Delving into the topic of the body positivity movement requires the unpacking of many other issues facing society today. This topic cannot be looked at in a vacuum.
We live in an era where diversity and inclusion have become core values in many aspects of American life, and body positivity is a subset of that. The body positivity movement actually started in the late 1960s when women were rebelling against other social biases such as race and economic inequity, among others. The ideologies of the body positivity movement were well-intended, serving as a way to mitigate fat shaming and encourage self-acceptance, both of which are noble endeavors.
Much like toxic positivity in general, the body positivity movement has taken a toxic turn for multiple reasons. First of all, anything that makes you feel bad about acknowledging your true feelings about your body perpetuates inauthenticity. It’s okay to be unhappy with aspects of your body at certain times in your life; it’s healthy and normal. Case in point: when I went through menopause, my body changed dramatically, and I not only felt uncomfortable in my own skin but also limited physically in terms of energy, stamina, and emotionally with anxiety and depression. To be told by mainstream medicine that this is normal and just a part of aging was detrimental and invalidating to me. Yes, I feel beautiful at any weight, and self-acceptance is very important. However, toxic body positivity often focuses solely on aesthetics. I was still beautiful during this chapter in life, but it was the non-aesthetic aspects that troubled me, and this is where the body positivity movement falls short.
The body positivity movement often fixates on looks rather than function. Our bodies are amazing creations that allow us to navigate through life, engaging in activities like walking, running, bearing children, reading, loving, working, and cooking. Our bodies are so much more than what they look like. Our minds and the miracles they can achieve go way beyond our physical appearance.
Another theme I take issue with in toxic body positivity is that any attempt at trying to lose weight is seen as self-hatred, which is ridiculous. Science is science, and there is plenty of data that show visceral fat is associated with a host of diseases, including insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, cancer, autoimmune diseases, mental illness, and more.
All that being said, the obesity epidemic is fueled by much more than just toxic body positivity. There are other more serious issues contributing to the obesity epidemic, such as the food industry altering foods with dangerous chemicals to make them addictive, toxins we are exposed to, which are stored in our fat layers, making it difficult to lose weight regardless of diet and exercise, hormonal imbalances, and gut dysbiosis. Obesity is a complex disease that requires a multidisciplinary approach to treat.
In conclusion, toxic body positivity is but one contributing factor to the obesity epidemic, but enlightening the public in forums will make great strides in getting to the root of this epidemic and reversing the alarming statistics.
Alexis Gopal is an internal medicine physician.