Note from Amber: this post is a guest contribution by my best friend Genevieve Hollingsworth.
Gen and I met in a MAC makeup Livejournal community in 2004, and have been friends ever since. We’ve been there with each other through hard times and great times. It has been both shattering and uplifting these past several years to witness Genevieve’s struggles with health, body image, acceptance, and her spiritual transformation, becoming an even more beautiful person inside and out. Today, she writes about how body positivity is not a linear journey and how the “love your body, it’s perfect just as it is” messaging we hear in body positive circles often rings hollow for someone dealing with chronic illness or disability. Read on!
A few weeks ago a brave friend admitted on instagram that she still struggles with wanting to be thinner even though she is “body positive“. She admitted several truths in her post that rang true to me, this one in particular spoke to me the most:
“I think about my size more than I care to admit. And despite all the self love and self care I’ve developed, and the love I have for other people in any shaped body they’re in, I still find that I value myself more in a smaller frame. As someone who cares deeply about the body positive movement I feel like a traitor in some ways for admitting this.”
I could have written those words myself.
Ever since my mid-twenties I have done my best to align my thinking to the “radical” belief system that all bodies are valuable – no matter the size, the skin color, or the physical abilities of that body.
I believe that one’s health is not solely dictated by their BMI, that diets are BS, and that loving yourself as you are is ok and not only that, it’s paramount. My long arduous battle with anorexia certainly helped push me towards the Body Positivity movement but several other factors have also helped me to hold these truths close to my heart.
I feel so strongly about body positivity and yet, so many days I find myself feeling anything but positive about my body.
Some days I feel like a fraud.
I’ll post a Nayirrah Waheed poem about loving your body on Facebook and then 30 minutes later wheel myself to go to the bathroom and then get stuck there in front of the mirror, examining whether my arms look fat. I know I shouldn’t participate, that I should turn off the light and leave the mirror alone, but I get caught in front of it time and again, telling myself all the things I know I am not supposed to say about my body.
This happens far more than I would like admit. I can say all the right body positive phrases and notions to someone else and believe every single word…yet when it comes to applying body positivity to myself, I struggle some days.
How can I believe in that all bodies are good, beautiful, and perfect as they are when I don’t always feel that way about mine?
No body is perfect.
I read a great article a week ago about how body positivity can be faulty when it comes to trans issues, specifically telling someone who is trans that their body is “perfect” as it is. It definitely gave me a lot to think about and I hope I can carry the message of the article forward in my interactions with the trans people in my life.
It also resonated with me as many of the body positive phrases the article found problematic are also not applicable or helpful to those of us who are chronically ill/disabled.
“Your body is a good body.” “Your body is perfect.””Love every part of yourself”
All of that sounds well and good on paper. However when you happen to own a body that malfunctions and creates miserable pain, your body doesn’t feel very good. I can tell you that when I am sitting in my wheelchair looking out the window wistfully at a street I have never walked on and at a car I can no longer drive, my body feels so very far away from being perfect. Some sayings within the body positive movement cannot be applied to those of us who are disabled or chronically ill.
Perhaps its time that this kind dialogue within the body positivity movement needs to shift.
The fact is not all bodies are good.
Bodies under siege from an illness or from an accident can create a lot of pain and strife. Even those with mental health issues may not be able to align themselves with the idea that their body is good when every day they suffer with intense anxiety, roller coaster moods, or terrifying hallucinations. By telling me to “change your perspective, not your body” its feels like I am essentially being told that I should be fine with the chronic pain I am constantly in or that I should be ok with the fact that my brain damage puts me at risk for developing Alzheimer’s early.
There’s also a large focus on health within the body positive community, which I do think is important. Its far better for people to focus on moving and nourishing their bodies for the sake of health rather than focusing on being a specific size or weight.
The issue again is that some of us will never be “healthy” and how do we find body positivity when health is not something we can easily attain? Where do the chronically ill fit in?
Body positivity cannot be not a one size fits all movement.
I have come to realize that each of us is on a journey to body positivity and that journey is a deeply personal one. How we get there may be vastly different than how someone else arrives at self love and acceptance. A friend may still participate in negative self talk or may still try to diet every so often.
This doesn’t negate that they are trying to find their way, they are just taking a slightly different path towards self acceptance.
It’s also important to recognize that we all deal with different body “privileges” and that how we experience our body (and in return how the world experiences our bodies) may be very different than your best friend or your mom or your next door neighbor.
