Episode 9: #BodyPositivity vs. #FatPositivity

Hello, and welcome to The Fat Lip! I’m your host, Ash, and on today’s episode I’m going to be talking about “body positivity” and “fat positivity” and what those phrases mean to our movement. Wow, that sounds just so exciting, doesn’t it? Just stick with me. It’s going to be okay.

So, I’m sure you’re very familiar with the phrase “body positivity.” The body positive movement began as an effort to help women who are at war with their bodies, those who do not fit within the thin, white beauty ideals that the culture sells to us, feel good about their bodies. In the last few years body positivity is becoming a more widely-known concept. Lately, though, we’ve begun to see that a lot of bodypos hashtags are attached to photos of thin white women.

If you’re a regular listener of this show or have been around fat activism for long, you’ve definitely heard the phrase “fat positivity” as well. “Fat positivity” does not get the same traction. We’re probably not going to see many celebrities tweeting about fat positivity any time soon. So “body positivity” and “fat positivity” are not equal, even though sometimes we end up using them interchangeably.

You’ve definitely heard me use both “body positive” and “fat positive” on the show, and I think both have their places. As I said, though, “body positive” is way more common in the current pop culture lexicon. You’re seeing it on buzzfeed and upworthy and many many other popular internet sites these days. It’s getting a lot of attention, and I think a lot of that is a credit to the good work that bloggers and activists are doing. We’re putting “bodypos” out there in such a powerful way that it is starting to get noticed. But there’s no question that the phrase “body positive” is much more common than “fat positive” even in fat circles.  I think that there are a lot of reasons for this.

First, even we, as empowered fat people, can recognize that we’re ALL under societal pressure to have a certain body. Women especially find their bodies under intense scrutiny starting at a young age, and this scrutiny is even more intense for people of color, disabled people, trans people, and gender non-binary people. So, at its best and with perfect usage “body positivity” is a more universal term. Actually, at it’s best it’s entirely universal. It’s meant to be about ALL bodies. Fat and thin and disabled and trans. Body positivity is supposed to cover everyone. But it kinda doesn’t.

I’m sure any of you who have spent time in “body positive” online spaces can testify that sometimes “body positivity” doesn’t extend to fat bodies. You don’t have to dig far to find a tweet that says “I believe in body positivity, but at some point…blah blah blah morbid obesity”. So “body positivity,” the movement that fat people built with their own emotional labor, has kinda been twisted and morphed into a hashtag that excludes fat bodies. It sucks.

Another reason I think we hear “body positivity” even in fat-specific spaces is that it’s sort of easier to swallow for the new kids. I think a lot of times we as fat people in activism feel like we have to blunt our words some so that we’re not too shocking. And this is for normies (And, just to be clear I am in no way suggesting that fat people aren’t “normal,” but I think of those of us who are enlightened about diet culture and fat oppression as higher beings, obviously, so I refer to those who are NOT enlightened as simply “normies”. Maybe I should start calling them “mere mortals.”) So, as I was saying, sometimes I think we use “body positivity” so we don’t scare the mortals but also so we don’t frighten away other fat people who really need us. I mean, the goal here is to grow the movement. We want as many fat folks as possible to know that there are a bunch of us getting together and shining a light on fatphobia and negative body talk and that they can join us,. But we also know that we have to yield the F word responsibly. Not everyone is quite there yet. The journey to acceptance is long and rutted and there are a lot of sinkholes that can swallow you up. Not everyone is where we are, so saying “body positive” over “fat positive” feels less intimidating.

Likewise, I think we say “body positive” because we KNOW that mainstream media is afraid of the word “fat” and we know our blogs and books and listicles are more likely to get mainstream attention with “body positive” in the title than they would with “fat positive.” And like, who can fault fat influencers for wanting their message to get wider attention? I sure can’t. When I was working on search engine optimization for The Fat Lip I quickly realized that “fat positive” gets a whole lot less attention than “body positive” does. That stuff matters. Google says so. And all of us who are working on fat empowerment want our message to actually reach people who want and need to hear it, so sometimes we feel like we have to make that compromise.

But I think, with all of this focus on sending a non-threatening message by centering #bodypos instead of #fatpos we’ve created a bit of a monster here. Retailers are now seeing that body positivity is trending, and they’re spending a whole lot of money to include it in their marketing campaigns. And this should be a really good thing! Because we want big business to see us and to provide products made for us! But the problem is that these retailers aren’t actually interested in fat bodies. They think just like those twitter users that I talked about before—that all bodies are great… unless they’re fat. These retailers are so thrilled to build a campaign about how all bodies are good, but they’re not actually willing to show all bodies. Retailers like Lane Bryant DO. NOT. CARE. about the message of body positivity. They are only interested in using the momentum of the movement to sell clothes. And their disdain for actual fat bodies is not passive! They actively exclude fat people, the ones who actually fit into the clothes that they are selling, from their marketing. They are basically telling us that they’re willing to take our money, but they are absolutely not willing to put us in their windows. I mean, take a look at the I’m No Angel campaign or the Plus is Equal campaign, both by Lane Bryant. These were so-called “inclusive” marketing campaigns for a major plus retailer, and they did not actually include any fat people (or really diversity of any kind!) This is body positivity that has passed through a capitalism machine that has scrubbed away all of the fats.

