My Two Cents: Body Positivity vs. Influencer Weight Loss?

Back in December, I spent some of my holiday break  going through my Facebook blog page DMs from readers (yes, I actually make time to read and answer those) and this was one of the ones I had received:

I’m not going to lie, the question took me off guard to the point that I failed to formulate an immediate answer. So I simply wrote back that I needed some time to process this a bit, promising that I would cover this topic on the blog as soon as I could.

Weight loss is such a touchy subject. Understandably so as it triggers a lot of difficult memories and emotions for many of us, especially if you are a woman. As someone who grew up being constantly criticized, bullied and even publicly humiliated for my weight, I still cringe a bit when Weight Watchers is brought up in conversation. (For context I was gifted a membership to that program by my Great Aunt when I was 9 years old and subsequently continued to do so until the day I turned 18, but that’s a story for another time.)

I came into plus size fatshion through the body positive movement and I know that for some people its the opposite. This was back in 2009, before it all went mainstream and body positivity, as it applied to plus size bodies specifically, was more along the lines of size acceptance. I was 19 and had a history of leaving the mall in tears for not being able to find anything that I liked that fit and was actually affordable.  I told myself that I hated fashion but the truth was that I hated the fact that the fashion industry just wouldn’t work with my body.  I believed that in order to have things like respect, love and nice clothes, akin to that of my thinner peers, I would have to lose as much weight as possible first.

Me at 19 vs. Now

That’s when I stumbled onto The Big Girl Blog by Cece Olisa. It was purely by accident, as I had been online shopping for plus size club clothes since I had been invited to a party that called for that kind of thing. I kept reading post after post and ended up finding other similar blogs that covered topics such as dating, fashion and, of course, body love and body positivity. Motivated by what I read,  I started to unlearn the negative “lessons” that had been instilled in me and learned to love and celebrate the body I have.

Since then “fatshion” and “body positivity” have been treated as though they are interchangeable hashtags on social media when they clearly not. For one thing, not all plus size fatshion bloggers are body positive and not all body positive bloggers are related to plus size fatshion other than the fact that some of them may shop plus size fashion brands simply because that is the size that they wear.

Fundamentally body positivity is more than just about appearance and size. It’s about advocating for marginalized bodies that have long since been considered as lesser or unworthy. Which, SURPRISE, are not just (female) fat bodies! The movement is meant to include men, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and people with disabilities, to name a few.

Admittedly, unapologetic (plus size) women posting pictures and creating content with the kind of representation we longed to see in media, helped give this movement the mainstream attention its gotten. Women who championed wearing  (and doing) whatever you wanted regardless of your size, and body type. And this is significant, because body positivity as a result became a sort of exclusive club, complete with unspoken membership standards and expectations, most of which are related to weight and size. If you didn’t fit those standards, such as being a size 12/14 that doesn’t “look” plus size, you aren’t allowed in and if you once met those standards and somehow deviate from them, you’re publicly attacked for it.

This is where the demonizing of intentional weight loss comes into play. Considering the long fatphobic history of the fitness and weight lost industry, weight loss, via surgery or other “traditional” methods, is an unwelcome in this space due to the aforementioned exclusivity the movement has managed to develop. The fact of the matter is, that even the most body positive person has things they would like to change, some of which may be linked to weight. Notice I said change and not fix. Our bodies are not a problem to be solved- beauty and body standards are.

That said, people go about losing weight according to their ability and means. For some that is weight loss surgery, for others it’s making changes to their eating habits or just going to the gym when they can. However the reality is that there are people who literally cannot afford gym memberships or to take off time from work or other such obligations. Though often ignored, things like socioeconomic disparities that limit accessibility to healthcare, nutritious  food, and even affordable clothing all play a role in the message of body positivity. This is what makes body positivity more than just a hashtag and a platform to build a marketable brand.

Influencers losing weight, be it through surgery or otherwise, is really not the main issue here. The problem is when those same influencers abandon their original body positive position as they start body shaming themselves and the communities they helped create.  In cases such as criticizing how they once looked and weighed,  it is clear that they made a point to lose the weight in order to gain respect and worth as well as achieve thin privilege. This kind of new content that is shared on social media in essence voids their original message of self and body love as it perpetuates the socially embraced thin narrative.

Bodies change for a multitude of reasons, some of which are in our control and others are not.* Pregnancy. Injury. Depression. Homelessness. Eating Disorders. Chronic Illness. I mean, does the “Freshman-fifteen” sound familiar to anyone? And to be clear people gain and lose  weight for these same reasons. There is also the reality that there are certain medical aliments that basically require one to lose weight in order to get better, so idea that the act of  losing weight is not body positive actually works against what the movement is all about.

Whether they be influencers or not, everyone has a body journey that you don’t know about and its really not your business to know unless the people involved finds you worthy of knowing. We need to empower each other so that body standards become something of the past. This means respecting and supporting  our fellow babes even if they lose weight.

I think it is important to remember, that policing each other’s bodies is what got us needing something like body positivity in the first place and imposing a narrative solely based on what you see on social media is really not helping anyone. Rather it sets us back. We get into endless arguments that lead us no where and gives fuel to those who are hell-bent on “exposing body positivity to be promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. (Always remember – Don’t help feed the trolls!)

As for those influencers who have become the face for these movements, I understand the significance of their role. Most of us do not have the support system we would like IRL so we turn to social media to get it. I believe that one should simply follow the people that support your own body positive and/or fatshion journey. If there is someone who has changed their views and/or messages since you first started following them, due to something like weight loss, I find it best to leave any comments I may have to myself and hit Unfollow or Unsubscribe. Don’t get me wrong, the OG fatshion and body love influencers are great. They are part of the reason why things have progressed this far.  Why I have progressed as well. But they are not the only ones in this community or in the blogger/influencer space that can inspire you. Or consider leading the cause yourself and create your own social space, be it by creating you own blog platform, Instagram page, or even a private group on Facebook.

At the heart of everything, I think we can all agree that diet culture, fatphobia, westernized, gendered body and beauty standards and stereotypes are toxic social norms that need to die. If necessary, let’s just start from there and work on making this a truly positive movement.

* Note: This is the reason why referring to weight loss as a compliment is so problematic. 

The topic of body positivity is vast so I know and there is no way that I could cover it all in one post but my goal was to answer the reader question. This may even be the unofficial start of a new series for the blog so let’s discuss!

What are your thoughts about body positivity?

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