The body positive movement was conceived in 1996 by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott. Two women, sitting in their private homes, trying to figure out how to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants.
Today, the movement claims,
“We are creating a world in which people are liberated from self-hatred, value their beauty and identity, and use their energy and intellect to make positive changes in their own lives and in their communities.”
Unfortunately, by the time this idea started to become mainstream, I had already been raised on self-loathing and Southern food. I had allowed my concept of self-worth to be molded by my mother’s outdated ideals.
When I was younger my mother praised me for being “skinny and cute” while putting my older sibling on a diet. When I moved away from home and the unhealthy lifestyle and undiagnosed autoimmune disease put 80 pounds on me she mocked me publicly.
Worst of all, I learned to use personal attacks to disguise my own insecurities and weaponize my fears.
I grew up on workout videos and fad diets- even though I was below average weight for most of my childhood and adolescence. My oldest sibling was forced to diet and verbally shamed.
I had no idea I was being instilled with insecurities as my mother picked apart her perceived flaws one by one. I knew I looked so much like her people mistook old pictures of her for recent pictures of me. Somewhere it registered that I only heard praise about my appearance in the context of my size. But I had no idea that my mother’s self-hate would one day become my secret burden.
While I was in Jr. High my mother got breast implants and my brother got engaged to a woman with huge breasts. Baywatch was one of the most popular shows on tv and my self-esteem was nonexistent. I began starving and cutting myself to gain a sense of control.
My soon-to-be sister-in-law relentlessly picked on me about my ‘flat’ chest and gloated about her “huge puppies”. One afternoon as she was going on about her “puppies” I snapped and retorted “sure they’re puppies now because you’re young, but those will be lap-dogs eventually.”
My insult struck her silent and created a rift between us that became a chasm over the years. Sure I got the last word, but I alienated my family and degraded myself by stooping to her level. Worst of all, I learned to use personal attacks to disguise my own insecurities and weaponize my fears.
And so by 2006 when body positivity began breaking into the mainstream I had already formed my angry little personality. I had come to believe, on some very deep levels, that fat = gross/bad/evil/lazy/vile. As if by some divine humor I also began slowly, but steadily, gaining weight each year.
The numbers on the scale went from 120 to so close to 200 that I began avoiding it in fear of my own mental breakdown. I hated myself for my lack of self-control. Diets would knock a few pounds off that replaced themselves as soon as I glanced at food.
I tried to put on a good front. “I’m thick, I’m curvy, I’m sassy” I would think, but the slightest comment about my weight would send me spiraling into the depths. I was intensely uncomfortable in my new skin and unable to accept my physical self on a fundamental level.
We (women especially) are trained to drag one another down in order to bring ourselves up. We are taught that everything is a competition.
And then, by some strange autoimmune magic, I began dropping weight a few years before my 30th birthday. What had taken me a decade to put on melted off in just under two years. I went from a size 14–16 to a size 2–4. I was forced to drastically change my lifestyle to prevent more weight loss. Insults once again shifted from fat shaming to skinny shaming- now people called me a “crack whore” instead of a “fat bitch”. But I could no longer see myself- only the numbers on the scale.
This is at the heart of why body positivity is so challenging for some. We have been given such warped and distorted views of ourselves, such unrealistic standards, and so little empathy. We (women especially) are trained to drag one another down in order to bring ourselves up. We are taught that everything is a competition.
It may take me the rest of my life to unlearn what I believed about bodies, or I may never fully recover, but I still have important choices to make. I can make the decision to never talk shit on myself. I can make the decision to never use someone’s appearance as a weapon. I can make the decision to refute body-shaming and shut down those insults with my overly-sharp tongue.
If nothing else, I can fake it. I can pretend to believe in what I sincerely hope becomes a universal truth and reality. I can stand guard of young men and women who are traversing this new world, and defend this ideal until it’s powerful enough to bloom in hearts and minds without assistance.
I hope you will stand with me, square shouldered and proud, no matter what hatred is hurled our way or buried in our psyche.