Body pos­i­tiv­ity is ev­ery­where


The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - ALIA E. DASTAGIR

IN 2017, SELF-LOVE is de­cid­edly en vogue.

Lena Dun­ham is fight­ing fat-shamers one au­da­cious In­sta­gram post at a time. More and more brands, in­clud­ing Sports Il­lus­trated with its new body in­clu­sive swim collection, are trum­pet­ing di­verse shapes. The in­ter­net is full of #body­pos­i­tive sto­ries gone vi­ral.

Body pos­i­tiv­ity, which ex­ploded in re­cent years with the rise of so­cial me­dia plat­forms like In­sta­gram, is about rad­i­cally reimag­in­ing how our cul­ture views bod­ies, mov­ing from a so­ci­ety where dif­fer­ences are ranked to one where they’re cel­e­brated.

“Body pos­i­tiv­ity means I am free,” said Con­nie Sobczak, who co-founded the non­profit The Body Pos­i­tive in 1996, long be­fore #BoPo, short for body pos­i­tive, bloomed on the in­ter­net. Her or­ga­ni­za­tion is ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing re­sources and train­ing to help peo­ple over­come neg­a­tive body im­age and achieve self-ac­cep­tance.

“I don’t have to have corporate Amer­ica telling me how I’m sup­posed to feel about my­self,” she said.

With all the at­ten­tion, it seems now should be a golden mo­ment for the move­ment. But many body pos­i­tive ac­tivists worry that de­spite its re­cent ubiq­uity, the core mes­sage — ac­cep­tance of all bod­ies — is get­ting lost. They’re con­cerned it’s be­ing co-opted by big brands and di­luted by re­duc­tive mantras like “just love your­self.”

Body pos­i­tiv­ity en­com­passes much more than the curvy, white, straight, fem­i­nine bod­ies that may oc­ca­sion­ally tout cel­lulite or stretch marks in an ad­ver­tise­ment.

We spoke with five peo­ple who ad­vo­cate for body pos­i­tiv­ity to hear what they think the move­ment is get­ting right,

what it could do bet­ter and how they are each work­ing to cre­ate a world that val­ues dif­fer­ence.

Sonya Re­nee Tay­lor

Poet, body pos­i­tive ac­tivist, cre­ator of #BadPic­tureMon­day


who be­gan her ca­reer as a per­for­mance poet, con­sid­ers her­self an ac­ci­den­tal ac­tivist. In 2010 she told a dis­traught friend, “Your body is not an apol­ogy.” It in­spired a poem and be­came a Face­book page which now boasts nearly 90,000 fol­low­ers. It even­tu­ally bur­geoned into a dig­i­tal mag­a­zine.

Tay­lor said her work at The Body Is Not An Apol­ogy is about view­ing body pos­i­tiv­ity through the most in­clu­sive lens pos­si­ble.

“If I just love my­self that’s lovely, but that doesn’t trans­form the world, be­cause it doesn’t ex­tend out­side of my­self,” Tay­lor said. “What does it re­ally mean to trans­form the way that we see, view, and value all bod­ies? It in­cludes race, it in­cludes gen­der, it in­cludes sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, it in­cludes dis­abil­i­ties, it in­cludes size, it in­cludes age, it in­cludes all the ways that our bod­ies show up.”

Tay­lor said the body pos­i­tive move­ment is largely frag­mented but the part of the move­ment that seems to gar­ner the most main­stream at­ten­tion fo­cuses on a very spe­cific de­mo­graphic. Tay­lor said she finds that trou­ble­some.

“As long as there is a move­ment that is only pos­i­tive for some bod­ies, it’s not body pos­i­tive ... By and large the body pos­i­tive move­ment in this current point in his­tory is white, cis (cis-gen­dered, or some­one who iden­ti­fies with the sex they were born as), able-bod­ied women and it’s specif­i­cally more of­ten than not cen­tred around size,” she said.

