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  • Lucy Faulkner

Body Positivity: The Exclusivity of an Inclusive Movement

© Bonga Ntuli, Founder of @mybodycountssa

Is the movement designed to uplift those in marginalised bodies (unintentionally) silencing them?

A societal history of diet culture, the promotion of excessive exercise and “heroin chic” can make it hard to love yourself all the time. Today, body standards seem to change constantly, but rarely are we told that larger bodies are the most desirable. This is where the Body Positivity Movement finds its place, with its aim to shift unrealistic beauty standards to be more inclusive of size, race and disability. However, when the movement’s name is turned into a hashtag and adopted as a trend by those who meet society’s standards, there is a risk of overshadowing the very people it was created for.

Born in the late 60s in America, Body Positivity evolved from the fat rights movement that pioneered for equality for people in larger bodies. This grew through the 70s to the 90s with many activists challenging the rife diet culture promoted on TV and the radio (we’ve all seen those awful, retro workout DVDs). This public activism was far-reaching, inspiring more and more people to believe that they can love their bodies, regardless of size. In the late 2000s, the movement evolved further, with black, plus-size women fighting against the notion that their physical identity should determine how they are treated. Then, thanks to the growth of social media in the early 2010’s, the Body Positivity Movement as we know it today formed, with plus-size influencers using the term on Instagram to spread its message of self and body-love. However, “Body Positivity” was soon adopted by influencers in normalised bodies and general Instagram users alike, now becoming a buzzphrase and #bodypositivity counts over 9 million Instagram posts. Have we reached a point where its true meaning of activism and inclusivity is lost?

© Bonga Ntuli, founder of @mybodycountssa

Obesity stigma or, to use another buzzword, “fatphobia”, is still prevalent in the UK. A 2018 study found that British people think others are more likely to discriminate against someone for their weight than their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. This stigma can even go as far as to damage career prospects. The same research explained that recruiters are more likely to higher the “healthy weighted” candidate over an equally qualified obese candidate.

Even when progress seems to be made towards inclusivity and an increased engagement with the promotion of all body types, it is on a conditional basis. It’s amazing to see Ashley Graham on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Hayley Hasselhof in Playboy! But we celebrate this as some miraculous act of inclusivity even though Hayley is a size 16 (the average UK dress size) and they have hourglass figures, are white, and are able-bodied. Corporations are picking and choosing their activism, creating an acceptable “non-standard” body type to appear body positive. Yet everyone who remains outside of this new standard, namely larger black, disabled and trans women, remain unrepresented and unsupported.

The need for a movement that supports those who face such prejudices, to remind them that they too deserve to love their bodies, is clear. Therefore, it is important that movements such as Body Positivity do not become weaponised - whether accidental or not.

© Bonga Ntuli, founder of @mybodycountssa

We all, regardless of our size, gender or race, have days where we struggle with body image. And of course, everybody deserves to love themselves and should be supported in doing so! However, if you live in a body that fits society’s body norms, you must accept your thin privilege: your physical appearance does not limit your rights, nor are you forced to accept daily abuse. There is nothing wrong with these people celebrating their appearance (in fact, more power to them), nor does this imply they don’t celebrate bodies in all their forms. The problem occurs when so many thin privileged individuals do this publicly, that the Body Positivity space becomes infiltrated with “normal”, conventionally attractive bodies. This pushes the Body Positivity Movement towards what is already accepted in society, diluting the original aim of uplifting those in marginalised bodies to a place of equality.

We can’t ban certain people from using a hashtag, nor can we force others to find a new one to spread their message. Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to acknowledge their privilege and take care when adopting a phrase or movement not to step on the toes of those who it is meant for.

But it’s not all negative! Despite the difficulties, there are many fantastic projects, photographers, artists, and activists spreading the Body Positivity message as it was intended. My Body Counts is a project started by South African photographer Bonga Ntuli. Aimed at celebrating beauty of all sizes and not to conform to the beauty standards perpetuated in the media, Ntuli says “my favourite thing about shooting is seeing the reaction of the muses and how it shows a true reflection of themselves”.

© Bonga Ntuli, founder of @mybodycountssa

Antonio Páramo is an artist who started his illustrations to celebrate those in larger bodies and show society that they are “valid, beautiful and sexy.”

“I’m focused on drawing people that are not normally portrayed in art, such as trans and disabled people, and showing that what makes us different makes us beautiful” Antonio tells INJECTION.

So while loving ourselves is always important, we all have to make a conscious effort to celebrate creators like these in order to shine the Body Positivity spotlight on bodies of all shapes, and belonging to anyone.


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