Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Shame of Body Acceptance

Last week, a friend posted a tweet that read: 

Reminder: When you congratulate someone on their weight-loss, you may be complimenting them on their eating disorder.

An argument ensued. Basically, women argued that commenting on someone’s weight is never good. I wanted to let it pass by, but I couldn’t. Their logic was that you never know why someone lost weight, so you don’t want to be rude or hurtful. I get that. But then, there was another layer: the idea that we should never comment on looks. The idea that the outside holds too much power and commenting on looks just adds to that stifling domination of society. We should love ourselves as we are.

Okay. Yes. We should love ourselves. Loving ourselves is huge. I’ve always advocated for that. But what does it mean to love ourselves? How can we, on one hand, be proud of our bodies and deny our physicality? Be proud of you, but don’t ever comment on looks. Your body is beautiful, but there is no such thing as beauty. It’s an either/or scenario. Either you are proud of your body as it is, or you are falling into societal expectations. Is it really an OR situation? Can’t you be proud of your body and still want to be appreciated for your looks? Can’t you be proud of your body and change?

As time goes on, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the Body Acceptance Movement. It’s not actually body acceptance; it’s fat as a political statement. It isn’t even fat as beautiful. If it was also about beauty, then why not comment on our looks? Are we only allowed to comment on your beauty if your beauty remains unchanged? Oddly, I think the radical end of the Body Acceptance Movement isn’t just saying that fat is beautiful, which it very much can be, but that fat is the only kind of beauty. It is setting up a mirror-image scenario to society’s obsession with thin.

Little did I know that while I was arguing my way through Facebook that I had accidentally posted on the original poster of the tweet, The Body is Not An Apology: the power of radical self love. How right up my alley! Who better than me to celebrate radical self love?

According to their mission statement:

The Body Is Not An Apology is an international movement committed to cultivating global Radical Self Love and Body Empowerment. We believe that discrimination, social inequality and injustice are manifestations of our inability to make peace with the body, our own and others. Through seminars, retreats, workshops, personal transformation projects, media, art and community building, The Body is Not An Apology fosters global, radical, unapologetic self love which translates to radical human love in action in service toward a more just and compassionate world

I love this idea! Where do I sign up?

I may love the idea, but I quickly learned that they did not love me. Apparently, I had done something in my writing that angered the group: I talked about my weight-loss surgery. After a back and forth with a woman who compared weight-loss surgery to getting a haircut (I won’t even go down that road right now), I explained my own surgery. Eventually, the moderator jumped in:

For folks on this thread we would first ask you to revisit our community agreements. Comments that are insulting/name calling will not be tolerated . TBINAA respects the right of folks to make decisions for their bodies, however we as an organization do not support weight loss surgery as we see it as part of a larger weight loss industry that reinforces the structural violence and body Terrorism of fatphobia. Hence TBINAA is not an appropriate space to promote weight loss surgery or to share comments that propose causality between weight and health. We appreciate you honoring the standards of this digital space.

Let me repeat the important part: 

“we see it [weight-loss surgery] as part of a larger weight loss industry that reinforces the structural violence and body Terrorism of fatphobia.”

Now, I’ll be the first to argue the horrors and bullshit of fatphobia. I’ll be the first to share stories of being invisible and being used and not being able to physically sit comfortably in the world. And is the answer to that phobia to lose weight? No. Being thin isn’t THE answer. Because as with everything else there isn’t one answer. It is so much more complicated and nuanced than that.

However, in their desire to shed the world of the evils of fatphobia, they have created a new kind of shame—the shame of changing your body. The shame of having autonomy over your body. Because if you are forced to remain fat in order to fulfill some ideological stand then you lose autonomy.

Yesterday, a random women stopped me to compliment me on my legs. I wonder if the Body Acceptance Movement thinks I should feel shame for that too? I have these legs so I can stand on my tiptoes and do weird sorts of squats in barre class. Is that shameful? Should I be more proud of my belly that remains my belly? Should I be worried that my butt is now more muscle than fat? Should I be thanking God that my face is still full or the backs of my arms wobbly? Or should I wish my arms still held fat so they'd wobble in a different way? Are my non-scale victories no longer valid either? Instead of breathing a sigh of relief when I fit perfectly inside a booth, should I be angry that it's not accommodating for bigger bodies? When pulling at my now-too-big size large black Old Navy dress, should I be wistful for the XXLs I could not actually fit my large body into? Should I disdain sitting cross-legged? Should I be angry that I'll fit in the roller coaster ride or that I can tie my shoes? Should I miss those long naps because I was so fucking tired all the time? Should I revel in the fact that I know my body still doesn't fit today's standards or that when I walk into barre class, I'm the biggest one in the room? Do they feel better knowing that I don't know what to say when people ask me how much more I want to lose? Or that I'm pretty okay with myself at the moment and losing more seems unbelievable? Are they smirking because I miss my boobs and now feel self-conscious because of them?

When I fight to be good enough, I still don't know what that means or what that looks like.

Goals in barre class are easy to measure. I know what I want my body to be able to do that it can't do now. My outside? Not so much. I scrutinize myself in the mirror far more than I used to. I spend more time wanting to hide from feeling unattractive than I ever did when I was fat. I'm convinced my eyes have gotten smaller and swollen. I am horrified when people are relieved that my tattoos still look good. Where would they have gone?

We all walk around with feelings of shame. Why would a movement that claims to promote radical self-love shame people for making changes to their body? Why can’t I take my body back? To me, my surgery was the ultimate act of radical self-love.

And yes, my fat came from years of disordered eating and lack of self-care. It was deeply psychological. Does that mean every fat person suffers the same? No! Would I have needed surgery if society said it was okay to be fat? Yes. This isn’t about society. This is about me.

And frankly, if you want to know the truth, despite the fact we preach that your outside and inside have nothing to do with each other, they have everything to do with each other. They are entwined. They are linked. They are one. And when someone comments that I’m the same person inside no matter what I look like on the outside, they are wrong. There has been a fundamental shift inside me.

My body feels sacred in a way I’ve never felt before. I feel more sacred.

Does everyone need to lose weight to feel sacred? No. But, again, this is about my personal experience. This is what I needed to truly get in touch with my body and myself. Does it have consequences that speak to society’s issues with bodies especially bigger bodies? Yes. And I struggle with that. I will always struggle with that. However, just because I struggle with it, just because the world is not perfect, does not mean that I should be shamed. It does not mean that we should be bullied if we want to change our bodies.

We need to accept all bodies at the place where they are. They doesn’t mean they have to change but it doesn’t mean they can’t change.

I changed to honor my body. I changed to honor my inside.

So ask away. Comment. Tell me I look different. My god, you are blind if you haven’t noticed the 
change. And just because you change doesn’t mean the before wasn’t beautiful. It just means the after is beautiful in a different way. It is good to acknowledge. It is good to celebrate.

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