So where does that leave fat people? Nowhere good, that’s for sure.

So what do we do? My own personal instinct is to throw “body positivity” out of my work altogether and only ever talk about fat positivity.

But this also means we might have to wade through even more of the inevitable stories of skinny-shaming. If you’re not familiar—actually, this warrants a bit of a side bar. So in every body positive or fat-positive conversation, inevitably a thin person comes along to make sure everyone knows that they have been discriminated against by people who think they are too thin. Now, while I do not deny this happens (because people are shitbags and think they have the right to comment on strangers’ bodies,) this is a derailment. While there are stories of real abuse that very thin people have endured, the fact is that our culture still celebrates thinness and is disgusted by fatness. Like, being told that you need to eat a sandwich is not the same as a medical professional merely looking at your body and telling you that you definitely have diabetes before ever even ordering bloodwork. Which is a thing that has happened to fat people. And a family member telling you that you need some meat on your bones is not the same as one of your brothers telling you that you should be executed because you’re fat. Which is a thing that actually happened to me. So yeah, body positivity is for everyone. But it’s ESPECIALLY for fat people because we ESPECIALLY need it. And when we get pushed out of it, that’s a big, big problem.

And yes, we SHOULD be talking about the fact that thin people’s bodies are under scrutiny, too. However, fat positive spaces are not the place for this. We built this space, and now you’re in it trying to talk over us. It’s shitty.

(And if you’re thinking that this sounds remarkably like a white people invading black spaces to talk about how racism affects them thing, you’re absolutely correct. Stop doing that, white people.)

Fat people do feel excluded from body pos. This podcast is still new, but I’ve already gotten a dozen comments and emails from fat women who say that when they hear the phrase “body positive” they don’t think it extends to their bodies. Even though fat women invented “body positivity,” all of that space we created is now being occupied by thin white women who don’t actually want to associate with us.

So how do we push back? Like, my truest instinct is to stake our claim and start using fat-positivity freely and exclusively. Like, retailers can’t steal fat-positivity unless they also start using the word “fat” positively, right?

I don’t think there’s really a universal answer on this. I think we all have to choose our battles for ourselves. But I’ll tell you what I’m going to do with my little corner of the internet (meaning this podcast and its website and social media.) I’m going to focus on centering “fat-positivity” over body positivity wherever I can. I’m using the word “fat” even when it feels awkward and even when it requires an explanation. I think that’s the position The Fat Lip has to take on this.

Also, I think it’s important that we make sure that very fat people and fats of color are always part of the conversation. Because I can definitely imagine a sad shift where smaller, white, more acceptable fats make it into the spotlight while superfats and fats of color are still seen as bad and shameful. That is definitely not the direction we want to go in.  But I think as long as we all recognize our privileges along the way (especially smaller fats, white fats, cishet fats, able-bodied fats) and work on breaking down our own implicit biases, we’ll be okay.

And, you know, one day maybe “body positivity” will include fats again. I sure hope so.

Before I close this episode, I hate that I’m going to talk about this person again, but we need to talk about Trump.

By now, everyone has heard the disgusting, dangerous things that Donald Trump says about people of color and about Muslim people. Then at the first debate a few weeks ago he hurled some fat insults. And this isn’t the first time. He’s been a fatphobe for his entire career, and he’s never made any secret of it, but when he made that 400 lb hacker comment, there was a tiny flicker of outrage from the fat community. And we should be outraged! I’m sad it has taken this long, to be honest. And then last week the now-infamous bus tape surfaced and we heard this man talking about sexually assaulting women. Saying that he has done it and that, because he’s famous, he gets away with it. Now we’re finally seeing some real backlash. It’s incredibly telling and deeply terrifying that it took comments about thin white women to get there, but I’m glad it’s happening.

This show is about fat people, though, and we must recognize that this guy has continually, for all of his years in the public eye, spoken negatively about fat women, has called fat women losers and farm animals, and has even very recently suggested that we are a threat to national security. Donald Trump thinks fat people are an easy target and is telling his base that we cannot be trusted. Is that the kind of guy you want as your president? Who knows what he’d hurl at us if he actually got elected! If this guy has any say in policy, I fully believe that fat people would be in danger. And that’s not something we can allow to happen.

Man, I’m really angry that out of 9 episodes of this show, I’ve talked about Donald Trump in three of them. I can only hope that, come November 8, I can officially write him out of the show for good. Please help me make that happen.

So, that’s our show for today. As always I want to thank Starcrusher who is responsible for all of the music you heard in today’s show. His album “Goodbye Halcyon Days” is available on cstarcrusher.bandcamp.com. You should get it. It’s great.

And our Patreon supporter of the day is Becky H! Thank you so much, Becky, for your support. And if you want to hear me say your name on the show or get in on this sweet sticker action that’s about to happen, go to patreon.com/thefatlip to learn more.

And don’t forget to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts and, if you have a few minutes, rate and review us on iTunes. It may not seem like it makes a difference, but the more ratings and reviews we have, the easier it is for others to find us and for our message to spread. And, you know, tell your friends that some fat dork is ranting about Trump again and they should come listen.

Thanks for listening guys!