Body Positivity vs. Fat Acceptance - A Guide


The f school’s feminist bootcamp kicks off with a big healthy dose of body positivity.

But if you read or listen to any kind of feminist stories, you’ll probably have heard some criticism about the big BP.

Lots of people feel alienated from the body positive movement because it doesn’t represent big bodies, and opt to support the fat acceptance movement instead.

We know what you’re thinking: What the hell is fat acceptance? Why is it different to body positivity? And why are you giving us even more jargon to learn?!

It’s confusing, sure. So let’s break it down. Class is now in session, folks.

1. The concept of body positivity isn’t new or modern - it just never had a catchy hashtag til now. In the Victorian era, women started advocating against the use of corsets and challenged the notion of conventional beauty. In the 50s and 60s, activists started to talk about how society’s idea of beauty was racist, colourist*, ableist** and fatphobic***.

2. The term has drifted somewhat. What was once a social movement to challenge patriarchal expectations has become some kind of “woke-up-like-dis” commercial vanity fest. Search for body positivity online and you’ll be bombarded with photos of supermodels pointing out the stretch marks on their otherwise perky, ample boobs. The movement is still super valuable, but it can often exclude the people who most need it. This is why some activists choose not to use the term. It's up to you to decide whether it works for you!

3. That sneaky “positive” is misleading. No, you don’t have to feel super excited about your body every single day. The last thing we want is for you to replace one impossible societal expectation with another. It’s ok to try and lose weight if you want or need to, and it’s ok not to “love your scars” as if you live in a Dove commercial. The aim is to move away from associating certain body types as "good" or "normal".

4. Fat acceptance is a different ballgame. The fat acceptance movement began in the 60s to battle anti-fat discrimination. An example of fat discrimination is when fat people are faced with higher health insurance premiums, or their pain or symptoms are dismissed by medical professionals, or they can’t find fashionable clothing in their size.

5. Fat acceptance does not “promote obesity”. The only thing it promotes is human compassion and minding your own beezwax. If you’re not lecturing the skinny girl in the club downing shots of Sambuca about the risks of liver damage, then don’t lecture a fat woman on whatever it is you think she is doing to harm her body.

6. Fat acceptance is about unlearning negative connotations. Fat does not equal bad. This is a toughie for a lot of us, because we’ve been conditioned to associate certain things with fat: laziness, gluttony, bad health. Truth is, body size is not an accurate indicator of health and tells us absolutely nothing about someone’s personality.

7. Fat acceptance is political. It’s focused on people who are usually excluded (hint: it’s not about you if you get slightly bloated after eating a doughnut), and considers the intersection of race, ability, sexuality, and gender.

*Colourism, aka shadeism: discrimination based on someone’s skin colour or shade.

This often exists as another layer of an existing oppression. For example, in Mexico, people with a lighter shade of skin have more privilege; you’ll often see people on screen, on billboards or in politics who are whiter than the majority of the population.

**Ableism: discrimination based on someone’s disability.

***Fatphobia: discrimination based on the fear or dislike of fat people.

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