their job and denied health care all because the world subscribes to ludicrous notions they’ve been force fed by everyone since they were kids. Fat phobia is perpetuated because of the discrimination fat people face, it’s not just the fear of being a fat person as such, but the fear of enduring the vile ways in which at people are treated in our society. And the truly sad thing is that many women fear this judgement because they currently judge other women those ways themselves and know too well how they would be treated were they to become fat.
Denouncing fat phobia, educating your self about the bullshit you’ve been told in regards to fat bodies, actively having non judgmental compassion for not just your own body but all bodies, is true body positivity and positively contributing to the community is the only way to be a body positive activist.
I understand why so many of my followers have their feet in both camps. But you may as well have one foot in the grave. Whilst you’re still entrenched in diet culture and fat phobia, you may be learning body confidence but you are not body positive.
Letting go of all that you’ve been told and shown about fat bodies is a big ask. But education is the key here and google is your friend. The more you challenge your own fat phobia, the more you break down the judgments you place on your own body. This positive cycle can only support your movement from the crippling diet culture into the freedom and acceptance found in body positivity.
I have spent years in your camp. I was stood next to you. I feared the fat just as you do. And shamefully I judged fat bodies and accepted those bullshit stereotypes just as you do now. But there is more to life than this, there is better for us as women. We can rise together. We can accept that we had it wrong. We can reject the lies and the hatred. We can all be part of this movement. Together we are a truly powerful force. Together we can stop shrinking our bodies to fit someone else’s idea of beauty and well-being.
Together we can shout so fucking loud, take up so much fucking space and educate so many fucking people that we spare this destructive life for our children.