The Journey of Body Positivity

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

Meghna Venkatesh

26th September 2020

Weight loss and weight gain are always associated with ‘journey’ and ‘transformation’. Some days, it is not easy to understand why, and some days it is the most straightforward explanation ever. Body positivity is a word that has been thrown around mindlessly in recent years. It has reached a point where the meaning of body positivity has wholly changed. Body positivity allows an individual to have an optimistic attitude towards them, accepting and being gentle on their bodies. Due to the word’s excessive usage in an ever-evolving society, somehow, the message has been lost.

There is no right or wrong ‘body type’ (Illustration by Yoshita Nene)

The 1990s saw the beginning of the body positivity movement by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott — but did not pick up until the early 2010s. With the emergence and increasing popularity of social media, the movement finally stood a chance and picked up speed worldwide. When the body positivity movement started to become a more relevant topic, it mainly focused on and continues to focus on overweight or plus size women. The light shed on plus size men, underweight men, and women was and is limited. Slowly, the body positivity movement has become synonymous with overweight women. 

The growing concerns of women’s problems, especially their security, is essential — but occasionally, men’s issues get neglected. This neglect is also related to the way Generation-Z and millennials have grown up. Men are not supposed to open up about their problems to anybody; because they are on a pedestal of taking care of everyone, it is considered a taboo. One of the men’s issues includes men being overweight. In their teenage or adulthood, many boys who are overweight get made fun of and cannot take it to heart because ‘it was just a joke’. Due to this reason, many men neglect to get help for their bodies. Talking about men’s weight and bodies has been changing in recent times — men have started to give importance to how they look more, but ‘overweight’ is still not a concern for many men. 

Growing boys being thin and underweight is appreciated as it is the ‘ideal’ body. Once they become adults, society suddenly turns their back on them and expects them to be fit and healthy. Sometimes, underweight men are looked down upon because they might not be as strong as healthy men are. People usually take the unhealthy route to become ‘normal’ and claim that gaining weight is easy under pressure. Taking the healthy way, by consistently eating right and working out, is not considered by most individuals because the progress is not quick. It takes a long time to reach the individual’s ideal body type and weight, but it is rewarding at the end. 

Overweight women have become the focus of the body positivity movement because information about the health complications they face is known more extensively than any health issues that plus-size men, underweight men, and underweight women might go through. Being a skinny woman comes with its list of concerns. Society has set a very narrow ‘ideal body’ image, especially for women. They are broadly put into shape categories their bodies resemble the most to — even the clothing industry uses this as a stencil. Underweight women are constantly asked to ‘eat more’ and do anything to help them look closer to the ideal image. 

Many underweight women also suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), though a common PCOS symptom is a sudden increase in body weight. There is no cure for PCOS currently, but a piece of vital advice to regulate women’s periods with PCOS is to reduce and maintain their weight. Underweight women also suffer from hormonal imbalances, which are rarely mentioned under the broad spectrum of body positivity. 

With the growing culture of memes, it has become easier to comment on people’s bodies and let it pass, saying it was just a ‘joke’. It is vital to understand that someone’s ‘joke’ could be a sentence that is life-threatening to an individual. There were countless memes and articles ridiculing Chadwick Boseman for being fit only when he had to act in a Marvel movie, no-body knew he was battling cancer. When the legendary actor passed away on 28th August 2020, the internet mourned but a strong message of ‘Be kind for you do not know what a person is going through’ was spread.

Underweight men are made fun of for not looking strong enough as compared to their significant others. Overweight or plus-size men are always taunted for having extra weight around their bellies, making them look ‘ugly’. Both underweight and overweight women often get comments about their waists and hips being too big or too small. Some of these adults also suffer from eating disorders they might or might not be getting help for. Saying sentences such as “you should eat less” to overweight individuals and “you should eat more” to underweight individuals can be triggering with respect to their eating disorders. 

To ensure that the community on TikTok do not develop an eating disorder, or get body-shamed, the social networking app has decided to ban any advertisements that promote weight-loss and weight-gain supplements in order to ensure TikTok remains safe and positive.

The word ‘journey’ is associated with any weight loss or weight gain transformation because it differs for every person. Two individuals can follow the same workout routine and the same diet and have very different results. There are very few well-known influencers and celebrities that need to undergo a weight gain journey. This lack of representation is another reason there are no talks about how difficult gaining weight is or the complications one faces. 

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a go-to if there is a need to determine how healthy a person is. It is calculated with regards to height and weight and is compared to an ‘average number scale’ that determines if an individual is underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese. Research has shown that BMI is not accurate to understand if someone is healthy or not. A study in the International Journal of Obesity explained how BMI does not consider important information such as age, sex, bone structure, and fat distribution — it is merely two numbers being divided. 

Many sportspersons and athletes who are active and healthy are considered obese according to their BMI numbers. When tests are taken to break down their BMI further, it is revealed that it is muscle and bone weight rather than fat. Despite its limitations, the Body Mass Index is widely used because alternatives are expensive to understand if a person is healthy or not. 

The body positivity seen online is currently not inclusive. It is focused heavily on overweight and plus-size women. To create a healthy environment for all body types — it needs to change. Apart from social media, many overweight and underweight people are made fun of and bullied in their everyday lives. Small changes can be made in schools to reduce this. Measuring students’ height and weight can be stopped to reduce embarrassment among growing children about their bodies. Normalizing stretch marks, freckles, loose skin, and other physical things that one cannot change can help the entire body positivity movement. 

Being happy and comfortable in one’s skin is critical, but it is also essential to understand and identify when weight is negatively impacting health. Recognizing and working towards bettering a person’s health should be prioritized. Achieving good health and being happy with body image will be the pinnacle of the body positivity movement.

Edited by Satvik Pandey

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