I saw a comment under a post on body positivity the other day that said “I just want to follow a plus-size page without political drama”.
And, I get that. I do.
As a fat, Black, disabled woman, believe me when I say I am tired of talking about my body. Discussions about my weight, shape, size, race, health and ability have consumed most of my life. These discussions rarely included me; some sexualised me, a lot of them objectified me, most spoke over me, the majority dehumanised me, and not a single one of them centred me. At least, not until I started being the one to lead the discussions myself.
When I started speaking up about my journey with my body, my main focus was on building my self-esteem, self-love and self-confidence. Growing up, I had rarely heard any positive messaging about my body. From experiencing racist remarks and microaggressions about my hair, features and skin colour, to being bullied by peers and put down by medical professionals for my weight and size, I had never had the chance to learn to love my body.
So, at 16, I decided it was time to try. I adopted a ‘fake it til you make it’ mentality, and resolved to act as though I was confident in my skin, even when I wasn’t. I started with the simple things. For instance, where I once would have looked down as I walked down the street, I challenged myself to look forward and meet the gaze of anyone who looked my way. It was an important first step in challenging my negative self-perception.
At 19, after taking a year off of university for my mental health, I decided it was time to step further out of my comfort zone. I started documenting more of my journey with my self-image online, and even went as far as to participate in a plus size pageant – rising up to put myself in the spotlight after I had spent so long trying to make myself smaller. At 20, I went on to explore spiritual self-healing methods, such as Angelic Reiki, crystal healing and Theta healing, which not only allowed me to better connect with my body, but also to other parts of myself that had long been neglected.
And yet, even after all the work I put into my self-development, I still felt a lot of heaviness (no put intended) around my perception of my body. It was then that I came to a whole new realisation: I was never the problem.
Self-love and self-healing could only take me so far, because I was not the one who had caused my self-hatred. No one is born hating themselves. We learn that self-loathing through the messaging that we receive as we grow up: whether that be through the reinforced gender norms of our colour-coded clothes and toys as kids; the celebrity diet culture endorsements in the advertising we are exposed to; or the lack of positive representation we see for marginalised bodies in the media we consume.
I was taught that my body wasn’t good enough. And, yes, I could work on unlearning these lessons for myself. But, it wasn’t until I discovered the Body Positive movement that I realised how much more healing it would be (not just for me but for all bodies) if we removed that messaging all together, and replaced it with one of body equality. And the only way we can do that is to keep showing up and having the difficult – and yes, political – conversations. This includes centring the most marginalised bodies (e.g. large fat, Black, Brown and Asian, disabled, and visibly queer, trans and gender non-confirming bodies), and not shying away from discussions on intersectional identity within body positivity (such as the historical links between anti-blackness and anti-fatness – but let’s not dive into that right now).
So, what I am trying to say is - yes, I really do get it. I know how frustrating it is to exist in a body that is constantly being politicised, and I know how it feels to want to switch off from these conversations and just exist. And we deserve the right to do that. We shouldn’t have to keep defending our existence, or to be made to feel that we have to change our bodies or apologise for taking up space when we show up as our authentic selves.
But, we can’t allow ourselves to switch off from the conversation completely. Because when we switch off, when we stop speaking up and calling for social equality, these discussions still continue taking place. The ones that objectify us. The ones that dehumanise us. The ones where people decide which bodies fit the ideal, and which will continue to be marginalised. The only difference is, when do not show up, people are better able to speak over us: speaking about us, and make decisions that impact us and our bodies, without any input from us.
So, rest. Pause. Take a breath. Allow yourself to do more than speak about your body; actually show up in it, live in it and exist beyond it. But, don’t disappear. We need to keep showing up. For ourselves, and for everyone in a marginalised body. Because our bodies are worth the effort. And so are we.