Monday, 2 March 2015

On being body positive

I love people, so long as they either shower regularly or make good use of well ventilated areas. I love it when people love themselves, mostly. I mean, I don't get on with everyone, the human brain is not set up that way, but the good thing about liking yourself is that you're starting off with at least one ally. I can't begrudge even my worst enemy the power and pleasure of standing in their own corner.

So, it won't come as a smack-that-gob-shut-the-front-door surprise that I think the body positive movement is... well... a really positive thing. Being Kind, I think, is an underrated virtue. And being kind to yourself can sometimes seem impossible. But in the long run, it's much easier than fighting yourself every step of the way. As Queen Ru says, if you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?

if you can't love yourself gif
Gif via

I figure that if the internet gives us 24/7 access to the thought processes of Katie Hopkins, it might as well act as a force for good too. If you search #BodyPositive on instagram then you get literally thousands of pictures of people (mostly women, it has to be said) loving themselves. No. not like that. Loving themselves in a way that wouldn't get you picked up by the police if you tried it on the streets at 9am some Tuesday morning. It sure beats filtered photos of avocados. And I really like avocados. 

As a movement, it has detractors. Of course it does. See above on human brains. We can't agree on anything. If everyone in the world had to decide where we were going for breakfast we'd probably end up either a) going hungry or b) giving up and going to Starbucks for a muffin sauced with tears and disillusionment. People say it glamorises obesity, and being fat just isn't healthy damnit! 

Now, let's stop for a moment. Yes, if you are obese then you are likely to have health problems, and you are more likely to develop health problems in the future. But are we prepared to accept that confidence is the preserve of the healthy? If we're going to force all unhealthy people to be miserable, then we are going to end up with several thousand truckloads of miserable people, stuffed to the gills. Which I'm not sure our roads could cope with. Never forget that obesity might be a visual indicator of poor health, but it's not as reliable as you might think and most bodily processes happen under the skin. Until we have X-ray glasses, it's probably best not to make judgements about how healthy a stranger is. And once we do, I can personally think of far better uses for them.

In my slow stumble towards confidence, I've learned several things. First, it's not an on/off switch. You don't just 'get' confidence, like a tattoo. It's more like a fancy watch, which you have to remember to put on every day, and sometimes leave beside the sink after you wash your hands. You have to keep working on being kind to yourself and if posting a picture on the internet helps you with that (and, equally importantly, helps others be kind to themselves) then go for it. There are enough conventionally beautiful bodies selling soap, cars and exercise DVDs that the overall image isn't going to skew to quirky body positivists any time soon. 

The second important thing about confidence is this. The more confident and comfortable you feel in your skin, the easier it becomes to treat your body properly. If you think you're worth looking after, it's much easier to see fruit as a treat rather than a penance. So ironically, shouting for the shame and invisibility of 'unhealthy' bodies is going to end up with more unhealthy bodies to hide.

Taking control of how you feel about yourself is one of the most powerful things you can do, whoever you are. Power makes people uncomfortable, so some are going to disapprove if you put yourself out there. But you're the only one who can take that power, so go forth and take it in whatever way feels right*.

*And is legal. Preferably.

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