The body positive movement is starting to catch steam in the retail industry. This week I got really excited, and a tad emotional when the retail company I work for released their new arrivals online. There were two new “plus sized” models. And by “plus sized” I mean around size 8 / 10. Which, yes I’m going to out myself, is my size at the moment.
It was a bit comical to suddenly become aware of the fact that I was smiling from ear to ear at my computer screen in our work café. I definitely got a couple looks like “why is this girl so happy to be working right now?” But that’s the reality. I haven’t seen many girls that look like me at most of the brands that I like to shop.
I do think that it’s a bit crazy to be regarded as “plus size” – as of June 2018, 68% of American women wear a size 14 or above. At a size 8, or a size ten after I’ve ate too many tacos, I think to myself, “I’m still am a medium goddamnit.”
I’ve heard both sides of the sentiment surrounding the body positive campaigns out there. For one, there is the perspective that they celebrate people who are unhealthy and encourage those individuals to maintain their current lifestyle. And in contrast, the view that retail companies are becoming more inclusive of the diversity of body types that really exist in the world. That just because you are a higher number in sizing doesn’t mean that you’re unhealthy.
Positive or Negative?
Someone close to me who has struggled with an eating disorder for a large part of their life recently asked my opinion on body positivity. She wondered why it was okay for bigger women to be body positive, but not girls who are extremely thin.
In my perspective, we live in a double bind. You can’t be “too small,” or “too big.” There is one body type that has prevailed as being “beautiful,” and therefore that body type is featured in marketing, popular media, and film. And that body type “sells.” People buy products and services that are advertised with women who fit the beauty ideal.
The problem that I see deals with visibility. Disproportionately, we are making bigger women invisible. We don’t celebrate their body type, and we don’t tell their stories. We are making 68% of our American population invisible. Hence my excitement of finally seeing myself reflected in the plus sized model at a brand that I work for, and like to shop.
I had never felt like I have the right to label myself as beautiful. And I often find myself feeling that I am invisible because of my size. Invisible to potential male suitors and therefore impossible to love. It was hard not to think that my size contributed to a partner cheating on me in the past once I knew who they had been with.
I placed my worth on my size, because that is what I have been taught to do. Girls my size play the “fat friend,” or the “fat girl” that gets ridiculed, laughed at, and left out in movies. I still struggle with this. It often feels like if you aren’t in the stereotypical version of being, “in shape,” then you can’t be successful in your life. Feeling invisible, I start to impose that on myself. I don’t order the dessert that I want, because I feel like I can’t be seen eating it.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter… oh my!
This is further emphasized in social media. Women report that social media, followed by TV and movies are the most impactful factors in how they view their bodies. And we can’t forget that this is starting at a very young age. The more time that young girls spend on social media, they are up to 24% more likely to want to change their appearance. They don’t think that they’re good enough or beautiful enough. And 27% will delete an Instagram post if they feel like it didn’t get enough likes.
Similarly, new research this past year revealed that 88% of women report comparing their bodies to images in the media, and 51% of those individuals think that they compare unfavorably. At this doesn’t just affect women. Sixty-five percent of males report the same behavior. And in general, overtime both men and women become less confident about their bodies.
Being Body Positive
Back to those who believe that the body positive movement is contradicting. Yes – obesity is the leading risk factor for disease and death in the U.S. But the body positive movement is not about “denying science.” We’ve been trained to think of “fat,” as “bad.” And we often either pity those of a larger size, or think of them as “lazy.” We think that they could, “try a little harder,” even while we may simultaneously applaud their confidence.
What the body positive movement is about is loving the body that you have, and treating it with love and respect. Outside of that, it isn’t preaching that weight loss is the answer to someone’s presumed unhappiness. People can be overweight and healthy. People can be overweight and happy. And people can be body positive and want to lose weight. None of these things are mutually exclusive.
But if we continue to make this group of individuals invisible, and “bad,” their self-worth will dwindle. And with it their motivation – their motivation to treat their bodies with respect and love.