Happy Black History (also known as history) month!
If you have been around for more than two "body positive Mondays" on the 'gram, you've heard me talk about the origins of body positivity. We've talked about the fact that body positivity is rooted in advocacy for folks living in bodies that are regularly discriminated against. We talk about how the purpose of body positivity is not to ease the inner turmoil created by the beauty and diet industries for those of us in socially acceptable bodies, although that can be a welcome side effect of advocating for treating all humans... humanely. Today I want to dig a little deeper into bo-po history, learn important names, and heighten our awareness of how we interact with the body positive and fat accepting communities.
If you're wondering what the big deal is, let me show you what popped up when I googled "who started the body positive movement"
Apparently, Google in all it's powerful algorithms has dubbed Tess Holliday and her #effyourbeautystandards campaign bopo's patron saint. Tess has gone on to land a long term modeling contract after the success of her hashtag campaign. Tess does great work, but she is not even close to the founder of body positivity any more than Alyssa Milano started #metoo (a hashtag and movement actually founded by Tarana Burke.)
This cycle of black women pouring their blood sweat and tears into activism and creative work with a indifferent or even hostile response, then having it co-opted by white women who then sell it to adoring masses without sharing credit or profit shows that even in feminist movement, white supremacy is alive and well.
This is why history, especially black history matters.
This is why when I talk about body positivity I talk about where it came from.
If this is new information to you today, ask yourself why you haven't heard about it before, and why you're just hearing about it now from me, instead of someone who experiences discrimination more regularly and radically?
Evaluate who you're listening to; and evaluate who and what you profit from.
Evaluate who and what the folks you listen to are profiting from.
Back when I was a kid, living in a conservative homeschool bubble, there was a speaker who came to teach us how to argue with those misguided people who believed in science. I can't find his name for the life of me, but while I'm not interested in the young earth vs. science debate any more (really, where's the nuance in the debate??) he had three questions which have stuck with me and apply to so many situations.
"How do you know that is true?"
"Where do you get your information?"
"What happens if you're wrong?"
Of course the point of these was supposed to be that we Christians have the Bible and believe it to be true (without acknowledgement of cultural context or type of literature we were reading IN the Bible) which trumps decades of scientific data, with some "scientists are covering up THE TRUTH" conspiracy for good measure, but these questions have deeper applications. Our tendencies to jump to radical defense of surface interpretations is dangerous whether we're talking about sacred texts or historical ones (or both.)
A surface understanding of history, be it world history or American history leaves out critical context of how civilizations, communities, cultures and individuals are impacted by the trauma of war, enslavement, and genocide. This history impacts everything, including what folks have access to, what they believe about their bodies, and the bodies of others. (Also how they interpret sacred religious texts referencing war, enslavement, and genocide but that's another whole post.)
The last two questions from my childhood teacher are the most applicable here. Where we get our information is critical. Who we are listening to is critical. It's not surprising that colonizing countries both write most of the history books in those countries they colonized, and have a vastly different interpretation of history than the countries and cultures who were colonized.
It then follows that it's not surprising the cultural stories and experiences we have differ greatly depending on whether we descend from those who did the colonizing, or the cultures who were colonized. This impacts literally everything about our lived experience.
It impacts how we show up in our bodies. It impacts how (colonized) society views our bodies. This is why bodies are political. This is also why it's vital we listen and learn from those who live in bodies that experience the highest levels of discrimination and violence.
There are so many stellar women to learn from.
Stephanie Yeboah has been a fat activist for years, and she shared the heartfelt article "Black Fat Women Matter Too" in 2017. It's as timely now as it was then. She's releasing a book in fall of 2020 that I can't wait to read.
Ashleigh Shackelford wrote the insightful piece "The Body Positive Movement Still Looks Like White Feminism" for Wear your Voice Magazine.
Ericka Harte shares "We need to decolonize the body positive movement" including some brilliant thoughts challenging our penchant for putting the responsibility of healing and self love on those who face harsh discrimination.
And one of my personal current favorites, Lizzo is lighting us up with her confidence and self love both by example and in her music.
If you want to dig deeper than the topic of body positivity into feminist theory, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Angela Davis were foremothers of the intersectional feminist movement.
Maybe we should also ask why we personally show up to body positive spaces? Is it just to apply a temporary balm to our self image, or is it to shift our collective culture? If you're just looking to feel better about yourself, go ahead with your "Live, Laugh, Love Yourself" sign, and try not to think about who you're leaving out. If you're in this for the sisterhood though, this is crucial.
If our version of sisterhood, including body positivity, doesn't include, apply to, and serve folks from all backgrounds we are missing something important and doing it wrong. I'm going to be honest, it's going to take some effort and discomfort for us white women to learn to serve a global sisterhood. Listening to voices that have been the most repressed and silenced is the first step. Doing the personal work to show up in these spaces with self awareness and not take things personally is ground zero.
The last question from my childhood teacher is also one worth considering - "What happens if you're wrong?" For me, if I'm wrong about all this, I cared more than I had to. I don't see any downside to deepening empathy and compassion, and learning the perspectives of others. That's a wrong I can live with. I couldn't live with discounting the stories and lives of so many powerful women who have given so much for our collective freedom and autonomy.
So today, if you don't follow black & indigenous body positive influencers and bloggers, find some. Start with the women I listed here.
If you already follow black & indigenous body positive influencers and bloggers, tell me your favorites in the comments!