ActivismBody PoliticsBreaking CultureOpinion

Evolving Out of Body Positivity and Centering Anti-Fat Justice

September 30, 2023

Lifelong fat person here, and at some point in the mid 2010’s body positivity ushered in a way for me to reframe my negative and strained understanding of my body. I was tired of pushing it too far, always searching for an ideal, doomed to never find it. Always negative and thinking that in order to be what I’ve been conditioned, shamed and stigmatized into being I need to be as hard on myself as possible. Harder than anyone has ever been to me, that meant meaner and unrelenting with a poisonous undercurrent of shame. Shame I inherited from a world that decided I do not belong unless I either look thin or look like/act like I’m punishing myself to be thin. My options since as long as I can remember have always been to be thin or be ashamed of being fat as loud as possible, to be seen to always be working on your “problem”.

“The theft of a fat person’s ability to see themselves as someone who matters, Theft of a person’s right to see their body as neutral rather than inherently bad. a breach of consent of how a person enters a relationship with their fat body” – Da’Shaun L Harrison in their book: Belly Of The Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness. 

So when body positivity strolled by it made so much sense why me and so many others at the time felt relieved, finally something that is the opposite of special K commercials, or tabloids scrutinizing every inch of a celeb’s body for any sign of fat. For a minute there it felt good to join a movement where what we endeavor to be was positive and loving towards our bodies.

Fat people created body positivity and soon the messages went from focusing on us, the ones who intimately know the violence of fat stigma, to being for everyone. Initially this didn’t sound threatening, because I reasoned like most others that maybe if everyone saw their bodies as inherently good, they’d start to see others that way too? They would be less violent? Maybe doctors, trainers, employers, et al would finally understand that all bodies are worthy, that all sizes belong, that we should create a positive nurturing environment for all to exist?

“Because body positivity is so deeply focused on internal, individual change, conversations about power, privilege, and oppression often don’t come naturally to self-proclaimed body positive people,” – Aubrey Gordon in her book What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.

Woe is me. That’s not how it was nor could it ever be because body positivity has always had an expiration date. It’s possible that this isn’t news to you. I’m making sure somewhere on the internet I categorically state that I’ve been done with body positivity as a movement for a while. First intuitively and then intentionally  and this led me to incredible scholars, authors and creators, who are vulnerable and vocal about their lived experiences.

I felt a swell of despair not only learning that Anti-Fatness and Anti-Blackness are inextricably linked but also how symbolic my fat Black femme body is to the origins of fatphobia and racism and how pervasive it remains today. The works of both Da’Shaun L Harrison and Sabrina Strings punctuated all this but also mentions the insidious work of purity culture within white supremacist patriarchy and how it fuels the fodder of anti-fatness. It’s no wonder then that Black women became the central focus of horrifying race science, it is however uniquely dreadful just how many ways this has been happening to Black women over our entire existence.

“Since the height of the slave trade and the growth of Protestantism, Black women had been symbols of “savage” aesthetic inclinations and amoral appetites. […] The association between fatness and Black femininity […] reemerged. Yet again, Black women were to become the focus of fear, anxiety, and degradation over the size of their bodies.” – Sabrina Springs, Fearing The Black Body

Anti-Fatness aka Fatphobia aka Fatmisia aka Fat Stigma is anti-blackness, it is racism. Read that as many times as you need and say that to whomever will listen. This the war on fatness is a war against all who do not fit the thin, white ideal and is demonstrated within the fact that over  just a few centuries, fatness went from signaling power, wealth, social capital and prestige to a moral failing that is policed by nearly everyone else on earth.

Our bodies are not inherently violent, they do not require that we go to war with them, the society we are in though is and it requires we go to war with a system that unapologetically wants to erase fat Black people.

There was a time we existed without this toxic obsession and othering. Possibly before white supremacist, imperialist capitalism wheeled in the Trojan Horse of ‘progress’ that barely hid racism and race science or the religious purity to justify it all. These oppressive structures are still very much in in place and even though fat justice and activism is prevalent these systems works to eradicate that and guarantee that we’re never satisfied with ourselves or made to feel whole because there’s no money in that, nothing to sell or siphon. These systems led by the health and wellness industrial complex routinely disregards and discards of fat Black patients, and the entertainment, beauty and fashion industries that work overtime to maintain the status quo.

Anti-Fatness, Fatphobia is deadly, dehumanizing and an oppressive system. It’s a smart poison, conditioning us to not only hate our bodies but to become evangelicals about it, infecting us with sentiments and rituals of shame and widespread pressures to conform to the thin, white ideal. Once I allowed myself to feel the full despair of being caught in such a hateful, corrosive and targeted system I could not un-know and I could no longer reach for body positivity, feeling instead that it was infiltrated by the very same anti-fat system it pretends to hate. #BoPo is not enough:

  • because a hyper focus on appearance or any qualifier such as “positive” never really had liberation.
  • because body positivity became a smokescreen that hides an unpalatable reality…the deeply racist, horrifying white supremacist origins of anti-fatness.
  • it cannot successfully mitigate fear mongering for example, there is no ob*sity epidemic and many studies have come out to disprove many commonly held misconceptions
  • ob*sity is considered stigmatizing language used to pathologize and marginalize fat people. The term is based in eugenics and much like BMI (which is where the term comes from) is baseless and not scientific.
  • the mental health damage fat people experience because of weight stigma is the actual health crisis and completely at odds with whatever the hyperbolic anti-fat concern there is about the health of fat people
  • intentional weight-loss conversations are still too normalized and still start criminally early
  • celebrating perceived goodness or denigrating perceived badness of any part of our bodies is harmful no matter how innocent it sounds
  • because I do not have to be positive about my body 24/7 to be worthy, to deserve respect and my humanity
  • besides systems there are also individuals who are fully dedicated to hating fat people
  • the daily attempts to dehumanize persist but so do we. Anything from negative media representation, medical discrimination, lack of opportunities, street harassment, lack of accessibility or comfort.
  • many medical doctors would rather betray their ethics “first do no harm” than take a weight neutral approach and practice inclusive patient care
  • so few people are genuinely interested in liberating fat people from this oppression and it makes this harder

I want the conversations mainstream to begin to evolve away from simplistic notions and placating. The work of the voices combating anti-fatness has radicalized me even more and given me relief and maybe also permission to own my despair yet march towards what liberation from this system might look like–the specific experience of existing in a fat Black body in such a Anti-Fat and Anti-Black world.


Sneak Peak Into Upcoming Posts

  • Anti-Fatness & Anti-Blackness:  thoughts on the incredible and insightful books written by Da’Shaun L Harrison and Sabrina Strings respectively. 
  • Body Liberation: the world rewards a hyper focus on our bodies but we are so much more than what our bodies look like or how they function. Our bodies are a part of us but not all of us, reducing the human experience to how “good” our bodies look for the gaze of others is one dimensional and anti-human. 
  • Radical Acceptance: Your body is always changing THAT’S NATURAL, You are more than your body, YOU’RE ENOUGH AS IS.
  • Body Neutrality: As a practice embracing a spectrum of existence