Physical Fit: The negative about body positive

What I am about to say is by no means original or earth shattering. It just isn’t. I’m not the first to notice some of the less healthy bits that have come about due to what has been dubbed the “body-positive” movement.

Now, before anyone starts in on their defense rebuttal and argument strategies (which everyone in this day and age is wont to do, because we don’t actually listen anymore… but that is a different post for another day) hear me out… or read me? Or whatever…

The movement has been called Body Positive because it was intended to promote appreciation for the natural form without being forced to the ideals of a society that appears to be entirely divorced from the reality of the human body. It was a movement to combat the push to get people to make unhealthy choices about their eating or behavior merely because their own physical appearance was outside the perceived ideals of society. It’s a great philosophy… on paper… in an ideal world. For the most part, I agree with the premise of being positive and feeling good about who you are without having to harm yourself physically trying to fit into unrealistic silhouette. I do not think that everyone should look the same or even be forced into the unnatural confines of a body that is unhealthily restricted or genetically impossible. Women (and men) have had society’s physical expectations thrust upon them since, probably, the dawn of time. The sense of what is or isn’t attractive (if we believe all those science types) should be defined by that which makes for healthiest reproduction and genetic superiority. Yes, I said that. Where it all seems to have gone a bit tits-up was when the definition of “success” was less about the superiority of physical genetics and more about Who’s Who (back when you couldn’t purchase your way into the register).

So, as a species we went from strongest, healthiest, most likely to survive to reproductive maturity… to whatever was the most popular and most in the public eye, regardless of physical health. Technically, this is probably still about what was at one point going to survive or at least make the most attempts at reproduction (popularity and financial success/stability can work their wiles on many). This resulted in some fairly ridiculous fashion trends that included emaciated appearances or even the complexion and frailty of tuberculosis. And don’t let’s get started on corsets for women and men. The human race has pursued some seriously peculiar trends. Still, times change, attractiveness and fashion changing right along with them. Eventually, the time came that people got fed up with the unrealistic and unhealthy expectations.

All of a sudden, people were encouraging young women… and men… to focus on being healthy and appreciating their body rather than adopting unhealthy practices in attempts to replicate body proportions that are frankly impossible to achieve with merely a good diet and exercise program. Many people started appreciating their own bodies and sharing that with others (thanks, social media). The Body Positive movement encouraged people of all types and shapes and sizes to appreciate what is good and healthy about their own bodies rather than being self-critical and self-loathing based on societal expectations. The movement created an upwelling of acceptance and a cheer heard from normal, average, non-supermodel bodies around the world said “Go us!”

What could possibly go wrong with that?!? Well… like any good, positive, and supportive trend, there is always the “over-do-it” principal and, of course, the backlash. Anything that humans create that is healthy will generally be taken to an inappropriate extreme and used improperly by some. And that, my friends, is pretty much what happened. For all the great job that being positive about our bodies did to combat eating disorders, body shaming, and dispelling the myths of only “thin can get in,” there were those who used those good intentions in supporting, validating, and maintain frankly unhealthy habits. Healthcare professionals were lambasted for certain recommendations for patients who could benefit from healthier lifestyles as being demeaning and “fat-shaming.” While I do not claim that all healthcare professionals are without flaw, I also believe that they try to work towards the best health outcomes of the patients in their care. Most (though definitely not all) health providers base their diagnostics and recommendations on more than general appearance or the visible expectations of society. So, when they suggest certain actions, it isn’t just because they think you look unpleasant in your clothing (or out of them). Usually, it also has something to do with lab results. Additionally, the attempts to be more positive about all body types, sizes, and shapes had the back-lash effect of what some called “skinny-shaming.” Folks who might be more in line with thinner ideals or even more on the underweight side started catching some of the negative comments and frankly critical feedback. From the days where the “chubby kid” got bullied, the shift has come to making insulting comments about people who have difficulty putting on the extra pounds. For those who might say, “Hell, I’d love to have that problem…” it can be a very serious issue that results in bone deterioration and other health concerns.

Additionally, the word “diet” became a focus for anger and people said that you cannot follow a diet and be body positive. I get where they are coming from, I think. After years of crazy crash diets and ridiculously extreme weight-loss programs that took people to levels of starvation and encouraged eating disorders, the word diet became a word that meant cutting OUT or cutting caloric content significantly. Let me say this: “Diet” refers to any program or menu of suggested eating. Diets can be constructed to gain weight. Diets can be developed to address particular health conditions. Telling someone who actually does embrace their own healthy body (whatever that body looks like) that they are not body positive because they are following a diet is as bad as those who the body positive movement originally arose to combat… and now… I need to stop that rant.

What is my point? I guess what I am trying to say is that good ideas with the best of intentions can always be taken to an unhealthy extreme or abused. That doesn’t mean we should just toss them. However, it does mean that perhaps we should take them back to the purity of the original intent. Healthy is where it is at, folks. The measure of health is not always immediately visible to the eye, and we need to remember that. We do not need to ascribe to what society says we have to look like to be accepted or feel good and confident about who we are. That doesn’t mean we have a blank check to make poor decisions about our health and ignore everything that our primary care provider (or specialist) says that might be uncomfortable to hear. Feel good about doing the things that you enjoy. Let go of the self-conscious crap that says you have to look a certain way to be happy or healthy. What works for one doesn’t work for all. Learn to love what is realistically healthy for your physical and emotional make up and work towards that goal. That is the best way to be positive.

 

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