The Body Positive Movement Is Not Socially Courageous, It’s Toxic

Firstly, I would just like to point out that I have a lot of respect for people who stand up against society in the face of hate.  It takes a huge amount of courage and strength to be able to fully accept yourself, even when it seems like the whole world is against you.  I admire Tess Holiday’s bravery and I’m not trying to shame her.  She has a right to live her life the way she sees fit.  However, I am going to criticize the message she is promoting, whether that was with intention or not. 

People are passionately following people like Tess because they are angry.  It was hell growing up in a world that shamed you for being a size 12 or over.  It was horrible trying to keep up with anorexic models.

We saw starvation as our ticket to acceptance.  Being manipulated into calorie counting and detoxing.  Bombarded with photo-shopped models quoting trending captions such as “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”.  The so-called “health” industry promoted more myths than facts, and bled bank accounts dry with false promises of happiness.  It was a suffocating world and by God was I hungry, ALL.THE.TIME.

So of course we are glorifying her confidence to publicly say, enough is enough!  I salute her and all the other body positive activates for their bravery to fight against these ideals, because I for one would never have been brave enough to do it.

But it is very important that we recognize, putting the middle finger up to beauty standards doesn’t mean we should openly celebrate obesity.  If tomorrow, everyone suddenly got amnesia and forgot what we were put through, then we wouldn’t feel the need to celebrate a large woman for being large.

Both ‘Self’ magazine and ‘Cosmopolitan’ featured Tess Holiday on their covers.  In the article published by Self, Tess defends herself against the backlash she has received.

“People should mind their own business.”

I agree, other peoples lives is no one’s business and in an ideal world you should be able to go about your life without having other people form opinions about your life or your health.  However, if you put yourself in the public eye and become an influencer or role model for people to look up to, you automatically make your life others people’s business because you now have the power to influence thought.

“There’s a certain type of Internet commenter that any fat woman on social media is undoubtedly familiar with: The concern troll. If you are a fat woman with the unmitigated gall to present yourself as happy or beautiful, concern trolls will tell you that you are not healthy and should focus on losing weight. They will also often accuse you of “glorifying obesity” for not publicly hating or castigating yourself for existing while not thin. Of course, these folks don’t know how healthy you are or aren’t. But they are determined to “help” you. Yeah. Right.”

The concern troll is not so concerned about your personal health as they are about the messages you are promoting.  I don’t care about how individuals live their lives.  I do however, care about the messages in media that manipulate impressionable people on how to live their lives.

It’s the exact same as promoting anorexia.  Influencers such as Eugenia Cooney promote the same thing, loving yourself and self-care, but she is dangerously under-weight.  It’s just a different side of the same coin.  In these situations it’s not so much the influencer that’s the biggest problem, but the fans that are enabling them or the media channels giving them a platform to promote such a lifestyle.

Cosmopolitan editor Farrah Storr defended her decision to put Tess Holiday on the cover during her interview on Good Moring Britain:

“Are people going to look at that and go, “Do you know what? I’m going to go and mainline doughnuts, this is what I want for my life”. Of course not, it’s patronizing to say. I’m celebrating her. I am not celebrating morbid obesity.’”

Actually, it is ignorant to say that people won’t use this as an excuse to abandon healthy lifestyles because fat is now “accepted”.  It is promoting obesity.  People who struggle with binge eating are looking for an excuse to keep binge eating.  Same as people who struggle with any eating disorder, you are always looking for a justification for your disorder as a way of avoiding the reasons why you have it.  The media needs to stop giving people reasons to have an eating disorder.  In fact, it should stop focusing on body image entirely.

Tess continues, “I’ve started taking medication for my depression,” she says. “I have a life coach who has been extremely helpful and supportive. I feel very L.A. saying that, like, I take medication and I have a life coach, but I literally felt like I was going crazy at the beginning of this year.” 

Ashley Ford, author of cover article written for ‘Self’ magazine continues to write:

“To assist with these life changes and help herself feel better mentally, Holliday has also begun eating differently. She worries that her fans and followers might take this shift the wrong way, and is quick to clarify: “I’m still going to eat Cheetos and all of that.” She understands that a brand built on self-acceptance, and a supportive community built around that ethos, might question changes in her lifestyle if they come across as abandoning this core philosophy. It’s complicated.”

