What is the body positivity movement?
The body positivity/body acceptance movement has become a part of our lives especially with the proliferation of social media the past few years, after the leaps the internet and phone technology have made.
The idea has taken off with platforms like Tumblr and Instagram and also by companies who co-opt the message as a great way to sell you more stuff like Dove’s body positivity ad marketing.
The movement has its roots in the fat liberation movement dating back to the 1960s and while the fat acceptance movement was more focused on the rights of fat individuals, body positivity is about the acceptance of all body types.
The fat acceptance movement pushed for the changing of public opinion, beliefs, and treatment of fat individuals. Fat positivity, which is more of a reaction to fat-shaming/cyber-bullying, and body positivity, which is a more commercial self-esteem movement, came later.
In the body positivity movement, the push was for all body shapes to be seen as acceptable, a large part of this is now on the individual to “love their body and relies heavily on the body image one has about themselves-This depends on our perceptions and attitudes towards our physical appearance.
Plus-size models from the west like Tess Holiday have been key in changing the way we look at people’s bodies.
Countless women of different shapes, races, sizes and ethnicities have joined the effort to shift public perceptions and attitudes away from the traditional ideal of beauty.
Numerous women have been subject to incredible pressure over their bodies, so it’s no wonder that advocates for different attitudes have been so welcomed. The movements which started in the west have spread to third world economies like ours.
In our very own country of Kenya, plus size influencer Neomi Ng’ang’a has been a proponent of loving one’s body at any size. She has been joined by another celeb Sandra Dacha aka Silprosa who has also been encouraging her fans to love their bodies at whatever size.
Socialite Huddah came under fire in December last year for making disparaging comments about American rapper Lizzo.
“If you are fat you are fat if you are skinny you are skinny! Stop lying to yourselves. It’s criminal to call people fat but it’s okay to tell people they are skinny? Fat is unhealthy. So many skinny people are unhealthy too. I’m unfit, as skinny as I am, I call that spade a spade. Ati thick, are you porridge? Let’s promote healthy living,” wrote Huddah.
Her comments were skewered by a section of plus-size women on social media who took to social media to condemn her for ‘body shaming’ the singer.
Huddah wasn’t backing down and dared the ‘fat’ people to refrain from buying her products since she doesn’t use her cosmetic line to make money but later toned down her rhetoric when the barrage became relentless.
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The back and forth witnessed between Huddah and the numerous women who called her out showed that body positivity isn’t something people in this generation are taking for granted.
Other popular celebs like Linda Nyangweso, Pierra Makena, Anerlisa Muigai and even male celeb DK Kwenye Beat have also come under immense pressure about their body size.
The movement has been seen as a necessary retaliation to traditional body-shaming but one critique that it can’t seem to shake is that it doesn’t promote one’s health- that it is normalising obesity.
But has the movement gone too far?
It’s important to understand that body positivity is not a positive body image but more of a social justice movement, thanks in large part to its roots in fat acceptance and the drive to normalise how society sees and treats all kinds of bodies.
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One study done by JAMA Pediatrics found that 10-year-old girls who were called fat by people close to them, were more likely to be at an unhealthy body weight by age 19 compared to other girls who were never shamed about their weight in this way.
Another study by the Centre for Advancing Health indicated that high school students who believed themselves to be overweight were much more likely than their classmates to suffer from depression or to attempt suicide.
While these studies prove that thinking patterns/attitudes can affect one’s body, it doesn’t detract from the biggest criticism the movement faces-How to promote positive body images while encouraging healthy bodies at the same time.
Many fear that body positivity promotes obesity and excuses behaviours that stop people from becoming or staying healthy which is counter-productive for a society that is sinking huge amounts of time and money into fighting non-communicable/lifestyle diseases.
Although most studies show that the movement has had a beneficial impact on how women view their bodies, the only drawback for the movement is that it seems to encourage unhealthy body sizes that medical science has warned us about.
According to the World Health Organisation, the Worldwide obesity rate has nearly tripled since 1975(a period that has coincided with the body positivity push), most of the world’s population live in countries where being overweight and obesity kills more people than being underweight.
These stats paint a gloomy picture and show that while being happy about one’s body is commendable, the science above backs underweight body type for healthier living than overweight body types.
Leaving one to ask whether the body positivity movement is mutually exclusive from a push for healthier living/eating. Can the two agendas co-exist in the same movement? I will leave that to you the reader…You be the judge.