Written By Kacee Eddinger
February is Body Awareness Month. To celebrate, I want to build off of one of our previous articles, “The Plus Size Problem.” Both the plus size problem and the Body Positivity Movement both go back further in time than you may realize.
The Body Positive Movement began fifty years ago, alongside second wave feminism, as the Fat Acceptance Movement. It started as an effort to combat social and legal inequalities surrounding those who do not conform to a slimmer body type. This movement led to the promotion of healthy ideals regarding different body types. Societies like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and Health at Every Size(HAES) were formed.
Since then, designers have created fashion lines dedicated to plus size clothing. Despite setbacks due to the diet and exercise culture of the 1980s, the Fat Acceptance movement did not disappear. In fact, a new group, The Body Positive, was created.
Seeking to teach everyone to cherish their bodies regardless of size, the group has added the term, “Body Positivity” to our vocabulary. Although “Fat Acceptance” is still an important movement, this group encourages everyone, including skinny individuals, to value their appearance. It advocates against the pursuit of an ideal that cannot be achieved instead of asking the general public to attempt to conform to it.
Still, there is a misunderstanding in our culture regarding body acceptance. In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, Jennifer Lawrence said, “I just think it should be illegal to call someone fat on TV. I mean if we’re regulating things like sex and cigarettes and cuss words, because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?”
Much was said about Lawrence’s quote, from news stations, to blog posts, and many lauded the movie star for speaking out against fat shaming.
I didn’t hear about Jennifer Lawrence’s talk with Barbara Walters until the media storm around it had died down. However, in a discussion with my friend regarding body positivity, I realized that Lawrence’s statement just missed the mark. My friend told me she thought my body was beautiful. “And it’s so nice to cuddle with people who have an extra layer to them!” she added. She was paying me a compliment, which I took, but I could hear dancing around something with her word choice.
“You know,” I said. “You can call me fat. It’s just an adjective. For me, it’s the same as saying I’m tall, I have brown hair and blue eyes. I am fat.”
For a long time, this was not so. From a young age, I was called fat as an insult. Fat people on TV and in movies were invisible or made out to be jokes. Nobody outright said it, but diet infomercials told me being fat was wrong. Everyone in them said they were so much happier now that they were skinny. My mother never called me fat, but has encouraged me to diet since I was nine.
Being fat has never been easy. Since discovering body positivity, I have learned to love myself for who I am AND for how I look. I have found encouragement from those who told me I was both beautiful and fat– the two did not have to be separate ideas. Now, being fat is very much a part of my identity. That’s where Ms. Lawrence’s words fell a little short for me.
While Lawrence was trying to speak out on bullying and name-calling, she still implies in her quote that being fat is shameful and equates it with cancer-causing cigarettes. The truth is that identifying someone as “fat” should not be illegal, but fat shaming should be. Fat people should not be ridiculed for being fat, no more than a person with blonde hair should be ridiculed for being blonde. However, too often people are humiliated by others because of their appearance. Instead, they should be encouraged to love their bodies; regardless of race, size, hair
color, etc. It is important to emphasize this to young women—so they spend their lifetime loving themselves, rather than trying to conform to a standard that no one can achieve. It is up to each individual to stand up for body positivity and end “fat shaming.” Our responsibility, as women, is to support one another for who we are– not for who society tells us we should be.