It’s hard to stay positive when you feed your body with negative thoughts. It also doesn’t help that society thinks eating a bag of chips is a guilty pleasure and believes that thin is the ticket to fitting in. If you or someone you know feels the ramifications of these unfair societal forces, you may judge yourself with every crunch or — avoid eating something yummy because you’ll feel “too fat.”. Sadly, many women may fit into this narrow category and are dissatisfied with their bodies, potentially living in a shameful bubble that only pops when someone compliments them on how great they look, succumbing to society’s view of the ideal body. Unfortunately, as much as this may temporarily feel good, that narrative doesn’t support body positivity; it perpetuates body punishment.
To learn more about body positivity and inclusivity, we spoke with Karma Stanley, a Nurse Case Manager and Advisor at Inkblot Therapy. Through Stanley’s expert lens, we’ll learn more about body positivity and inclusivity, including how it shows up in our society and how you can learn to be more body positive for yourself and those around you.
What is body positivity?
Imagine a world where all bodies can reclaim their health and live confidently. It’s a place where the “one size fits all” model doesn’t actually fit everyone, and people can celebrate their body size, shape, and the things that make them, them! Unsurprisingly, this body positivity movement started in the 1960s and said that you deserve a positive body image, a welcome resurgence that we hope stays here. The body positivity movement helps people understand how external influencers, like social media and the workplace, may impact our relationship with our bodies. It also teaches us the negative impacts of judging others based on gender, race, ability, and more.
Stanley advocates that we need to “think about accessibility and availability — specifically for oversized bodies.” Accessibility could mean reviewing chairs that don’t fit, rides at amusement parks, work uniforms, etc. “If you constantly face these barriers that are seen as shameful or embarrassing, it impacts self-worth, and you feel less than because you are constantly having not to fit in — literally, you don’t fit in!” she explains.
What does body inclusivity mean, and how is it represented to the public?
Unfortunately, fatphobia and body stigmas still exist within our society and the retail space. Stanley says we see this in the workplace and that “employers are less likely to hire someone who doesn’t fit the traditional body model [and that] it’s still legal to discriminate in some states.” This is the antithesis of the body positivity movement, and “it means that these people feel less valued, especially if employees still discriminate on weight.” That’s why outdated brands are losing out especially resistant-to-change companies like Victoria’s Secret. According to a body inclusivity article produced by Study Breaks, Victoria’s Secret prefers airbrushing over authentic representation. This is why customers are turning away, and sales have declined; that’s what happens when clothing brands don’t move with the shift; away from fatphobia and toxic body stigmas.
Luckily, women’s fashion brands and social media, like IG and TikTok, are paying attention to body positivity and inclusivity, and are reshaping the norm. Aerie is one of them. They are a pioneer of body positivity in the retail clothing industry and were one of the first to stop retouching photos. In 2018, they launched their Aerie Real campaign to celebrate bodies of every size, which has become a brand philosophy for the industry. Ethical fashion is also on a mission to break the “thin mould,” which was inspired by the fact that 67 per cent of America is sized 14+. Other companies, like Calvin Klein, are still going through body-positive growing pains, but are making concerted efforts to follow the new standard.
How to become (and stay) body-positive
Body positivity sounds great, but how do we become and stay body positive? Stanley said that we need to stop subtly commenting on the weight of others and introduced us to a new term: complimentary weightism. Stanley suggested that “complimentary weightism reinforces the stigma that thin is better, and also reinforces, to the individual receiving the comment, that they look best when they are thin.” Stanley says that in order to stop complimentary weightism, we need to be mindful of how we speak to one another and avoid saying things like:
- “Have you lost weight?”
- “You are so lucky you can eat what you want.”
- “It must be a cheat day.”
- “Do I look fat?”
Instead, Stanley says we need to focus on emotional and behavioural narratives that encourage us to “appreciate our bodies… and [to] practice self-compassion and do the things that feel good for our bodies.” Further, she wants us “to eat for the enjoyment of it, be in the present, and really taste the food [we love].” To do this, Stanley says we need to “concentrate on new research called Health at Every Size (HAES), which focuses more on health and not a number (i.e., weight).” Stanley says that health at every size encourages us to do the following:
- Exercise because it feels good
- Eat when you’re hungry
- Stop eating when you’re full
Building a positive fitness lifestyle is another important research component for health at every size. As Stanley says, we need to “exercise and move for pleasure and take the enjoyment out of the simple things like flexing our foot.” She also encourages us to “practice movements that feel good for you! If you want to stretch on the couch one day and go to the gym or workout class the other, then do that – it means you’re listening to what your body needs and, more importantly, what makes you feel good!”
The same is true for what we eat. Stanley suggested that we need to stop blaming ourselves for chewing the things that bring us joy or help us relax, like eating a slice of birthday cake or, in the case of one of her clients, eating an entire bag of chips. Stanley’s client said that she “‘can’t put down a bag of chips and has to eat the entire bag in one sitting,’ which often resulted in guilt. “I suggested that instead of that being a negative statement, can we be curious about what it is about the chips that the client enjoyed. Perhaps it wasn’t about the chips at all, and it was her body’s way of saying it needed a break – maybe she liked the crunching and that perhaps it calmed her down.”
Changing our narrative from something negative to more positive can truly change how we feel inside. This shift will also encourage us to be more mindful about the things we say to other people and avoid what Stanley called complimentary weightism. Lastly, we don’t need industry standards telling us what size is best for us– we just need to be our own best version of who and what we want to be.
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