We have too many people with too many different backgrounds, privileges, and experiences with different kinds discrimination to assume that that we all can follow the same narrative of body acceptance and positivity.
I am white and I have been tall and thin for almost my whole life.
While I was a size 10-12 for a short period of time, I have existed on this planet for 33 years with the privilege of both having a certain skin color along with having a socially acceptable waist size (even if that waist size wasn’t small enough to me).
I do not know what it is like to worry about someone calling me fat as I run down the street. I do not know what its like to have someone complain openly about sitting next to me on a plane. I do not know the sting of someone making assumptions about me because of the color of my skin. I do not know what its like to be terrified when pulled over the police.
My two best friends have had vastly different experiences than me due to people saying terrible things to them because of their weight/shape. I have learned a lot about what its like to navigate America as plus sized women from the stories and painful truths my best friends have shared with me.
Sometimes the things they tell me bring me to tears.
The thought of strangers being incredibly hateful to the two women I hold most dear enrages me. I fantasize about reaching through my computer screen and throttling the group of jerks who make fun of my best friend on a “we hate fat people” forum. I leave tiny half moons in my palms from clenching my fists too tightly as I listen to the terrible things people used to say to my other best friend in high school.
There is no wrong way.
Now that I am in a wheelchair, I am learning more about what its like to have people look at me differently. I understand what its like to be categorized even though someone has never spoken to me. Last fall I had a man tell me I was too pretty to be in a wheelchair. It reminded me of how fat women are often told “you have such a pretty face”.
My body positive narrative has shifted dramatically and continues to shift the longer I am in my wheelchair.
My understanding of my body and my relationship to my body is more complicated now and some days I feel angrier at it than I ever have before. I know the anger serves no purpose and makes no sense but some days I am furious at my legs and my nervous system. Im sure some people would tell me I shouldn’t be mad at my body, “it’s not my body’s fault” etc but those people may never undergo the physical challenges I deal with or grapple with the complexities of being disabled.
This is my narrative and my journey with this body and it can be painful to have someone tell me I am not being body positive.
We can all learn from each other’s experiences so listen up and be aware when your privilege may keep you from hearing what someone else is sharing about their body. There is no wrong way to have a body and there is also no wrong path to liking yourself. Someone’s narrative may not match yours and that’s ok.
Self love is a journey, not a destination.
I think we all need to remember that our relationships with our bodies are ongoing. Its a relationship that ebbs and flows and will change over time as your body does.
Repeat after me:
Body positivity doesn’t equal feeling 100% positive about your body all the time
You can know all the right phrases, read all the right literature, and follow all the bad ass body positive people on instagram….and still wake up hating your thighs some days.
In the eating disorder recovery community, there is a belief that recovery is ongoing and that you never are recoverED but instead on a continual adventure every day to do your best to stay grounded in recovery. I feel this may also be true with body positivity. You believe in the movement, your passion for it helps you through the day but some days you just still feel fat.
Feeling fat or ugly doesn’t negate who you are, what you believe in, or how hard you work to be body positive.
You are human and we live in a tough society that pushes negative self-talk and airbrushed images at us all day long. Its hard to escape that tough inner critic inside our heads when a very similar one resides outside of us. I can quiet that nasty voice inside me some days but then I see a magazine cover or stumble upon an instagram account that posts bodies that I will never own and then I am back in my head berating myself.
This is one of my favorite quotes about body positivity:
“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.” (Geneen Roth)
Its time we wave a white flag and stop shaming ourselves for slipping into negative self talk.
We need to realize that body positivity is not all about loving yourself every minute of every day. We are all have bad days and hard months. I know for me when things in my life are hard, it is reflected in how I feel about my body and food. Frankly it’s impossible for any person to exist entirely in positivity all day every day. How can we say that body positivity is all about loving our imperfections but then expect our feelings towards our bodies to be perfect and 100% positive? That makes no sense to me.
Our humanness means we each are fallible, especially around certain topics that for whatever reason are our “sore spots”. Obsessing about weight and body image has been an integral part of my existence for over 20 years. I used to get upset and angry with myself that years and years later I still struggle so much with these issues.
It’s taken me some time to make peace with that.
I now accept that I will have days where I feel fat or cannot stop thinking about how gross my cellulite is and and how I have cankles. I accept that there will be days where I am obsessed with any morsel of food I put in my mouth. I accept that being a size zero is something I may always long to be despite the fact that its a size I cannot obtain without starving myself.
