Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel provides a brief history of the fat positive movement, addresses some criticisms, and discusses the difference between fat positivity and body positivity.
This post is intended to be an introductory course to fat activism/ fat liberation/ fat acceptance/ fat positivity. It is by no means an exhaustive history of the cause. It’s simply a starting point for those who are new to the movement, have no idea what fat positivity is, why it exists, or what modern fat activism looks like.
A very brief history of the fat positive movement
*Info-mercial voice* If you like body positivity, then you’re going to LOVE fat positivity!*
The fat acceptance movement first emerged in reaction to the popularity of anti-fat discourse and the medicalisation of obesity that began in the United States and Canada in the 1950s (Afful and Ricciardelli, 2015). Early fat activism ideologically aligned with other social justice movements, such as the African-American civil rights, gay liberation, and feminist movements (Afful and Ricciardelli, 2015). Early fat positivity was INCREDIBLY intersectional (meaning individuals participating were part of multiple minority groups, such as fat black people, fat queer women, fat disabled people, etc.) which we don’t really see much these days. More on that later.
The movement inspired the creation of several fat positive organisations like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) which was founded in New York City in 1969 (Fletcher, 2009). The NAAFA is still active today and is constantly working to eliminate the very real ways that fat people experience discrimination. Their policies address anti-fat discrimination in adoption and child custody, the diet industry, education, employment, healthcare, the media, research, and size related legislation (NAAFA, 2017). Some key policies NAAFA advocates include:
“That television, internet, social media and print media discontinue the use of “headless fatties” which de‐humanizes fat people, making them targets for increased discrimination. No part of a person’s body should be photographed without their permission.”
“That state and federal regulatory agencies adopt regulations and closely monitor and control all aspects of the $59 billion+ diet industry.”
“That [thin] allies actively support fat rights and publicly object to the mistreatment of fat people.”
“That obesity researchers reveal all sources of current and previous research funding and affiliations with the weight loss and pharmaceutical industries when publishing or presenting their research.”
Unsurprisingly, the fat positive movement has received loads of criticism. “Critics say NAAFA, which opposes dieting and weight-loss surgery, is an apologist for an unhealthy lifestyle. But NAAFA says it does no such thing, that some people are just bigger and no less deserving of the same rights as everyone else” (Fletcher, 2009). There is an article currently making the rounds titled Body Positivity Is Killing Women, which I don’t recommend reading (it’s garbage) but if you really want to find it you can search for it. This article, like most criticism of the movement falls under the umbrella of concern trolling. Everyday Feminism defines concern trolling as “the act of a person participating in a debate posing as an actual or potential ally who simply has concerns they need answered before they will ally themselves with a cause” (Fabello and Bacon, 2016). This often manifests in statements **ahem**comments on my Instagram photos** like:
“I’m all for loving yourself but this glorifies an unhealthy lifestyle.”
“Obesity kills, and you’re gonna die if you don’t lose weight.”
“But what about your health? Aren’t you concerned about diabetes?”
I could break down why each of these concerns are irrelevant, but thankfully Melissa A. Fabello and Linda Bacon already did! You can read their article on Everyday Feminism.
Body Positivity vs Fat Positivity
These days you can’t browse social media for 5 minutes without seeing another brand claiming to be #BodyPosi, or another plus size model being heralded as a shining light of BoPo. There are two major problems here. 1) These brands are often not size inclusive. They’ll go to a size 16, even a 26 and claim to cater to all bodies, when in reality they exclude a great amount of people. Even if they did cater to all bodies, these brands are using a social justice movement to sell products. Like??? Major red flag. 2) These plus size models mostly fit a very specific mold. Light skin, ultra feminine, hourglass shape, rock hard abs, etc. Body positivity simply shifts the “ideal” female body from the thin, Twiggy shape to a curvy, Monroe shape.
This is where a lack of intersectionality is a major issue. Take plus size models/“body positive pioneers” like Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham for example. They’re both conventionally attractive and are a socially acceptable weight which most people would refer to as curvy rather than fat. Are they gorgeous? Duh. Have they inspired people? Totally. But the thing is, they can only really inspire people UP TO their size, skin tone, body shape, etc. Is a dark skinned black woman with belly rolls and a double chin going to be inspired by these women? Probably not. Is a superfat disabled woman going to feel represented by them? I doubt it.
Ariel Woodson of Bad Fat Broads says that body positivity is basically the same as #allbodiesmatter and I could NOT agree more. She says, “I generally don't identify as a 'body positive' individual because I think the term in its current iteration actively excludes fat people and other marginalized bodies” (As quoted in Dalessandro, 2016).
Bethany Rutter of Arched Eyebrow elaborates on Woodson’s thoughts saying “"Body positivity has been co-opted so comprehensively as to have become meaningless. Since not all bodies are discriminated against, and there are specific characteristics that mean some most definitely are, it stands to reason that a term as generic as 'body positivity' does not work. It's frankly offensive to pretend that thin bodies are treated as badly as fat ones, or white bodies treated as badly as black bodies, and yet that's where body positivity leaves us: Erasing the genuine, tangible, meaningful difference between bodies” (As quoted in Ospina, 2016). The term has become so diluted that claiming body positivity is “the easiest way for corporations to sell stuff to women, and the easiest label for influencers to claim in the search of moral kudos” (Rutter, 2017).
Personally, I prefer to use the terms fat positivity and fat activism. I consider myself a fat positive blogger. My body doesn't fit the "bopo" mold, and that's okay! I've embraced the word fat, and I love using it to challenge beauty/health/societal norms and standards. Call it what you want, but we have a still have a long way to go.
So, you want to learn more?
More here at AmandaApparel:
10 Outrageous Reasons Doctors Have Told Fat Women to Lose Weight
The 2017 Met Gala: Unflattering Silhouettes and Taking Up Space
Regarding Dr. Lush: Using Fatphobia in Marketing
Fatphobia On The Bus
Your Fat Friend for Medium
Marie Southard Ospina for Bustle
Evette Dionne for Revelist
Alysse Dalessandro for Bustle
Bad Fat Broads
The Fat Lip
Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement
Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture
The Fat Studies Reader
Previous Post: Skin Deep Beauty: Loving Your Body With Skin 'Imperfections'
AFFUL, A. A., and RICCIARDELLI, R., 2015. Shaping the online fat acceptance movement: talking about body image and beauty standards. Journal of Gender Studies. vol. 24, no. 4.
DALESSANDRO, A., 2016. 15 Definitions of body positivity straight from influencers and activists. Bustle [online].
DIONNE, E., 2017. Fat acceptance activists explain why body positivity is becoming meaningless. Revelist [online].
FABELLO, M. A., and BACON, L., 2016. 11 reasons your phony ‘concern’ for fat people’s health has got to stop. Everyday Feminism [online].
FLETCHER, D., 2009. Brief history of the fat-acceptance movement. Time [online].
NAAFA, 2017. Official policies [online].
OSPINA, M. S., 2016. 11 influencers discuss the differences between body positivity & fat acceptance. Bustle [online].
RUTTER, B., 2017. How ‘body positivity’ lost its true and radical meaning. Dazed [online].