Monday, 1 May 2017

Can you be "Body Positive" when you hate your body? 

The clean eating fad of 2016 is well and truly dead. Step forward the latest trend in Instagram worthy posts - "Body Positivity". The avocados are out and the cheeseburgers and exposing your flesh is in and we are all supposed to feel mildly happy about this. No longer do we need to work out for 2 hours a day and gulp down spirulina smoothies like little radiant sun beams of health, for the world is ready to embrace us, whether fat, thin, bloated or lean. Brands are jumping on that 'Body Positivity' train as quick as they kicked the Hemsley sisters off it, and we are told it is time to embrace our scars, stretch marks and cellulite and feel positively grateful for their existence. Except, if you spend any time flicking through the body positive or 'bopo' tags on social media, what you will see is a lot of (predominately) white women, with luscious boobs, nipped in waists and back ends you could stack your groceries on. These women are beautiful, and polished and they make me feel anything but positive about my naked flesh. Even as the world begins to embrace the curvier female figure, what do you do, if even your plus size body doesn't fit the mould? 

I have always been aware of my body for as long as I can remember. I am a fully paid member to the flat bum, fat tum squad. There has never been any junk in the trunk, but gut in the gunt, I've got plenty. As I grew up, I became more conscious of what was wrong with my figure and less aware of what was right. I would diet, and exercise and dream of rock hard abs and quickly fell into this pattern of restricting and bingeing, before I fell face first into a fully-fledged eating disorder. As a mental health issue, eating disorders really do a number on your brain and your body. After a decade of starving and stuffing myself, my body was in dire straits. I was overweight, bloated and exhausted. I quickly began to isolate myself from my friends and family, conscious of what people would think about my escalating weight. My life became solely about the way I looked and there was nothing more important than that number on the weighing scales.  I gained degrees and masters, I was promoted and excelled in my career, I had relationships and fell in love, but nothing mattered more than how I looked in the mirror.

As I move into recovery, I am finding parts of my life have begun to come alive again, my friendships are blossoming, my social life is increasing and the importance of my weight slips and slides down the scale of relevance on a daily basis. However, I know how I look remains incredibly important to me. I know how much I weigh to the pound, I am conscious of what I put into my mouth and sometimes I still crawl in bed and envelope myself in my duvet because I can’t bear the world to see me. There are times when I stare at my body and I hate it. I hate its lumps and bumps, the way it moves and jiggles and blubbers about. I will lay on my bed and grab and pull at my belly and at the worst times think about how I would love to take a knife and slice away all the parts I really detest. The idea that I would find an ability to love these parts is such an alien concept to me that when I scroll through the body positive posts I want to scream at all the women at the top of my voice “HOW!?”

In the most part, the bopo movement is about finding acceptance in your self, and as a notion it isn’t the worst. Of course we would all love to wake up tomorrow and look at ourselves in the mirror and skip happily down the road in our bikinis singing “I’m pretty, Oh so pretty” at the top of our lungs. But is that even possible? Like with the clean eating movement, the issue I have with bopo (and in particular brands use of body positivity as a selling tool) is that it is a fad, a way of selling us a shiny glossy slice of a perfection most of us will never achieve. It trivializes our relationships with our body and societies views of our figures as one we can just overcome by sticking on a two-piece and a nice filter. As someone who has spent years hating my body, the bopo movement encapsulates all the pressures I feel to conform, just in this instance, rather than a svelte goddess with a smoothie bowl, we now need to be a curvy queen with a cupcake.

As the bopo movement skyrockets into the mainstream, is there a way in which we can embrace the values of body acceptance and loving ourselves, without the need to conform to the hourglass ideals that fill our timelines? One of the greatest tools I have gained through my recovery is to begin to realise that my body is more than just what it looks like. My body has kept me going throughout everything I put it through, and (minus a gall bladder) it’s coping quite well. My body is strong. I can’t run to save my life, but give me a bench press and I will lift weights until my hearts content. If I were born in pre-historic times, someone would have knocked me over the head with a club and dragged me to his cave years ago, because I would have saved our village during an avalanche. I can move those rocks! The fact is, my body is badass, it can move and jump and dance and it is more than just what it looks like on the outside. This thought process gets me out of bed, even on my worse days because I know I can do anything I want to do, if I let my body take the reigns rather than my brain. I am beginning to accept that I may never be 100% happy with how my body appears, and that there may well be days I lay on the floor surrounded by clothes, but with nothing to wear because I am having a ‘bad body’ day. And actually that’s ok. In the future I hope that by feeling more positive about what my body can do, rather than how it looks, those ‘bad body’ days may become less frequent and I can truly begin to accept who I am. For perhaps, body positivity isn’t about accepting what I hate but embracing what I love.