What We Get Wrong About Body Positivity

All bodies are not created equal… And that’s what makes them beautiful.

As the body positivity movement gains steam, it’s becoming trendy for yoga brands and professionals to use the ‘body positive’ moniker as a way to indicate their awareness of… What?

That’s the thing: Everyone has a different definition of body positivity, and it’s usually based on a subjective need to use the term. It’s almost as if the concept of body positivity is turning into a cool thing to say, rather than an actionable game plan to change a massive societal problem. So what is body positivity? What does it really mean?

We all know that, you know, haters gonna hate. In the realm of body positivity, haters are often people who immediately equate the idea with fat positivity. And sure: Body positivity is similar in a lot of ways to fat positivity. Owning a little heft—being positive about extra weight—is a way for larger-bodied people to reclaim their size as a positive part of their lives. It’s a sucker punch to modern America’s (unspoken?) rule that being fat is basically the worst thing a person can do. The mass-consumed public understanding of body positivity seems to hinge on everyone’s individual perceptions of what it means to be fat. But let’s face it: Being fat positive and being body positive are not synonymous.

Skinny people, people with chicken legs, thunder thighs, “cankles”, large chests, zero chest, big booties, zero booty; people with non-traditional gender expressions; people with scars, freckles, birthmarks: These bodies need positivity too.

I have come to define body positivity by first defining body negativity. It probably goes without saying that we live in an extraordinarily body negative society. Body negativity gleams from every corner of our modern zeitgeist—it’s in the foods we’re told to eat, the clothing we’re told to buy, the businesses we choose to patronize, and it’s splattered across the media. Having said that, body positivity should be less a marketing slogan, and more a campaign dedicated to changing society’s perspective on bodies in general.

Body positivity encourages people to be OK with how they look and feel today. It shouldn’t encourage people to wish for or think about some undefined time in the future when their bodies will be different. It’s an opportunity for every human being to make the same body reclamation that fat people are able to make through fat positivity. It’s a way to live without the definitions of those that don’t matter and to prioritize the opinion of the beautiful being existing in your own body. It should help people come to terms with the fact that it’s not necessary to resemble a supermodel. To discard the notion of perfect. To exist as you are, without complaint or fear.

With that definition, it seems like we should all strive to be something along the lines of body positive, regardless of body size. It is possible to create a world where there isn’t a body standard, where diversity is the norm. And—statistics agree—we’re headed in that direction. But before we start thoughtlessly throwing around the phrase ‘body positive,’ let’s take the time to genuinely assess our starting point. Let’s first note the ways in which we are clearly not body positive.

If we begin with an honest acknowledgement of the body negativity, we just may be able to find the keys to a body positive solution.

Photo by Jake Laub

Jessamyn StanleyJessamyn Stanley is a North Carolina-based yoga teacher, body-positive advocate, and writer. Her classes provide a body positive approach to yoga which celebrates students’ bodies and encourages them to ask “How Do I Feel?” rather than “How Do I Look?” when practicing. Jessamyn has been featured in a variety of print and online publications including Good Morning America, The Huffington Post, NPR, People, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Fitness Magazine, Yoga International, among others. For more body-positive yoga tips, check out her blog and follow her on Instagram @mynameisjessamyn or on Facebook.