As I sit down to work, I want to return to what is easy and write about body positivity. A topic I feel competent in and passionate about. However, last month I made a promise to myself to make efforts to end white silence. Instead of returning to my comfort zone, I will get uncomfortable by exploring body positivity through the lens of racial injustice. A part of me feels insecure about writing this piece because I am in the infancy of expanding my lens! However, I know that if I wait until I feel sure of myself, I may continue to stay silent forever.
So, here it is. What the beginning stages of challenging my own lens in the context of the body positivity movement has looked like — sprinkled with tips I have learned along the way!
1) Research The History (The WHOLE History)
I’ve been spouting body positivity for a long time without ever researching its origins. A quick google search brought me to many articles all citing the following as the roots of the movement. 1) The 1850’s Victorian Dress Reform movement which opposed corsets, body mutilation and hiding under layered dresses; all efforts to create a ‘desirable’ body shape. 2) The 1960’s National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance which attempted to shift the medical field away from demonizing larger bodies and focusing on other health outcomes, such as diet, exercise and blood pressure. 3) Connie Sobczak founding The Body Positive in 1996 after losing her sister to an Eating Disorder.
What’s missing here? None of these addresses where people of color fit in. I had to specifically google ‘body positivity and racial injustice’. This led me down a rabbit hole of resources linking the roots of fat shaming to racism and how the body positivity movement has focused on the experience of white women.
Tip: If there is a subject or cause that you are passionate about, research its origins. Get curious about the non-white narrative. This one may seem obvious, but it is an easy step to skip so I’m assuming others have as well.
2) Examine Your Lens
So, I know my experiences are filtered through my perspective as a white woman; now what? I started following people of color in the body positivity and nutrition fields on social media. Shocker – their messages were vastly different from the white women I followed in these same fields.
I was forced to examine my narrow view of body positivity, “Society views all fat people as lazy and unhealthy. Period.” I was not taking people of color into consideration at all. Through new perspectives, I can see the lack of inclusion in the body positivity movement (e.g. brands boasting body acceptance by using white women in larger bodies who still check most traditional beauty standard boxes). Now, I also understand that true body acceptance will not be achieved until there is racial justice and ALL bodies are safe – including the bodies of people of color.
Tip: Follow, listen, buy and learn from marginalized people. Their perspectives will help you re-examine the lens through which you view the world.
3) Grieve Your Old Truths
New truths are not easy for me to hear because (surprise, surprise) they make me uncomfortable and overwhelmed. Enter my anxious, ‘doer’ voice, “You have got to be kidding me – fat phobia has roots in racism AND the movement meant to eradicate fat phobia ignores people of color!? We have to end racism before we can work on body positivity? How!?” In complete transparency, I did not endure these new truths with grace. I felt ignorant, angry, and embarrassed. One day I felt so helpless I made an internal decision to ‘give up’ because I was afraid that I was doing more harm than good by supporting the body positivity movement. Luckily, that phase of grief did pass, and I moved on to acceptance.
Tip: It’s okay to grieve your old truths. Take time to absorb and accept new perspectives and truths before ‘doing’ something about it.
4) Relax and Get Humble!
My doer voice has gotten me in trouble many times (not just in the racial justice arena). I’ve made mistakes by jumping in too soon. I’ve asked questions on social media that people found offensive. I’ve reached out to people to offer my version of support and have felt attacked in return. Although my motivation is pure, it does not mean that people of color who have endured years of hatred and injustice must receive me with open arms or patience. I’ve learned that some people of color are tired because their voices have been ignored for so long. I’ve learned this the hard way because I tried to jump in and fix things before educating myself.
Tip: Relax. Ending Racial Injustice is a marathon, not a sprint. Be humble. It’s okay to make mistakes. Remind yourself that you are coming from a place of compassion and curiosity. Dust yourself off and try again.
If you are feeling out of your depth in helping end white silence and racial injustice, you are not alone. I hope that in sharing my steps (and missteps) that you feel supported, hopeful and empowered to take responsibility for your lens.