It’s more ironic than complicated.  Eating Cheetos is not going to help your depression.  It will make it worse.  This is exactly my problem.  The movement should be about self-love, self-care, compassion, but instead it’s about eating Cheetos as a way to say ‘fuck you’ to beauty standards.

We shouldn’t be encouraging people to take meds to numb their problems.  Or eat Cheetos as protest.  We should be encouraging people to find a way to overcome their darkest thoughts, to find the courage to feel deeply no matter how hard or terrifying that might be.

“I feel guilty,” she says. “The amount of people [who] get thrust into the limelight and they’re plus size? They lose weight. The more successful they get, the more weight they lose. It’s hard because those people don’t owe staying fat to anyone. It’s their body and what they want to do, but there is also a sense of betrayal that [people with] bigger bodies feel, and it’s hard because you’re in your head. I’ve [thought this about] many people, where you’re like, ‘Is it their choice? Were they pressured [into losing weight]?’”

I think being pressured to lose a bit of weight is still a lot better than being pressured to stay at an unhealthy weight.  The fact her followers might feel betrayed is the reason why Tess’s body acceptance is so dangerous.  Tess is giving them a reason to stay fat and if she were to lose the weight then they might feel they need to lose it and that would be why they’d feel betrayed, because they don’t want to lose it.

True self-acceptance means you can change yourself if it means you’re going to be healthier.  You love yourself enough to want to give the best to your body, to live a fulfilling life without the health concerns that arise from being obese.  If fans can’t accept you for any size you are at, then they aren’t your fans.  This idea you have to stay fat for your brand is an extremely damaging message for people.

 “It’s none of my business and you just have to let people live and do their own thing, but I feel guilty saying I eat well and that I’m active and that I do all those things,” she says.

Again – huge problem!  Not only is guilt a very negative and heavy emotion to carry but the idea that her fans might be making her feel guilty for something that should be natural is scary.  Everyone should naturally want to be healthy.  Survival is part of our DNA but obesity, just like all other eating disorders, drug addiction, alcoholism etc., is a slow form of suicide and needs to be addressed as a health concern, not glorified.

I understand the pain you feel when you don’t think your body is accepted in society.

You shouldn’t have to feel like you need to cover up, just because fat isn’t viewed as attractive.  You should be happy in your skin and love your fat unconditionally because fat is just there to keep you alive.  When I hit breaking point with bulimia, I quit the gym and gave myself permission to binge.  I needed to accept that I was going to put on weight so that I wouldn’t feel pressure to purge.  Everyday I would look at the fat I hated for so long and repeatedly say, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”  Overtime I started to feel this rush of emotion flow through me each time I’d say it.  I spent so long hating every inch of myself that just the idea I could love myself and be accepted the way I was filled me with so much joy.  I stopped wanting to binge.  I stopped craving foods that were bad for me.  I began to connect with my body on a much deeper level so I just naturally wanted to do right by it.

This is the type of body positivity we should be promoting.  Accepting yourself enough so that you naturally want to be healthy.  If you love yourself fully you won’t want to over eat, you’ll want to move your body, you won’t be obese because obesity is a mental health issue where you use food to numb your emotions.

If you are happier the weight you are, that’s fine, each to their own’.  I don’t believe anyone has a right to judge anyone for what they look like.  But sending messages that it is ok to be obese is not morally courageous, it’s socially damaging.

By Ciara Louise Glover, Features Editor, Women UK

Images: Cosmopolital, Vogue.it

Read more:

Metro, 2018, “Susanna Reid Defends Tess Holliday’s Cosmo Cover Against Piers Morgan”.  Available here:

Susanna Reid defends Tess Holliday’s Cosmo cover against Piers Morgan

 

Irish Times, 2018, “Cosmopolitan Magazine Cover Criticised For Promoting Obesity”.  Available here:

https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/fashion/cosmopolitan-magazine-cover-criticised-for-promoting-obesity-1.3616717

 

 

Self, 2018, ‘Tess Holiday’s Health Is None Of Your Business”.  Available here:

https://www.self.com/story/tess-holliday

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