You want my short answer? Scroll to the bottom. In for the long haul? Strap in, my probably-thin-or-average-sized readers, this might be a bumpy ride.
I recently started going back to the gym after a hiatus of a cool two years. It’s been effing scary. And painful. And in many ways, not as rewarding as I thought it would be. You see, this is my first time regularly exercising without the goal of weight loss dangled in front of me. The first time in my adult life where exercise has become the achievement in and of itself. And, although I haven’t had the adrenaline rush of being so hungry I pass out after the bike, or the endorphins of seeing the scales tick down, it has been satisfying watching other numbers tick upwards. Getting stronger, getting sweatier, and having fun; what could be more body positive than that?
There is, of course, a massive schema of privilege operating in this convo. I may be big, but I’m on the small-fat end of the scale. I can buy gym clothes from most places. I have access to money to buy said gym clothes, to pay for my gym membership and travel. And, most of all, I am able-bodied. The co-opting of the “body positive” movement by white, able-bodies with access to capital is a huge injustice. Any discussion around bodies must inhabit the uncomfortable-ness of acknowledging what a privilege it is to even have this discussion, as there are so many folks who have the door shut in their faces.
But, in a body that is privileged enough to exercise and/or engage in diet culture, can these choices ever be body positive? Is it irresponsible to claim a feminist, body positive or fat liberation stance and yet strive to make yourself smaller? I guess the answer is yes, and no. Earlier this year, a Cancer Research UK campaign hit the high streets, comparing obesity-correlated mortality rates to those of cigarette and nicotine caused deaths. When a registered cancer charity is paying to publicly advertise against sitting high on the (outdated) BMI scale, it’s tricky to blame anyone who bows to the pressure to lose weight.
If dieting for health, then, as opposed to aesthetics is actively encouraged by medical professionals, could that be body positive? Taking active measures to look after your body in order to live a happier, healthier life? Unfortunately, the implication of food choice is so bound up with ideas of restriction, loss and disordered eating that it’s near impossible to think of a body positive approach to dieting. Even movements like the intuitive eating trend have, yet again, been taken over by diet culture and pushed by average-to-small influencers. Sigh.
Most troublingly is the narrative of the “good fat person”. The fat person who is fat because of xyz medical condition. The fat person who exercises, eats well, isn’t lazy or stupid and yet somehow still can’t squeeze themselves into a what the high street declares as heathy. The Health at Any Size is an amazing push from the Association for Size Diversity and Health, advanced by the fat acceptance movement, that insists that health can take a multitude of different forms. Still, the concept of health is tangled with assumptions surrounding class, race and able-ness to the extent that disabling it would be the project of a life time.
Cool, you made across that terrain of questions and non-answers. Proud of you. If you skipped to the end? I’m proud of you as well, because you showed up. You’re here. My answer to if I think that wanting to lose weight can every be body positive is maybe. But only if we begin to dismantle our closely held ideals surrounding health, diet and exercise. Only when we open the door to those previously left out of these conversations can we begin to evolve and change for the better. And I don’t mean a physical change.
Hiya! I’m Daisy, a part-time postgrad student and full-time hustler. I write about gender, sexuality and culture and can usually be found eating brunch or enjoying bevs in Manchester. Slide into my DM’s (@daisy0brien) for collabs and/or banter (I take 5-7 working days to reply to any messages) x