But Are You Really Body Positive?
I sometimes wonder if people see my body positivity message as toxic or even fake. I know, I know...I can’t be preoccupied with naysayers. But I do want people to know that I struggle with weight acceptance and body love as much as the next person.
If you're in the beginning stages of this, at first it may come off as fake because you might still be trying to convince yourself and undo YEARS of toxic diet culture that has been shoved down your throat since birth. But eventually, if you say the words enough and treat yourself well enough, you will begin to believe it. This may take a while and that’s okay. Just remember that no matter how you’re feeling, you can and should ALWAYS treat yourself well. The sad truth is: diet culture has a hold on most of us.
I can remember the first time I contemplated losing weight. You know how old I was? ELEVEN! Yes, 11-years-old and “unhappy” with my frail, little, barely pubescent body. Smh. Why? No one in my house was dieting, but I gathered that having a pudgy stomach and large thighs was a negative thing, first, from school. As soon as they pulled out the body fat squeezie tool and started weighing kids and taking our height, I knew instinctively that my weight was too much and I was somehow, not “healthy.” Truth is, I was PERFECTLY healthy...always have been actually.
But the stigma that came with being considered "overweight" or worse, "obese," was enough to make me believe that something was wrong with me. Perhaps I ate too much bread or candy? Or maybe too many potato chips? Before I knew it I was on a yo-yo diet roller coaster that lasted more than twenty years. Sounds ridiculous to consider it now, but it is so very common, especially among young women. And even the most well-intentioned person (family member, friend, doctor, etc.) can play into it.
One of my most unsettling memories involves my dad. Let me preface this story with a little bit of background information. My dad, who passed away many years
ago, was a great person and a loving father, but he was in the fitness industry. He was the general manager of the Power House Gym and he was a competitive bodybuilder. He even snagged the title of "Mr. Michigan" in 1989 for the lightweight division (he was short...like myself). So, having done all the things to transform his somewhat thin and stout body into chiseled perfection, he knew a thing or two about exercise and fitness.
In ninth grade, a friend of mine who lived nearby, would join me after school and catch the bus to my dad's gym for a little extra exercise. For me though, it was really just a chance for some quality time with my dad. One day after a particularly long day in school, dance and track practice, we arrived at the gym and my dad put us on the treadmill for a while. I have no idea what my friend's settings were on but he cranked my incline up and had me going more than 7 mph. I was exhausted! But afterwards he wanted us to do some lifting and of course, we agreed. I don't recall everything we did, but one moment stood out for me and remains with me to this day. He had us on the leg press machine, taking turns with our sets. After my first round, my friend started and while my dad and I waited for her to finish, he says to me "her leg muscles are much more defined than yours." I am certain that I didn't respond, but I remember a weird chill came over my body. I guess today I would describe it as anxiety or jealousy or maybe even dread/despair. That, for me, was the moment that I began comparing myself to other women, that friend in particular and probably nearly every other woman I ever interacted with after that.
Crazy, right? Clearly my dad wasn't trying to make me self-conscious...I mean he was simply making an observation...a factual one at that. But it was like a gut punch to my little teenage ego. As a self-proclaimed "daddy's girl," I wanted nothing more than my dad's approval and for him to think I was basically perfect (lol). And while this situation does not negate the fact that he told me he loved me and that he was proud of me all the time, this memory has an engraved footprint on my mind. Why? Because for the first time ever, I felt like I needed to try and make my body look more like someone else's.
Now, this is the 1990s and again, my dad is a personal trainer and gym manager so the toxicity of diet culture is in full control here. There were no loud messages of body positivity or weight acceptance. All we were hearing was that fat = bad and that there was an impending obesity epidemic on the rise that we must fight against. So you can only imagine that this particular situation did nothing positive for my self-esteem or body image as a 15-year-old young woman.
Funny thing is...I have never talked to anyone about this (not even the friend that was with me). Mostly because I never wanted it to seem like I was shaming my father for his comments. But what I understand now as an adult, mother and body acceptance advocate, is that he was simply a part of the same diet culture that brainwashes most of us. Breaking free back then would have taken several miracles. He had no idea what he was doing and so I don't blame him for anything. Had it not come from him, I would have still been impacted negatively by diet culture elsewhere (and I was). Heck, I only started fully understanding the toxicity of diet culture a few years ago myself.
I tell that story simply to shed light on how very small experiences can have long lasting impacts especially as it relates to body image issues. As I have learned more (and continue to do so), I try to make a point of creating an environment around myself and my children, that encourages individuality, body positivity, acceptance and self-love. For me, body positivity can never be "toxic," because acknowledging that your feelings about your body will vary from time to time is KEY. We won't always wake up feeling our best. But we have the ability to turn things around and keep moving forward.
Body positivity does not mean avoiding exercise, eating cookies & potato chips every day at nauseum, trash talking 'thin' people or pretending to like your fat when you really hate it. It simply means maintaining a positive attitude toward your body as it changes (or stays the same) that is reflective of the facts. The fact that your body has carried you through tough times, met your demands and continues to perform for you day in and day out. Being positive about those facts and accepting wherever you are right now is the antithesis of toxicity. And quite honestly, in my opinion, it is more of what this world needs.
So if you are struggling with body positivity, begin first with acceptance. Accept and appreciate your body's abilities and its history. Look at yourself naked, more often to normalize what you see. And be sure to find and wear clothes that make you feel good about your body and the way it looks. Repeat positive affirmations about your body daily to deafen the negativity that you may be thinking or hearing from other sources. And most importantly, show up everyday, as the very best version of yourself (in that moment). You got this and you're doing a great job.