body positivity revisited

“The body holds meaning. The fact that this thought takes us by surprise itself reflects significantly upon a culture that is seriously divided within itself, splitting itself off from nature, dividing the mind from the body, dividing thought from feeling, dividing one race against another, dividing the supposed nature of woman from the supposed nature of man. As part of this self-division we have come to believe that only those things that concern the soul and the spirit, the mind and its creations, are worthy of serious regard. And yet, when we probe beneath the surface of our obsession with weight, we will find that a woman obsessed with her body is also obsessed with the limitations of her emotional life. Through her concern with her body she is expressing a serious concern about the state of her soul.” –Kim Chernin, “The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness”

The objectification of women plays plunges tentacles through the world of health and fitness like bars and walls. These barriers and messages intensify for folks who are not recognized in the image of the slender, white, cis woman. I hear and read about body positivity that is discussed, on its most acceptable level, in white spaces, by people who are absolutely privileged by dominant norms of the slender woman. We talk about body positivity as a vacant gesture of empowerment, without tending to the emotional, psychological, and spiritual impacts of how mainstream messages of health, fitness, and beauty oppress at every level. For those of us entrenched in privilege, one article on the Instagram account challenging conventions of fitspiration is our paltry excuse, our lip service. In other words, we find model exceptions, laud them to an extent that is permissible, but we never allow those exceptions to become the norm.

I believe Body Positivity has become a marketable construct, a new religion for profit. Let me divorce this from the experience of radical acceptance of the body, from awoken consciousness about patriarchy, from daring to live monstrously. I mean to say that Body Positivity (trademark) is a force to interrogate, a capitalist creation to critically analyze at every level. We get pink-washed, again and again. At its most insidious level, I wonder if Body Positivity is a way for patriarchy to retain control over a narrative. On the surface, as another well-meaning generally acceptably looking health type waxes poetic about loving their body, I wonder why we aren’t having deeper discussions about why we have to work so hard to love ourselves to begin with. The answers are more revolutionary than sticky note reminders on a mirror or bubbly hashtags. Body Positivity, are you leading us into a transformative exercise in personal growth, or are you selling us the same old bullshit?

Instead of selling programs, we should be asking why they are desirable. Instead of only acknowledging our progress, we should also acknowledge the standards that inform progress. Instead of giving our personal testimony as truth, we should unpack the privileges that enable that testimony.

What would happen if we challenged the echo chamber that ultimately reduces our liberty to choose our beliefs, reflections, and convictions?

What would happen if we owned the narratives of our bodies?

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