The movement has officially been hijacked and those it was originally created for, the outliers, find themselves once again, on the fringes. Like many popular references, the meaning of the phrase ‘body positivity’ has become increasingly distorted as its popularity increases.
What started out as a political movement to protect fat bodies has become synonymous with self-love and in doing so, has narrowed the window of acceptance for many plus-size bodies, if not slammed it shut altogether.
The body positivity movement began as a political movement that was started as a fat liberation movement by plus size women of colour. It was created in response to the mounting social disregard for bodies that didn’t fit into accepted beauty norms. It was created as a means to protect and uplift the bodies that simply were not seen as ‘beautiful’.
Fat women have now found themselves decentered from a movement that they created and fatphobia is still rampant. With our safe spaces fast diminishing and being overrun, where else is there left for fat bodies to go?
A body positivity movement that does not center fat people is simply yet another place for slim people to feel good about their bodies in a society that already celebrates them. There must be a distinction between self love and body positivity.
In order to understand the importance of the body positive movement to marginalised bodies, we must first understand its origins. The body positivity movement has roots in the fat acceptance movement which began in the 1960’s. It was a social change movement and aimed to change the anti-fat bias and reprogram society’s attitude towards fat people. Sociologist Charlotte Cooper has argued that the history of the fat activist movement is best understood in waves, similar to the feminist movement, with which she believes it is closely tied. Susie Orbach, a British psychotherapist and author, argued that popularised ideas such as dieting and body hatred are oppressive and that body dysmorphia and eating disorders are rooted in misogyny.
In a similar vein, Cooper believed that fat activists have suffered similar waves of activism followed by burnout, with activists in a following wave often unaware of the history of the movement, resulting in a lack of continuity. However, the body positivity movement could be seen as a resurgence of all these long-forgotten theories
Charlotte goes on to talk about the dominant model in which, ‘fatness is contextualised as pitiful and/or many of the following: lacking in moral fibre, diseased, potentially diseased, greedy and lazy, not just ugly but disgusting, pathetic, underclass, worthless, a repulsive joke, a problem that needs to be treated and prevented.’