Ever since I began my body positive journey a few years ago I’ve had to answer this question so many times. My answer is always ever so slightly different because in many ways body positivity is different for everyone. In its most basic, generic sense it is accepting your own, and everyone else’s, body for how it is – not attaching shame or negativity to anyone due to their body type or appearance, or lifestyle. Sounds simple in principle, right?
Wrong! It should be fairly straightforward, however, we live in a society where body shaming and diet culture is shoved down our throats everywhere we turn. The diet and “self improvement” industry is one of the biggest industries in the world, convincing us all to hate our bodies in order to sell us products. From childhood we’re brainwashed to find “flaws” and “problem areas”, with our physical appearance and body. It has become so ingrained within society that the majority of people don’t even question – they have just accepted that “fat” is an insult and “skinny” is a compliment as opposed to two adjectives that have no negative or positive connotations. Even for those who are totally happy with themselves this can be difficult to navigate. Making a comment about being fat can often lead to the response “you’re not fat you’re beautiful/pretty/wonderful etc” forgetting that you can definitely be all of those things simultaneously. This feeds the negativity and the more people who buy into these views, the bigger the problem gets.
As someone who struggled with body image and disordered eating from a fairly young age I soon realised how flawed the expectations set by society are. Firstly, we’re not all meant to look the same – we are all unique and that’s normal. We naturally have different body types and shapes, some of us naturally slim, athletic, muscular, chubby, curvy, fat, tall, short… The list of potential adjectives is endless and one is not better than another. If we all looked like Kate Moss, Kim K or whoever the “ideal” of the moment is, the world would be a pretty boring place. Secondly many of the ideals are quite frankly racist and sexist. Black women are routinely described negatively because they don’t conform to White, European standards. Newsflash – they’re not meant to. Women in general are judged more for being larger, aging and not being immaculately groomed at all times. Body positivity has to be totally intersectional as everyone in our society is affected by pressures to conform to an ideal.
Men don’t escape this. 1 in 10 of those suffering from a diagnosed eating disorder are men. Yes, as a percentage of sufferers it’s small but still very real. Many more will suffer in silence, over exercising because they don’t think they’re big enough or starving themselves because they’re worried they have “moobs” or a “beer belly”. Just like women, from a young age men are bombarded by images that represent an ideal. From playing with an “Action Man”, unintentional (or intentional) criticisms of their bodies from relatives and peers right up to competing with each other in school can lead to problems with body image and eating disorders. Men are slowly joining the body positive movement and it’s inspiring for all of us.
The body positive community is a place where no unrealistic expectations are present and we are working to spread the message to as many people as possible. The next generation shouldn’t have to grow up worrying about the size of their stomachs or whether their thighs touch. The community is not without its issues, for example many of the advocates who gain notoriety and spread the message on a huge scale through mainstream media tend to be those who still conform in most ways to ideals. It is still progress and will no doubt provide young people with varied role models but there is still a lot of work to be done and I’m proud to be part of this movement.
If you have any questions comment below.
https://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-beat/media-centre/information-and-statistics-about-eating-disorders – Statistics on men with eating disorders from this source.