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Gatekeeping In The Body Positive Community: Is Adele The New Victim?

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

In essence, the body positivity movement seeks to enable all people with different kinds of bodies to experience self-love in its truest form. Body positivity was first introduced as  the ‘Fat Rights Movement’ in 1969, whose mandate was to make it known that women did not owe it to anyone to be conventionally beautiful, but that women can love themselves and must be respected and valued at any size, shape or form. The scope of this movement shifted to people with disabilities, and everyone else who did not match the mainstream beauty standard at the time, in a bid to promote the fact that ‘All bodies are Beautiful’. This movement has achieved tremendous success as it has highlighted the fact that everyone deserves to love themselves and to be loved and respected by others. It has created a sense of dignity and acceptance for people who have been marginalized by cruel societal expectations and barriers.

This leads me into my discussion about gatekeeping in the body positivity community, particularly in light of Adele’s recent weight loss. The body positive community has gained a bad rep with being hypocritical and overly harsh to prominent figures in this community who decided to make a change to their bodies in a way that they meet society’s conventional beauty standards. Celebrities such as Lizzo and Rebel Wilson have received tremendous backlash from their fans for going on new diets or for losing weight and completely changing their bodies. It seems as though this community has shifted the objective of body positivity in a manner that shuts out anyone who ‘conforms’ to society’s beauty standards, or really, anyone who tries to become a healthier version of themselves, and thus has created a problematic culture within this movement.

As we see it now, the body positivity movement has been distorted to expect the community to remain stagnant in order to continue to fit in. Where it originally advocated for all women in all shapes and sizes to love themselves and to deserve love, this movement now increasingly shames and attacks anyone who dares to make a change in their lives. Working out or going on a diet and wearing make-up have become almost criminalized, and members of this community who are overweight and want to become healthier are forced to face the possibility of being attacked and called a ‘traitor’ for wanting to become healthier. The body positivity movement, which once carried a beautiful truth, of love and respect for everyone, has been tainted by this notion that once you are a certain shape or size you must stay that way in order to truly love yourself. This notion is a misguided one, as it forces people to remain knowingly unhealthy, in the name of self-love.

In 2020 on her birthday, Adele posted a picture of herself on Instagram which elicited a mixed response from her fans. On the one hand a lot of people were pleasantly surprised and congratulated Adele on how fantastic she looks in her ‘transformed’ body. On the other hand, another group of people felt betrayed and vocalized the fact that they were disappointed with Adele trying to fit into the mainstream of how artists mainly present in the music industry. Adele had become an icon by defying expectations that were prominent for a female artist for about fifteen years. For fifteen years she did not cave to these beauty standards, and in addition to her amazing talent and beautiful personality, she gained a lot of respect in the body positive community for loving herself enough to resist the urge to change in order to fit into the mainstream. In light of this, it is clear that the assumption was that Adele embarked on her fitness journey solely for aesthetic reasons, and in this community it seems as though that is simply not a good enough reason to lose weight, as seen by Lizzo’s smoothie detox fiasco a couple of months ago.

This is where the problem lies, as it seems that body positivity only applies to certain people and not all people. Is it truly body positive if we shut out all people who change their appearances for aesthetic reasons? Are we saying that these people, and people who aspire to meet certain aesthetic goals do not deserve to be loved, and do not deserve to love themselves unconditionally? While I understand that this movement aims to empower marginalized groups, and focuses its dialogue on such groups, I think it defeats the purpose of self-love for all, if the gates of the body positivity movement are completely shut in the faces of those who fit into the mainstream. It also screams toxicity, when this movement tries to discourage self-improvement and generally trying to become healthier.

Becoming healthy and improving oneself, looks different in different people, and it is problematic to try and force people to tiptoe around the body positivity community in their quest for self-improvement, lest they be denied the right to being body positive. It is also unfair to put an embargo on celebrities who are deemed to be the ‘faces’ of this movement, which prevents them from acting in any way that is beneficial to their lives, but can trigger the body positive community. As Adele stated in her interview with Oprah, it is not her job to make people of this community feel represented, and she just wants to improve her own life. She should be able to do so without the fear of being berated for doing so.  It is a difficult matter to engage with, because I contend that it is important to balance the need for freedom to make our own choices with our bodies, with the need to shift from the obsession that the mainstream has created with placing women’s values solely in their bodies. Nonetheless, I believe that by scrutinizing people’s choices and trying to keep a tight leash on this matter will only perpetuate the obsession with people’s bodies rather than who they really are.

I'm a second year law student at UCT and I spend too much of my time buried in a novel of some sort. I recently fell in love with working out and do so with my dad almost every morning.
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