Beyond Body Image: A Call for Change

I’ve been focusing on body image and unattainable beauty standards for years. I write about bodies, I study body image, and have taught college courses about it. It is important to me personally because I myself struggled with an eating disorder in my teenage years, and have experienced how disruptive negative body image and disordered eating can be to my life.

The subject is a huge part of who I am. But, like so many, when I woke up on November 9th, everything felt different. So many issues seemed so much more important than discussion around the personal sphere of bodies or body image: immigration, healthcare, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights. I thought maybe I should drop my social justice positive body image crusade and focus on more pressing, seemingly more “political” issues. How could talking about “body image” be anywhere near as important as these broader political issues that will affect real lives besides my own and those like me?

As I thought more about it, I came to the realization that the definition of “body image” I was using was a very narrow, mainstream definition of the subject, that honestly no longer serves the movement. Mainstream body image movements focus mostly on white, cisgender women, and generally addresses issues of size and beauty standards. However, if we focus on another definition of body image, one that recognizes the intersectionality of issues that surround the bodies of all people, of all genders and all racial identities, “body image” becomes a very pertinent and political social justice issue.

In 2017, we ALL, including and especially white women, need to re-define body image and center it not only around size but also around the issues of racial inequity, white supremacy, ableism, health, gender, and sexuality.

We cannot only talk about the bodies of “women” or of cisgender and white women. Focusing on that narrow subset is nowhere near enough, and only barely scratches the surface. We have to talk about race and equity. We have to talk about LGBTQIA+ bodies and the continual violence perpetuated against them. We have to talk about how attributes of our bodies – such as color, size, and ability – affect how marginalized people are treated. People all over the U.S. – and the world – are killed because of physical attributes (such as appearing to be a certain race or gender). We can no longer be silent about the violence and inequities that people face simply because of how their bodies appear to others. These are issues that affect people because of their bodies – just as the body image has focused on how sizeism affects people, we also need to start talking about how other physical indicators of our identity affect how we are treated in the world.

Healthcare is an issue not commonly related to body image, but it affects our bodies in deep and lasting ways. The proposed American Health Care Act would privilege the bodies of wealthier, healthier people over those whom are sick, low-income, or aging. The possible defunding of Planned Parenthood and broader restrictions on the right to choose goes to show that the bodies of women, non-binary folks, people of color, and those with a low-income are apparently up for debate in our current political system.

To fellow White women – we’ve got to start talking about body image in a different way. White women involved in the body image movement, we need to listen, learn, and do a LOT better. Positive body image movements that exist only for White women are a form of white supremacy, and that’s got to stop. When we (all people, but specifically I’m speaking to White females and those in the body positive or feminist movements) talk about bodies and how body image impacts the lives of people, we need to talk about things like healthcare, choice, and safety, and how markers of identity on our bodies drastically shape the experiences people have with their bodies.

Now more than ever, we are tasked with resisting hate, oppression, homophobia, misogyny, and all other forms of prejudice. In discussing body image, there is no exception.


For further learning:

Nalgona Positivity Pride –