Strictly speaking I have two problems with body positivity. One is definitely my problem. I think the other is a problem with the movement.
Let’s talk about my problem first. I’d rather own my problems before I go pointing out other people’s. My problem is that I find that I cannot love my body. At best we exist in a state of détente but most of the time we are at war. I hate how it looks. I hate that it’s never comfortable and that I am never comfortable in it. I hate the constant negotiations to get it to do anything. Most of all I hate how limited that anything is.
I want to be strong. I want to exercise. I want to go for long walks. But I can’t lift weights today because I put my compression tights on and apparently that’s me done for the day. As I write this my hands are still shaking just from the effort of getting dressed. How dare they.
And this, of course, creates a secondary problem. Because people keep telling me that I should love my body and I just can’t I feel like I’m letting the side down. Not only am I failing in my patriarchal duty to be decorative I’m failing in my feminist duty to love myself. I’ve failed to be thin and now I’m doing fat wrong.
Now let’s talk about my problem with the body positivity movement, and specifically the ‘healthy at any size’ part of the movement.
Because some of us are not healthy. Some of us are fat because we’re sick. Some of us are fat and sick with no causal link. And then there are people like me. People with lipoedema and similar disorders. People with dysfunctional fat cells that we can’t get rid of. We’re not sick because we’re fat, it’s the fat that’s sick.
I’ve written before about lipoedema. It affects up to 11% of women and post pubescent girls. It’s triggered by hormonal changes. It’s progressive. In many cases, and I am one of them, it is painful and debilitating. Our bodies lay down dysfunctional fat cells that don’t work as an energy store. These cells hang around in the wrong places, trapping fluid, putting pressure on our joints, and causing pain.
Before anyone slides into my comments to tell me that I just need to eat less and move around more my anorexic thirteen-year-old self would like to have a word with you. And she’s carrying a cricket bat. I’d run if I were you. No, faster than that. She’s spent the last 4 years running from people throwing rocks at her head so she’s a lot faster than me. No don’t stop for a rest she’s got plenty of stamina. Try to find some flowers. If she gets a lungful of pollen she might have to stop for an asthma attack.
But back to body positivity and my problem with it. I feel stuck. The lipoedema support groups are full of internalized fatphobia and people whining about how they should be immune from societal fatphobia without ever questioning that it should exist. The body positivity groups erase my experience of being disabled and fat. The insistence that fat women are hot just reinforces the patriarchal assumption that whatever else a woman is she must also be decorative. What if I don’t want to be decorative? What if I want to be a dapper androgynous badass?
Can’t I want to get rid of my dysfunctional fat while at the same time supporting your right to look however you want to look? Can’t we all agree that how people feel about how a person looks has nothing to do with their value as a human being? I just want to be in the world without the feeling that either I have to cut parts of myself off or excavate a me-shaped hole in order to fit in.