Despite the countless great leaders of the feminist movement, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Elizabeth Warren, there is no such thing as a “perfect feminist”. Everyone has minor prejudices and controversial opinions, built from their own experience growing up in a complex and changing society. As Roxanne Gay, the author of the New York Times bestseller, Bad Feminist, so poignantly states, ‘I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human’. As social justice warriors, we try to make ourselves out to be the strict embodiment of politic correctness and liberal tolerance, however we don’t always agree on every subject being presented for discussion. For example, I believe in following the practice of eco-feminism, which relies on combining the causes of veganism and feminism, yet many amazing advocates include meat in their diets. We all have different ways that we go about discussing our views on equality and despite what the media may suggest, not agreeing on every issue doesn’t make you a bad feminist, especially when you are consistently looking to educate yourself about the issues at hand.
I will be honest in saying that I have not always been behind every aspect of the body positivity movement and at times, I found myself being a very bad feminist when it came to weight related discrimination. But I think the reason that I felt the way that I did for so many years was because I liked the privilege that being thin gave me. I for the most part have a body that western society would deem attractive, although I do work hard for it with a strict exercise regime and a three-year and counting vegan diet. No one has ever moved away from me on public transportation and I am easily able to go into the store of my choosing and find my size. I held on to my privilege because I felt as if it gave me some control in the world and my own self-worth reflected heavily on societies’ standard of beauty. I thought that if I am skinny, people will like me, clothes will look best on me, boys will find me sexier, and I will be happy. I had been living my whole life under the belief that skinny was beautiful and aspects of the body positivity movement were slightly intimidating to a teenager with low self-esteem.
Let me tell you a little story about myself. I was twenty one at the time and I had this friend who was on the heavier side. She was a sweet person and we would always have a great time together, but sometimes I couldn’t help myself judging her for the way that she looked and the way in which she treated her body. I had never been friends with someone over a healthy weight range before and experiencing her relationship with food was far different than what I’d been exposed to in the past. I can name countless close friends who have struggled with eating disorders which caused them to lose weight, some of whom were hospitalized and given serious treatment for their illnesses, but never at the opposite extreme. I found myself making smart comments in my head about the way that she looked and I would roll my eyes internally when she would binge. To be clear, this wasn’t a friend who happened to be overweight and live a normal lifestyle, this was someone who was using food as a coping mechanism and the effects of her behavior had resulted in noticeable physical differences over the past few years. I wanted to help her in any way that I could, because I had seen friends struggle with their weight before and I honestly wanted to see her in a happy and healthy place. It scared me to see what she was doing with her body and I knew that I wasn’t being a good friend to her by hiding my opinions inside and not giving her just a pinch of tough love.
After knowing this person for a few weeks, I soon came to realize that they were coping with depression and insecurity, just like my friends and myself. They were using food to cope and I realized that I had been going against everything I believed in as an equality-loving woman. There is literally no difference between women who are a size 0 or a size 20 and I learned that in order to be a better feminist (not a perfect one), that I need to step into other people’s shoes for a change and see the world through their eyes. Every woman goes through their own unique struggles and difficulties and we are not making any progress by pitting ourselves against one another. Everyone should make their health a priority and I still stand by the fact that people should be taking care of their minds and bodies, whether they are actively trying to lose weight or neglecting proper nutrition. We only have one body and it is important for us to take care of it, but we also only have one life to do the right thing and doing the right thing is respect each other for the bodies that we have.
I know that what I am saying doesn’t sound like much, but when I open my mind to to accepting other women’s bodies and my own, something inside of me changes. I am no longer unconsciously passively projecting my own self-consciousness onto other women and I think that our society would benefit from other’s doing the same. We don’t evolve into more sophisticated beings by tearing each other down, we do so by helping each other grow and develop. Realizing that being skinny doesn’t ensure happiness tells young women that it is okay to be perfectly imperfect and that we can do some pretty incredible things in this world of ours once we move past obsessing about how we look.