When plus-size model Ashley Graham lost a bit of weight in the summer of 2017, people got really fired up. “LOL, even she is being changed by fame,” one person commented on an Instagram post, insinuating that the model had only lost weight after succumbing to the beauty industry’s impossible standards of thinness. Another went a step further, saying Graham was hurting the body positivity movement: “I hate that you say that you are a role model to every Big Girl, because in my opinion [you are not],” the rant reads, in part.
Graham’s response? “People come on my page and body shame me because I’m too big, because I’m too small, because I’m not good enough for their standards… But at the end of the day I’m good enough for me.” Why wasn’t her self-love good enough for everyone else?
The body positivity movement’s mission to stop the body-shaming madness is radically empowering—and one that is making real change.
The body positivity movement, of which Graham is a founding member and icon, is a response to a culture that judges women by their appearance (even when applying for jobs, women are far more likely to be judged on their looks than men are, research shows)—and a world where “You’d be so pretty if…” and unsought diet advice is like white noise in the background of a young girls’ upbringing.
This mission to stop the body-shaming madness is radically empowering—and one that is making real change.
Body positivity has created a space where people of any size can confidently walk into a yoga class. It’s reminded women that a badass body is one that belongs to a badass person—not one that looks a certain way. And it’s corrected dead-wrong stereotypes about what larger bodies are capable of. Writing for Well+Good, fitness historian Natalia Petrzela, PhD, said, “Body positivity is a potentially paradigm-shifting movement that has expanded far beyond the borders of Instagram with a power that would have been unimaginable back in 1973, when the radical Fat Liberation Manifesto proclaimed ‘Fat People of the World Unite—You Have Nothing to Lose!’ From that perspective, our current moment should feel triumphant and in some ways it truly does.”
Being proud of your body and wanting to change it seem to be at complete odds.
But beneath the surface of this empowering movement is a nagging question that occasionally bubbles to the surface, as it did with Graham: What happens when someone—a strong, confident, uncompromising someone—with a larger body wants to get smaller?
The ideas, being proud of your body and wanting to change it, seem to be at complete odds. But are they? Experts chime in with their thoughts.
What does it mean if you love your body—but want to change it? Keep reading to find out.
Where the body positivity backlash comes from
“The body positive movement was really needed in our culture,” says mindset mentor Jaclyn Mellone. “I know for myself, for most of my life I felt like I should ‘lose weight,’ starting when I was nine years old and my friend told me I looked fat in my swimsuit.” For her—and for most people—the cultural shift toward acceptance of a more diverse range of bodies was a welcome one.
“Sometimes we take our self-esteem and hitch it to someone else.”
Mellone offers some insight as to why many people took Graham’s weight loss personally: “Sometimes we take our self-esteem and hitch it to someone else. So when they change, we think that means something about us, too,” she says. “It stems from insecurity.”
To show the fallacy in this way of thinking, Mellone says she likes to flip it: What if Chrissy Teigen gained 100 pounds? “She’d likely encounter some haters! I’d love her no matter what her weight was—and that’s how it should be. We need to think about why we’re following people based on how they look. That’s not what it should be about.”
Loving yourself as you are—and want to be
Feeling ashamed of wanting to look your best—whether that’s by wearing lipstick or high heels or losing weight—is something weight loss and confidence coach Tracy Campoli sees often. “For so long, we’ve been trained to really value our education, achievements, and accomplishments—which is awesome—but for many women, being able to own their beauty and femininity in addition to that is a struggle. It becomes this idea of, ‘Am I anti-feminist to want to feel beautiful?'”
Campoli says one of her clients put it like this: “We’re taught to love our bodies as they are. I’m struggling because I do love my body but I still want to make changes. Where is the line of being a feminist and owning my strength as a woman but also owning the changes I want to make?'” Campoli’s response surprised her. “Guess what, you get to be both,” Campoli said. “Hell yeah, you do! Loving yourself as you are now doesn’t mean you can’t change.”
“Where is the line of being a feminist and owning my strength as a woman but also owning the changes I want to make?”
For women attuned to the (dare we say) bullshit expectations of body image, weight loss became seen “as a betrayal of sisterhood,” as Marisa Meltzer pondered back in 2013—even if its motive is self-love. Wellness expert and owner of Brooklyn’s Finetune Pilates Maeve Yore—who considers herself anti-diet, body positive, and feminist—says that when you prioritize self-care, often excess pounds fall off, even if that wasn’t your initial intention. “Sometimes, the ways our bodies respond to nurturing, nourishing lifestyles can also cause changes in our weight,” she says. “Things that we don’t even equate with our weight— like reducing stress and sleeping more—can have profound changes on our metabolisms.” And that’s okay.
The root motive, she goes on to say, is more important than the side effect. “Sometimes, ‘self-care’ can feel like code language for dieting and trying to lose weight. So it’s all about the why: Why are you doing this?”
Mellone agree. “When wanting to lose weight comes from a place of shame and not feeling good enough, that’s harmful,” she says. “But when it comes from a place of acceptance and wanting to lose weight because you want to, that’s a healthier mindset. The difference is where the want is coming from.”
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