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It’s All Rooted In The System: A Commentary On The Body Positivity Movement

By: Nicole Wagoner

I want to start off this article by saying that I am not plus sized. I never have been. So maybe I’m not qualified to write this article, but if you will listen to me for a moment, I think we can both learn something and leave this article being more educated about the life of a plus sized person.

I have always advocated for the body positivity movement. I think every body is beautiful and I think it is amazing that (at least part of) the world is finally acknowledging this. I have always had trouble accepting my body. My few extra pounds make me get down on myself sometimes. But I have never been systemically oppressed because of my size, like many plus sized people have.

Some might find this statement controversial, but it is one that is deeply rooted in the history of the patriarchy. I think when it comes to the body positivity movement, we need to stop comparing skinny shaming to fat shaming. While both are harmful, they never have and never will be on the same level. 

Once again, this is because fat people are systemically oppressed.

You wanna know how I know that? Because when I said fat just now, you were taken aback. Fat is not a dirty word as society has now equated it. Fat is a descriptor for a type of body. But ideals have forced us to think being fat is bad and fat is a mean word to describe someone with. 

Skinny was not always considered the norm. For many years curviness and having extra skin was considered the ideal for beauty, with goddesses like Venus being artistically portrayed with pear shape, plus sized bodies. But over time, women started being held to an unrealistic standard of beauty, and they were forced to take on a “boyish” type of appearance. This included being flat chested and especially slender. Calorie counting diets brought women to periods of starvation, just so that they could fit this new impossible standard of thinness.

We can see this is rooted in the patriarchy for a few reasons. One is the fact that this standard was pushed so that the norm for women would be frail and they would therefore seem subservient. The other is when women are insecure about their bodies, they feel as though they deserve less when it comes to relationships. While we live in a world where this is no longer openly discussed, we can see how openly patriarchal the “ideal” woman’s body is in society. Women’s bodies are not made for men to gawk at. A woman is beautiful no matter what, and she has no obligation to appeal to anybody at any time.

But this insecurity is still preyed upon. Commercials for Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem air on TV every single day. One can try to escape the madness by going on Instagram only to see an ad for weight loss teas. No one can escape the way society treats fat people. They see them as an object that needs to be fixed, needs to be renewed and beautified. There’s nothing wrong with being plus sized. If someone is happy in their own skin, they should be allowed to be. 

Beanie Feldstein said in her essay, “Please Stop Commenting On My Body,” that, “A person’s body changing is simply not clearance for you to talk about it. I know that nothing will truly change until we as a society are able to unravel the ingrained notion that thinness is ideal. However, I do hope that on a more interpersonal level, we can attempt to stop commenting on each other’s bodies. Because sadly, I am here to tell you that even well-intentioned compliments can be upsetting. In my case, that brought to the surface feelings about my body that had taken years to work through. And it is not how I want to continue”.

Commenting on someone’s weight enforces the fact that the person being commented on is not beautiful regardless of size. This is why Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem and weight loss teas are bad for the soul, because they enforce that there is something inherently wrong with being fat. But there is nothing inherently wrong with any weight. 

But that is not the only example of plus sized people being systemically oppressed. Take one step into a doctor’s office in a plus sized person’s shoes. An article from medium.com explored many plus-sized people’s stories of going to the doctors office and not getting proper treatment because of their size. This has led to many deaths, and not because of their weight. It was because of cancer, kidney failure, etc. These doctors ignore signs of obvious illness because one is medically “overweight.” While being medically overweight can cause health problems, many doctors give lesser care because they believe the fat person deserves lesser treatment. Another example of this is when a fat person cannot get diagnosed with an eating disorder because they do not fit this ideal of a frail girl who can be romanticized. 

Now, where do we go from here? How do we take the information from these articles, these essays, these many sources, and apply them to our lives? By not overshadowing the body positivity movement by talking about skinny shaming. The body positivity movement preaches every body is beautiful, and that no one should be treated differently because of their appearance. So let us not take away the voices of those who are actually systemically oppressed in society because of their appearance. Show this article to your mom, your dad, your aunt, your cousin. Then encourage them to listen to plus sized voices. Because maybe you shouldn’t listen to me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. But if you start listening to plus sized people and hear what they have to say about this movement, you’ll find that maybe you’ve been unknowingly feeding into society’s ideal and oppression of fat people. Don’t be that person. Keep yourself accountable, and call yourself to action.