“Can I lose weight and still be body positive?”
Every few months I see this question. Maybe I read a think piece about it and maybe I find it in my inbox from a once trusted plus sized and fat positive magazine. The question is often phrased a little differently every time but the core of it remains the same. It seems a lot of people are wondering if intentional weight loss can ever have a place in the politics of body positivity.
Every time I see this question posed I get a sour taste in my mouth. I roll my eyes at the offending tag line that invites readers to delve into the question. I see media platforms built on body positivity handing out cheerful ‘why not’s to their readers under the premise that body positivity is ‘just about loving your body.’
Truthfully, I get a little sad because I’m not sure how we got here. I get angry and frustrated because the question, no matter how unassuming and sincere, shouldn’t exist. As I try to form a response I begin to feel overwhelmed because I don’t know how to begin to explain my feelings to someone who truly things that body positivity is just about ‘loving yourself.’
It seems painfully obvious to me as a fat person invested in body positivity and fat acceptance what the answer to this question.
Can weight loss be body positive?
Absolutely fucking not.
Sorry, I’ll try that again and with less cursing.
No. No, weight loss cannot be body positive. It should never have a supported place in this movement. It should not be celebrated as self love. You should not be asking me if you can talk about your weight loss in this space. No. Nah. Never. Full stop.
Asking this question of people in body positivity and fat acceptance is selfish.
If you’ve ever asked the above question or if you’ve ever aligned your weight loss journey with your body positivity you might be experiencing some icky feelings. You might even be mad at me right now, and I’m going to ask you to bear with me because the ‘why’ of my stance is important and a bit complicated.
Let’s start with this: body positivity is not just about you and your body and the relationship therein. It’s not just about learning to love your body. This is just a fraction of the movement. It’s an important first step, believe me, and it’s a worthwhile and liberating part of the journey but it’s not where it ends and it’s certainly not the center of the movement. Because-
Body Positivity is not just about you.
Body Positivity is not just about your feelings about your body. Believe me, I want you to fall in love with your body but you have to understand that there is work to be done if we want to change the culture that taught you to hate your body in the first place. If your body positivity politics only extend to yourself and your feelings you are letting down marginalized bodies different from your own and, honestly, you’re letting yourself down too.
Body Positivity is a community that was created to escape and oppose diet culture and intentional weight loss. There are people whose very survival and wellness can depend on weight loss and dieting staying out of body positivity. Those who are recovering from eating disorders are often recovering from weight loss journeys that developed into disordered behavior. Fat people like myself come to body positivity because we have lived our whole lives convinced that our worth is dependent on how successful we are at dieting and weight loss. If you are given a permission slip for your weight loss to be welcome in body positive spaces you would be causing harm.
I know you want to believe that your desire for weight loss is somehow separate from diet culture. You want to convince me that dieting and weight loss can be an act of self love, but there are truths – systems of oppression- that you can’t change simply because you’ve convinced yourself otherwise. Your desire to lose weight wasn’t created outside of diet culture and fatphobia. None of us were raised in a vacuum. We are all products of society, and the decisions we make can often feed into systems of oppression that can cause us to do harm to ourselves and others. Your weight loss isn’t special or different. I don’t believe that anyone would pressure themselves to lose weight outside of the motivations of internalized fatphobia. Whether the reason is health, self confidence, or something else – the desire to lose weight comes from fatphobia and the industries that directly profit from fatphobia. It’s deeply ingrained in us that fat is unhealthy and undesirable. Nobody is exempt from this – and that includes you.
I know that harm is not the intention behind “can my weight loss be body positive?” I understand that all you are trying to do is make peace with these two opposing parts of yourself. You don’t want to feel like an impostor in a movement that you’ve connected with deeply.
I get that. I understand your motivations, but your desires to be free of this internal dissonance do not outweigh the needs of the larger community, they don’t change what diet culture is and what it has wrought.
Here’s the good news. Weight loss doesn’t make you a bad person. Wanting to lose weight in a fatphobic culture is a natural reaction of survival. I don’t blame you for wanting it. Much like putting on makeup every day (hello, it’s me) is a natural survival reaction to a patriarchal expectations of beauty and worth. I’m not operating under any assumption that my decision to put makeup on every single morning before work is somehow feminist. I am very much playing into the systemic pressures on womanhood, but I still do it. I’m not less of a feminist. I’m not less of a worthy person.
Truthfully, I would like nothing more than for you to break up with diet culture and weight loss, but what I want doesn’t matter when it comes to your body. Wanting to lose weight is not a moral failing. What’s more – body positivity isn’t a community with card carrying members. You can be a part of this movement and community and have a desire to lose weight. If anyone stands up, points a finger, and calls you a ‘fraud’ then they’re probably just an asshole. There is no expert that can kick you out of body positivity because no one is perfect and no one can tell you what to do with your body. You want to diet? Go for it. You want to lose weight? Go crazy. It’s your body. It’s your choice. What you have to understand is that this specific decision you made for your body should not require time and work from other people in body positivity. I should not have to spend my time assuring you that your weight loss is somehow ‘okay’ every time I write about the harm or diet culture and weight loss. Your desire to lose weight does not have a place in body positivity nor should you expect your personal decision to lose weight somehow be exempt from systemic oppression.
Weight loss is accepted and celebrated in every other area of society. You can speak about your weight loss journey and your desire to change your body literally everywhere else on the internet and in the world and you will find support and encouragement. All I ask is that you do not impose your weight loss in body positivity. All any of us ask for is space to safely critique the harm diet culture has done. All any of us ask for is this one corner of world to breath freely. If you embrace what body positivity really stands for, if you truly want to be a part of this community, you will make this concession. You will leave your weight loss out of body positivity, and embrace the dissonance between your weight loss desires and your body positivity.
Does that answer your question?