A piece of ad­vice on be­ing body pos­i­tive: “The first step is rec­og­niz­ing that we have all been in­doc­tri­nated into a sys­tem of body shame that prof­its off of our self-ha­tred. When I start to ask my­self, ‘Whose agenda is my self-ha­tred?’ I ac­tu­ally can make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween what the world is telling me about my­self and what I re­ally be­lieve.”

Caleb Luna Writer, ac­tivist, dancer

A SELF-DE­SCRIBED “fat, brown, queer,” Caleb Luna, who uses the pro­nouns “they” and “them,” writes for Ev­ery­day Fem­i­nism and Tay­lor’s or­ga­ni­za­tion, The Body Is Not An Apol­ogy, on is­sues of gen­der and fat lib­er­a­tion. Fat lib­er­a­tion is a move­ment that seeks to end op­pres­sion of fat peo­ple.

Luna said body pos­i­tiv­ity ought to be every­body’s con­cern.

An in­vest­ment in a beauty stan­dard, Luna said, doesn’t ben­e­fit ev­ery­day peo­ple, it ben­e­fits cap­i­tal­ism, which en­joys bil­lion dol­lar prof­its off the rit­u­als peo­ple per­form to at­tain that stan­dard. Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port from mar­ket re­search com­pany Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional, the U.S. beauty mar­ket is ex­pected to grow to $90 bil­lion in 2020.

“We’re all kind of suf­fer­ing un­der­neath th­ese ideas that our bod­ies — no mat­ter what they look like — are not good enough,” Luna said. “It’s mind-blow­ing to me to think peo­ple who have very dif­fer­ent bod­ies from me, very small bod­ies, bod­ies that I’m like ‘oh my god you must have it made,’ that they still have their own in­se­cu­ri­ties. They still are not happy.”

The body pos­i­tive move­ment, Luna says, is be­com­ing more in­clu­sive, but has a long way to go.

“I find it’s been co-opted by the main­stream to be like ‘love your body as long as it’s un­der­neath a size 12, and you don’t have any vis­i­ble scars, you don’t have any acne and you wax all your body hair off,’” Luna said.

A piece of ad­vice on be­ing body pos­i­tive: “I think that lov­ing your body is re­ally hard. And I’m kind of un­com­fort­able hav­ing that goal, be­cause it feels so im­pos­si­ble ... For me what was re­ally help­ful was un­der­stand­ing that there’s a very di­rect link to me hat­ing my­self and peo­ple get­ting richer. I’m not down with that.”

Vir­gie To­var

Fat lib­er­a­tionist, body pos­i­tive ac­tivist, cre­ator of #LoseHateNotWeight VIR­GIE TO­VAR said she didn’t al­ways feel ashamed of her body. She learned it in kinder­garten. It would be decades be­fore she would un­learn that shame.

In 2011, To­var at­tended a fat con­fer­ence — or­ga­nized to help com­bat stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion around weight — where she saw fat peo­ple liv­ing in their bod­ies un­abashedly. It al­tered her per­spec­tive on her own life, she said, and clar­i­fied for her that her weight wasn’t the prob­lem. It was hate. “I mean, ev­ery day that I walk out of my house I am deeply aware that it is pos­si­ble some­one is go­ing to say some­thing ex­traor­di­nar­ily cruel to me out of nowhere,” she said. “Like just cross­ing the street. Maybe I’m tak­ing too long. Maybe I’m eating some­thing in pub­lic, or maybe I’m just ex­ist­ing . ... And I think what peo­ple don’t re­al­ize is that dis­crim­i­na­tion is not just those mo­ments when some­one hurls an ep­i­thet at you, it’s all the mo­ments when you’re ex­pect­ing that to hap­pen.”

To­var said she wishes the body pos­i­tive move­ment were less ob­scure, with more clearly de­fined goals.

