I am tired of the body positivity movement. Everyday my in-box is flooded with memes telling me I am perfect, sexy, and strong. I receive countless messages commanding me to love myself from head to toe. I read stories about the hotness of the fatkini, desirability of cellulite, and sizzling sex life of plus size model Tess Holliday. Tess is indeed awesome. I get it. Enough already.
It’s not the positivity per se that bothers me. Nor is it the idea that fat women can be happy and healthy. I know this to be true. What irks me is the creation and repetition of a new set of rules. You MUST love yourself and your curves. If you do not glory in every part of your body, you are a loser. Body positivity might simply produce another set of regulations, another way for women to fail. At the same time, the focus often remains on physical appearance and seems superficial. Is it really a radical act for me to claim that my body is perfect from the bottom to the top? I don’t think so, but maybe I am not the target audience. I do not hate my body and I never have. Nor do I think it is flawless. I do not believe that I am beautiful. Ever. Is that really a problem? The truth is that I don’t think about my body all that much. I am usually doing something else, like writing, working out, or bending down to pick wooden blocks, ping pong balls, and shit off the floor. And I mean shit literally. This morning began with a Happy New Year diaper blow out.
My real beef with the body positivity movement is that some advocates provide step by step advice about how to love the body you have. The rules usually involve positive self-talk (i.e. looking in the mirror and saying “I am beautiful” and such like), sending love to “hard-to-love” body parts, exuding faked confidence until it becomes real, and so forth. This approach is informed by neo-liberalism, which insists that each person is entirely responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and lifestyles. We are therefore responsible for loving ourselves and our bodies and have personally failed if we do not. So now you can hate yourself for hating yourself. That’s one of your choices, though it is a lazy and weak one. No wonder corporations like Dove easily embrace the message of body positivity, using it to sell beauty products that will help us to love ourselves better rather than change or improve ourselves. Body positivity bends but does not break dominant cultural practices and beliefs. It can be accommodated with some slight adjustments.
Even worse, however, is the way in which some forms of body positivity–not all, to be sure—promote the psychology of behaviour modification, “a treatment approach, based on the principles of operant conditioning, that replaces undesirable behaviours with more desirable ones through positive or negative reinforcement” (http://www.minddisorders.com/A-Br/Behavior-modification.html). Think of training dogs to behave by yanking their leashes when they wander, and giving them treats when they obey. In theory, humans can be similarly trained to think and act correctly, replacing negative patterns with more positive ones. In many ways, body positivity is directly opposed to body negativity, and dishes out praise to those who adhere to its mantra, especially if the converts explain how hard they worked to overcome bad thoughts and feelings. This seems like psychological reprogramming to me rather than a great cultural shift that will change the world and women’s place in it. I don’t want to be trained, corrected, or re-educated. PFO.
At the same time, it is clearly a great idea for women to like themselves, enjoy their physicality and recognize diverse forms of embodiment. How can I be against that? I cannot, but there must be a better way, one that does not need to celebrate stretch marks or even notice they exist. In any case, I sure as fuck won’t be talking to myself in the mirror anytime soon.