Updated: Jan 22
With the risk to get involved in something way bigger than me, I am going to share my thoughts about body positivity. Not by challenging its beliefs. But by expressing my concerns regarding the health dangers of it.
Let`s start first by talking about what is body positivity.
It started back in the 1850s, with the first wave of feminism. A movement called Victorian Dress Reform Movement aimed to put an end to women having to wear tight corsets, in order to modify their waist, so it fits the social standards. The main goal was acceptance of all body types, regardless of waist measurements. Great start and admiration. Women are not a tool that has to fit the male beauty standards, especially when there is a health risk.
Later, the movement has evolved to the creation of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance in 1966. Aiming to change the discrimination, based on body weight. Its goal was also to raise the awareness of distinguishing the fat body and the unhealthy obese, claiming that health is better determined by clinical measurements, rather than physical appearance. Very true. How many unhealthy fit looking people do we know?
The movement has later on evolved to the second wave, aiming to make places for people of all sizes, where they can be comfortably gathering and exercise. Home workout and specialized programs called “Yoga for rounded bodies” were made for those who were not comfortable, joining wellness classes. Yes and no if you ask me. Yes, because people should be able to exercise and we should aim to provide them with any sort of knowledge and comfort, so they can do so. And No, because I believe that getting comfortable to train in front of other people is the first step to body positivity and accepting body appearance.
The final stage of the movement we know today happened with the launch of social media. The movement then challenged the unrealistic. Fashion agencies and Instagram models started advertising oversize clothes. In 2016 a company released a barbie doll with three different body shapes, seven skin colors, twenty-two eye colors, and twenty-four hairstyles.
It is all great. If body positivity aims to connect people with different skin colors, body shapes, and so on. We are all humans after all, and no matter how we look on the outside, we are all the same. Why? Well, think about it this way. No matter the differences, we all need air to breathe, water to drink, a place to live, and sun. if we all depend on the same 4 requirements, we are all the same. Period.
I am a huge advocate of body positivity, as the healthy and capable body has way more value than the good-looking one. And on top of that everyone has a different perception of a good-looking body.
Recently the fitness industry is kind of setting the standards of fit and sexy body, stating the no pain no gain approach, where the body appearance is more valued than the health. which is alarming, first because, health is more important, at least in my mind, and second, because it still focuses on the body appearance.
However, like any other global movement, body positivity has its dark sides, and this is what I want to stress in this blog.
In order for you to get my point, I want to start a bit further, by talking a bit about motivation.
What motivates you to change, to exercise, to eat healthily? In my experience, there are three types of motivation.
The first one is the motivation by health.
You want to feel better, to move pain-free, to have better sleep, more energy, no digestion issues. You decide to change your lifestyle, by adjusting your diet and introducing exercises. Soon you feel better and that change becomes your new lifestyle. Health is the driver for your changes.
The second one is the performance.
People that want to lift heavy weights, run, jump, swim fast. People that care about performing at their max. What motivates them to go out there and train? To push and evolve their body, (hopefully to healthy limits) and to change their diet accordingly. Being able to perform a certain way is a pretty good motivator for changing a lot of aspects of your life.
The third one is body image.
People that have hated the look of their bodies. Those people change their diet, start to exercise, and move, just because there is no other way to look better. No matter if they are fat or skinny, the goal is to change their appearance. That is not too bad, and it is still a start, as their goals can change later to performance. Or health for that matter.
Now, people that have any kind of sports background, are easily motivated, and for them having six-pack abs, or a bit more muscles, does not matter, as they feel and perform well. It is often that those people often look way better, just because they prioritize the active lifestyle more than the sedentary one.
But, what about the people that are 30 years old and are sedentary. They do not care about performing with their body. They also feel healthy, or at least are not aware of the problems they might have. Those people are more probable to be motivated by looking at their body image and starting the changes from there.
This is where I see a potential problem with body positivity.
Imagine the scenario, where the person who does not care about health and performance, decides to change his lifestyle, in order to change his body appearance. He starts to look for information on the internet, and sooner or later that person finds out about the body positivity movement. But not the one that says: Hey, do not be dogmatic, love your body, and make sure it is healthy, regardless of its look. No, that person sees the message of an obese and unhealthy-looking person that is saying: Hey being very fat is very OK. You should love your body. What is associated with a person that is very obese? Usually not exercising, and not healthy eating. So, our subject that wants to change his look, now thinks that it does not really matter how he looks, because he is positive about his body appearance. Now, we did not only eliminate the only option we had to change. But we advocate even more the same unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.
The problem for me is not the movement itself or the message of it. The problem is that the message can be misunderstood.
I am not saying that having fats is bad. I am saying that having extremely large amounts of fat is bad. I am not saying that being 10 kilograms heavier is bad. I am saying that being 50 kilograms heavier is. I am saying that body positivity is good, and we should push it. But with the right messages.
Let’s show people that not having a perfect-looking body is OK. It can be healthy and can perform well. Let’s switch the focus from body perfection to health. let’s switch to performance. But let’s not forget the motivation factors too.
Instead of demonizing the body image and turning a movement into a more unhealthy approach, let’s use it as a tool to educate people to do it correctly.
We cannot eliminate body image issues. However, by teaching body positivity, the right way, we can build a better relationship with ourselves. Better training and eating relationships are going to work for us.
Initially, the body positivity movement was created to fight discrimination, unhealthy stereotypes, and equality issues. Recently we have witnessed that, just like any other global movement, there is a dark side, and it is can be pretty dangerous.
Dangerous in long term, because, by regulating what is normal and what is not, we risk normalizing the unhealthy lifestyle.
Check out Episode 24 of Fit Life Radio for more insights into How and Why to be more active.