A piece of ad­vice on be­ing body pos­i­tive: “We live in a cul­ture that tells us that the way we live life is nor­mal and nat­u­ral and in­evitable and there’s no other way that life can be . ... I think it’s tak­ing a mo­ment to ask, is this work­ing for me? Is this not work­ing for me? What are the things in my life that are ac­tu­ally making me happy? I want to do more of those things. What are the things in my life that are ac­tu­ally making my life less qual­i­ta­tively won­der­ful? I’m go­ing to do less of those things.”

Bruce Sturgell

Founder of plus-size men’s fash­ion site Chub­str


wears a 4446 waist — the CDC says the av­er­age male waist is 40 inches — and says he was lost in terms of find­ing stylish clothes that fit.

He launched style-fo­cused website Chub­str in 2010 to “self­ishly” help him­self, and men in his same sit­u­a­tion. His site, which fea­tures interviews, guides and a cu­rated shop­ping sec­tion, is a space for men in a move­ment largely dom­i­nated by women.

Sturgell sees Chub­str, which has an ac­tive on­line com­mu­nity, as an “on-ramp to body pos­i­tiv­ity and ac­tivism.”

“Men in gen­eral are told not to talk about their feel­ings and def­i­nitely not to talk about their con­cerns with their bod­ies or how they feel about their bod­ies,” he said.

Sturgell said he’s in­creas­ingly en­cour­aged by the greater vis­i­bil­ity of big­ger men in the body pos­i­tive move­ment. A fre­quent topic of dis­cus­sion on Chub­str is Zach Miko, who in 2016 Bri­tish GQ dubbed the world’s first plus-size male model.

“It’s a real step for­ward . ... Now we just need to see a lot more of it, with a lot of dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple,” Sturgell said.

Sturgell, who was a “chubby kid” and has al­ways been a big­ger guy, said re­al­iz­ing big­ger peo­ple can be aspi­ra­tional changed his life.

“I’ve got a 4-year-old girl and a 7year-old boy, and I think the fact that they will get to grow up in a world where you can see that and see that that’s OK ... it means so much,” he said.

A piece of ad­vice on be­ing body pos­i­tive: “The big­gest thing that has worked for me is re­al­iz­ing that you’re not alone.”

Con­nie Sobczak

Body pos­i­tiv­ity is’ all about the in­di­vid­ual and their own story. CON­NIE SOBCZAK THE BODY POS­I­TIVE CO-FOUNDER

Co-founder of The Body Pos­i­tive CON­NIE SOBCZAK

spent years suf­fer­ing from an eating dis­or­der, and lost her sis­ter to one.

Sobczak co-founded The Body Pos­i­tive so peo­ple could “fo­cus on chang­ing the world, not their bod­ies,” and wrote the book “Em­body: Learn­ing to Love Your Unique Body (and Quiet that Crit­i­cal Voice!)” so peo­ple could help them­selves prac­tise self-love each day.

“My daugh­ter was a year old when my sis­ter died, and I looked at this lit­tle baby who was just start­ing to walk and was so in love with her body, lift­ing her shirt up, lov­ing her belly ... and I said no way in hell will this lit­tle child suf­fer in that way,” she said. “She will have prob­lems in her life but she will not grow up think­ing any­thing is wrong with her body.”

Sobczak said she’s thrilled body pos­i­tiv­ity has gone main­stream.

“I would highly rec­om­mend peo­ple be very aware of the dou­ble bind­ing mixed mes­sages like ‘love your­self ’ and ‘follow my way of do­ing it’ and ‘I did it this way and that’ll work for you,’” she said. “‘Body pos­i­tiv­ity is’ all about the in­di­vid­ual and their own story.”

A piece of ad­vice on be­ing body pos­i­tive: “For me it was making the com­mit­ment that I’m go­ing to live. And if I’m go­ing to live, how do I want to live my life? I have choice . ... My sis­ter died at 36. I don’t want to waste a mo­ment of my life hat­ing this amaz­ing ve­hi­cle that I have to be here on the planet.”

Lena Dun­ham is one of the lead­ers of the body pos­i­tiv­ity move­ment.


Zach Miko was touted as the first male plus sized model to be signed by ma­jor agency, IMG.

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