Im tired of shaming myself over the fact that I have these thoughts and feelings.
It makes no sense to berate myself over the days where I feel fat. In fact continually admonishing myself any time I am struggling with my body is honestly just negative self talk in a different form.
Body positivity is about the journey. Its about loving yourself and hating yourself and finding peace with both. Its about doing our best to treat our bodies with respect but understanding we may slip and fall once in awhile. Our bodies are not perfect and neither is our relationship with that body. I have found that life is all about existing in the grey and this definitely applies to how I feel about my body.
My body is not a problem to be solved and my relationship with my body will never be perfect or 100% positive. I am not a traitor or fraud when I engage in negative self talk or fall into the pit of romanizing my anorexia.
I am a flawed human learning every day what it’s like to own this flawed body and accepting that the relationship I have with that body will feel good some days and rotten other days.
How about you dear reader? Do you struggle to feel like you belong in the body positive community? How do you deal with bad body image days?
I loved reading this. Our struggles looking for acceptance and happiness can be so long and confusing. I believe our “flaws” are in the ultimate view , gifts. Not such an easy concept when in the depths of anger, sadness , loneliness, pain, confusion. But these are the lessons life brings if we are willing to be honest and look with clear and open hearts. It is a lifelong practice looking for a complete understanding of these issues. Those who make fun out of hurting others are on their own path .
Thank you SO much for reading. This piece was something I have wanted to write for a long time and it’s incredibly gratifying to know that other’s are in similar places. I loved this sentiment you shared: “I believe our “flaws” are in the ultimate view , gifts.”
It’s funny how I struggle with certain topics. The past few days I have been challenged by thoughts of “how do I get to this perfect positive place?” I am reading and meditating and trying to find time for a yoga practice in an attempt to be positive because right now I DON’T feel positive. Just one week ago I was on the “right ” path and really into my readings and meditation. This blog couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for me. As I sit here with ugly thoughts of myself running amok in my head. Thank you for bringing out the reality for me. That it’s okay to be super stoked and have that beautiful positive energy running through me. That it’s okay when I fall short. I have been looking for the holy grail of positivity and expecting it to be 24/7. I feel relieved and I feel able to sit with my negative feelings and see them for what they truly are, being human. Not being a failure at finding self love. Thank you for this blog and thank you for sharing your thoughts. You helped me tremendously!!!!
Hi its Genevieve the author of this piece. You are spot on, we all are human and flawed and I don’t think any of us can be perfectly positive all the time. Falling short and wrestling with negative feelings is part of the human experience. The key (I think) is finding a place of acceptance about it instead of beating ourselves up because we are holding ourselves up to an impossible standard. There’s a fantastic book by Pema Chodron that may help you, its called When Things Fall Apart. Reading her book and applying some of the principles she discusses has definitely allowed me to find some acceptance about not being perfect and not beating myself up because I am not perfect. I’m so glad this all resonated with you!
Thank you for writing this! So much truth here.
Hi Kristin, this is Genevieve the author of this piece. Thank you SO much for reading it <3
Thank you for sharing this, Genevieve. Your words resonated within me – I sometimes struggle with feeling less than positive about my large body, and this is compounded when I wonder what kind of ‘body positive’ role model I am for my large-bodied yoga students (answer: a human one!). Your essay is a great reminder for me as I navigate my own complicated journey through the world and teach yoga to people of many body types and backgrounds. I must remember to find compassion for myself as much as I do for my students. We are all full of humanness! Thank you for sharing yours.
I am in awe and tears at the same time. I have struggled so long with trying to accept myself and the fact that I will never be perfect by society’s standards. Reading this literally gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes when I realized the fact that I am not alone. I fought for years with many vices all due to self hatred, and only within the last few have come to realize what a misguided perception of myself I did have! Still what rang with me the most is what you wrote about feeling like a hypocrite because of the days when we don’t feel totally positive about ourselves. Again, tears and chills. It’s all a roller coaster sometimes, and I have at times doubted my sanity at how extremely swings the pendulum for me. One day I’m great, the next I’m a wreck! Thank you so very much for sharing this, as I know now I’m not alone in this struggle! Thank you for your acceptance, and for your inspiration!
Wow! I’ve only just discovered your blog and I’m in complete awe. We need more people like you in the world. Thank you for the acceptance, the inclusion and the tolerance that you hold.