So we reposted a powerful image a couple of weeks ago, and judging from the number of likes, it really resonated with a lot of folks. Today, I would like to start a conversation about body positivity. I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences on the topic, beginning with some simple food for thought: What does it mean to be healthy? Can you define it in words? Can you capture it in an image? What is a picture of good health?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty vain…
I like to feel good about the way I look and work very hard so that I can feel good. I do spend a lot of time worrying about it though. I follow a number of so-called “healthy lifestylists” on Instagram, too. They are outwardly attractive, scantily clad, Mt. Olympus-looking people who’d like for us to believe that they LIVE to work out. They eat nothing but kale and maybe boiled chicken breast. They even take exquisitely choreographed candid photos. Are these people healthy? Who can say? I suppose they look like it.
I also follow a lot of amazing people society would call fat activists, whose accounts brandish hashtags like #breakthestereotype, #fitatanysize, and #everyBODYmatters. These people accept themselves- no, they love themselves despite criticism by the truckloads. They refuse to be defined by other people’s opinions and inspire me to be bolder in defining myself. These people live their truth and embrace their unique experiences without shame. Are these people healthy? Instinctively we are taught that bigger bodies are undesirable, but does that mean that they are unhealthy? I don’t know. How could I possibly know?
When I think about myself, I know exactly how hard I work to counteract all my terrible habits.
I eat a lot of sweets, but I work out a lot. Is that balance? On the one hand, my “numbers” are great – you know – blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference, blood glucose, etc. I’m not at risk for anything, so does that mean I’m healthy? You may think the answer is yes, yet every time I step on the scale, my doctor reminds me that I’m overweight and my BMI is high. I have a career, hobbies, and the ability to support myself. But still, I struggle. I struggle with anxiety and depression, substance abuse, body dysmorphia…the list goes on and on. Does that mean I should spend more time in therapy and or more time dieting and exercising? Which is more important? Physical or mental health? How your body looks or how it functions? Again, I don’t really know.
Unfortunately, pictures don’t always show you the whole story.
I drove by a place of business the other day and saw something shocking. I won’t name names, but it’s a kickboxing gym. There was a gigantic sign out front with the studio namesake and the words, “Fight the Fat”. I work in marketing and let me tell you that I love advertising, especially when it’s clever. This, however, was not clever. It was the opposite of body positivity. It was shame mongering and it turned me off.
To me, this Fight the Fat mantra is negative and exclusive. It is not welcoming to a person beginning their fitness journey. It says, “hey fattie, you don’t belong here, we are against you.” I’m quite sure that this business did not intend to lose customers with this slogan, but how could someone feel inspired by this message? It got me thinking about health and wellness. Not just my personal feelings about the topic, but the way health is viewed by society, and the way people are treated in the health and wellness space.
The motivation to improve oneself is not enough to sidestep judgement. It doesn’t matter that a large body goes for a run, or a chronically depressed person goes to therapy, or that an addict seeks counseling or support The mere need for these things illustrates imperfections. Aside from the rampant negativity in that logic, it’s just plain bad business.
Health and wellness is for everyone.
Deciding to change your lifestyle is hard enough. What is the value in further intimidating people by making them feel less than? Fitness is not just for those who have already demonstrated aptitude. It’s not graduate school. It’s living your best life, and we are all worthy of that.
Shame is a powerful tactic in selling health and wellness.
There are products, companies, and entire industries that prey upon our shame. Again, I don’t want to name names, but you can guess what I’m talking about. These entities remind us that our feelings of inadequacy are valid and suggest that solutions to our problems can be bought for a small monthly auto payment. This is simply not true. You cannot capture health in an image. A healthy life is the combined effort of how we take to care of ourselves—inside and out. It’s not just what we eat, or how we exercise. It’s how we talk to ourselves, it’s how we sleep, and the people we associate with. It is so much more than how our body looks.
The same goes for body positivity. You cannot see a person’s life story, their intentions, their dreams, their struggles from a single image. There is no picture of good health. Who are we to judge which bodies are worthy of appreciation? There is nobody and NO BODY that deserves to be shamed. Bodies belong to people and I think we can all agree to support our human race.
Next time you feel compelled to assess another person’s lifestyle, take a look at your own. If we’re honest, we can all find a little room for improvement. With that in mind, lend your encouragement and positivity to EVERY. SINGLE. BODY. We are all on a journey, the depths of which cannot be seen from the outside.