I think most people have a pretty bad relationship with their bodies.
We’re all pressured to from very young ages to compare ourselves to other people, and for most of us, to find ourselves coming up short. This is compounded if you are multiply marginalized, getting worse and worse the more marginalized statuses you hold. We can’t stop at size/shape positivity for white, able, cis people.
Body positivity must be intersectional. The images we use to promote it must be representative and diverse.
“Well yes, of course,” you say. “All activism must be intersectional.”
That’s true. But there is something particular about body positivity that requires representation.
Body positivity involves a lot of looking at images or having them described to you and saying “That person looks a lot like me, and they look good. Maybe I look good too.”
Other aspects of feminism are about behavior, opportunities, social interaction.
But body positivity involves a lot of mirrors. Comparing ourselves to others. When we’ve made it a long way, it’s saying that our bodies are okay even though we’re different from what mainstream society insists is a good body. But especially at the beginning of practicing self love, so much of healing requires connecting to people who are similar to us.
In this way, making body positivity focused on cis, white, able people doesn’t just leave many people out, it actively reinforces the problem.
Any activism that leaves out whole groups of marginalized people reinforces their overall oppression. But in this situation, it is directly and tangibly affecting their oppression on the same axis. You’re barring them from even scraping what they can off of what you’re doing for yourself and people like you, because integrating being okay relies so much on similarity of appearance, not just experience. There are certain experiences that span most people, whatever marginalized statuses they hold. They may not have all or most needs met in any single-issue activism, but on this axis, they’d likely get very little if anything out of it at all.
Because if the basis of body positivity often comes down to “you look like me, and you are happy and beautiful, and so I can be happy and beautiful,” then finding no one like you among those people, those activists, those images, reinforces that “no one like me is happy and beautiful. I cannot be happy and beautiful”
It’s a new beauty standard. The same one, really, but a little bigger.
I’m sure not absolutely everyone with body image issues goes about learning to love or at least accept their body this way, but a lot of what helped me was seeing people like me. And seeing people mostly like me helped a lot, but there is a sense of relief and wholeness you don’t realize can exist once you find representation that really truly feels like you.
This is true of all things, but especially true when you can see or experience tangible physical sameness. I can’t just see people of my size, or race, or trans status. I don’t feel like I truly belong unless some of those images I’m seeing are all of the above. I think a lot of people feel this way, and so I’d like to talk about it more. And see more and more inclusiveness in our body positivity blogs, art projects, and writings. We’ve come a long way, but there is always more ground to cover, more people to heal.