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Mental Health

Body Positivity: What the Critics Get Wrong About This Important Movement

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

TW: Eating Disorders, Suicide

Over the past few years, the body positivity movement has become a major force in both the health industry and media. It has had its work cut out for it with the difficult job of reversing over 30 years of toxic diet culture ideals. Take, for example, 90s diet culture, the remains of which are visible in the ways many of our parents approach diet and body image. Next came the early 2000s, when low-rise jeans were all the rage and the coveted thin, modelesque body gained popularity. When the body positivity movement came along, it was a relief—a weight lifted off people’s chests. 

Spearheading the movement is a league of strong individuals, many of whom have suffered at the hands of toxic diet culture. However, not everyone recognizes this as the courageous stance that it is. One 10-minute scroll through TikTok will reveal at least one video or comment that criticizes body positivity or related topics. Or, perhaps, the video of an eating disorder-recovered creator expressing love for their body, flooded with negative comments such as “This is not healthy”, “You’re promoting obesity”, or “You’re just trying to justify being fat and lazy.” 

The problem with these sentiments goes beyond the question I always ask myself whenever I see or hear them: It’s not your body or your health, why do you care? The truth is that the damage caused by diet culture goes a lot deeper than many people know. 

In Canada, almost one million people are currently diagnosed with an eating disorder, not including the countless individuals who have not been diagnosed for a variety of reasons including stigma and outdated diagnostic criteria. The harsh truth is that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with many sufferers succumbing to the physical effects of their illness, or ending their own lives to escape their inner turmoil. Many individuals at the front of the body positivity movement have struggled with either an eating disorder or disordered eating and now advocate for others who experience similar hardships. Who are online critics to tell them their body is not healthy? Who decided battling a life-threatening illness is healthier than being overweight? 

Having succumbed to diet culture and struggled with disordered eating myself, I know the freedom of finally being able to eat what you want, exercise when you want, and prioritize your health and happiness above all else. Life is short, so not having to worry about your hair falling out or heart rate dropping too low, not having to stress over the number on the scale each morning, and being present with family and friends is so much more important than what your body looks like. Eating disorders place immense stress on the body and can lead to serious mental and physical complications. Some might argue the same goes for obesity, but the body positivity movement has never claimed to promote obesity. The point is that the healthiest version of oneself is the version which eats and exercises without restriction or obsession, and this will come in different forms for different people. 

Body positivity critics also fail to recognize the importance of mental health, often only referring to physical health in their rebuttals. Fatphobia is the crux of the anti-body positivity movement, playing into the idea that being thin equates to being healthy, a concept that strays far from the truth. They proceed to ignore the fact that eating disorders and disordered eating are directly correlated with other severe mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. I can vouch for the fact that I am 1000 percent happier in my current body although it is very different from the body I had when I was in the throes of my disordered eating struggles. This, in turn, has made me the healthiest I have ever been. It was a difficult pill for me to swallow; it is simply not realistic for me to achieve the “ideal body type” while simultaneously being at my healthiest and happiest. The body positivity movement has helped me realize that I am not alone in this realization and acceptance.

Body positivity critics also neglect to address the long-term effects of eating struggles. Restricting one’s food intake for an extended period of time can lead to a slowed metabolism among other serious issues. No one should be criticized for their recovery efforts or their recovered body because it is the result of battle scars that some of those critics may never have. Whenever I find I am comparing myself to others, I remind myself that not everyone has been through what I have been through, and my current body is the product of years of fighting with my mind and suffering from immense self-hatred. Everyone struggles with something, and this is a skeleton in my closet that happens to manifest itself physically. I am grateful for what my body can do for me. Maybe body positivity critics do not have the same priorities, and that of course is most welcome—as long as they do not project these ideas onto others.

“Just keep telling yourself that,” they say whenever someone speaks out about how they are happier and healthier than they ever were while chasing society’s ideal body. I will continue to advocate for this idea, and I will continue to “tell myself that”, because losing the belief that I am deserving of health and happiness at any size has caused me great inner turmoil in the past, and I refuse to be held captive by toxic diet culture any longer. While it is true that health is subjective, it is cruel to sabotage someone else’s idea of their personal health for your own ideals. And so, a final message to the body positive critics: apply those ideals to your own health journey, and I will welcome the body positivity movement with open arms and a mind and body that is finally at peace.

Thalia is a third year English and Communications student at McMaster, also pursuing a minor in Music. When she isn't busy writing essays, you can usually find her exploring a new trail, figure skating, or organizing her Spotify playlists. She is excited to be one of the Campus Correspondents for Mac's brand new chapter!
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