Can Body Positivity Be Toxic for Bariatric Patients?

I get it. You see the title and think how can something positive be more toxic? When done right body positivity can be a very empowering and encouraging thing, but there are certain points at which it can become very toxic to both those around it and to the person promoting the body positivity. Unfortunately, this is where it has been going. Body positivity was originally created to encourage positivity for all body shapes, but it’s more and more becoming fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, fit-shaming from all sides.

It was terrifying writing this piece. For the longest time, I hesitated to put it out because discussing anything related to weight, body, and size almost instantaneously garner frowns, disapproval, criticism, and much more. But the more I read about how body positivity was becoming more and more toxic, I knew that it had to be done and recognized no matter who agreed or disagreed with it.

Does putting body positivity down make me a trigger-happy hunter? “Isn’t body positivity a good thing?” Well, while the intentions are altruistic, body positivity has evolved to be problematic. Simply “loving their skin” is a luxury not many have.

Body Positivity and the Lack of Inclusivity

My biggest grievance about the body positivity movement is its facade. The “love your body in spite of what you look like” trope does not consider existing social stigma revolving around many body types – plus-sized bodies, people of color, disabled bodies, just to name a few. Decades of colonial rule, capitalistic marketing, social media trends, and more, have already enforced that only a certain type of body is beautiful – that type being ‘not yours’ for many with marginalized body types. So, stuffing a philosophy that isn’t intersectional, can be incredibly stressful to people who have been and continue to be conditioned in public spaces by society to hate their bodies.

Body Positivity and the Undertones of Toxic Positivity

At the beginning stages of activism, people advocated for body positivity – all they wanted was to create a safe space for individuals to develop a “healthy relationship with their bodies”. But they quickly found themselves forcing themself to like their body – something they make clear is not sustainable.

Radiating positivity 24/7 is a tough feat for anyone. The pressure to be positive can become toxic quickly. This toxic positivity may not exactly improve one or body-image. In fact, may even be counterproductive, because it can manifest as mental health conditions like depression and body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and more in the long run. 

Media Representation And Perspectives

The works of advocates and socially conscious figures across various fields who have worked effortlessly to ensure diversity in representation are one way to promote inclusivity and acceptance in the conversation about bodies. I tip my hat to the public figures, particularly those in pop culture (which has the masses incomplete clutches) who deliberately create pockets of space in the cultural fabric. Spaces that allow for the picking apart of stereotypes attached to marginalized bodies and normalizing the same bodies. 

Right off the bat, an example shows like Never Have I Ever, Black-ish, SeeSex Education where people of all abilities, colors, shapes and sizes frontline the show. And it is especially heartening to see these characters not given special concessions in any way in terms of characterization and writing – they have their protagonist moments, their villain moments, their clumsy moments – they’re no different, just as human. Changing the narrative changes mindsets subconsciously – way more effective than body positivity in teaching people to love themselves in their own skin.

Body Neutrality A More Sustainable Solution?

Fat seems to be such a charged word today. Forget about fat, the usage of many other words is equally loaded today. How did we get here? How did we take physical traits and attach meanings to them? History offers one such possible explanation. For example, many physical traits – darker skin tones, non-Eurocentric features, and more – were deemed ugly during colonialism – to exert superiority.

Avoiding words because people have contorted their meanings, does little to change the situation. It involves dismantling systems of society, which is no easy feat. Rather, removing the power these words have, is a more personal and sustainable lens to view our bodies through. 

Let me explain. It may take us generations more to completely shed the learned bias. Instead, we can stop using our bodies to define ourselves and our worth at all.  which is what body neutrality stands for. Body neutrality stems from the fundamental idea that our individual identity comes from our emotional and mental aspects rather than the physical aspects. It reduces the weight the physical appearance carries in a conversation. This naturally lifts the pressure off looking a certain way.

It may even promote self-appreciation because now, your personal qualifiers are more substantial and innate rather than superficial. No more bombardment of ‘love yourself’ affirmations and no more dirty side eyes for not doing so. In the long term, this may pan out better because there is no fixating on what needs to be done/corrected about your body. 

But…

Again, floating the idea of body neutrality does not mean you have to make a complete shift in philosophy. Cherry-picking ideas from both movements may also work for you. Ultimately, when it comes to the body, there is no one fixed method for all. And I agree that educating yourself about the various movement and finding feasible and sustainable ideas within it for yourself is best. 

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