What Does Body Positivity Mean?

In this photo, Adaleta is sitting on top of white car in the middle of Zion National Park looking at a map of the park.

What Does Body Positivity Mean?

February 17, 2020

A year ago I was under the impression that body positivity was a movement for those wearing over a size 12. I supported it of course (heck I was a 12 at some points) but I truly didn’t understand the movement. It was confusing to me because I felt like many people were promoting an unhealthy lifestyle or they’d tell their audience not to workout which seemed odd. Over decades of research, we know working out is good for us and almost a necessity for longer lifespan and less health issues over time so I was genuinely confused about the message some people were communicating. 

3 months ago, I sat down and really dove into what body positivity means, what the movement is and how we all fit into it. It took a lot of digging to understand multiple perspectives. I even surveyed my Instagram audience to understand what it means to them. Bottom line is that we all have different understandings of what body positivity means.


What Does Wikipedia Say Body Positivity Means?

Body positivity refers to the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size, and appearance. Some of the goals of the body positivity movement include: challenging how society views the body. promoting the acceptance of all bodies (Wikipedia.)

What Does Body Positivity Mean to me?

For me, body positivity means accepting your body (and everyone else’s) at any shape or size. It requires quite literally to be positive about your body. You can be 120 pounds or 220 pounds, and you can and should still be body positive. The weight on the scale does not define positivity around your body. 

I’ve actually felt this way for many years because I’ve always “weighed more” than people thought I did. It was always a surprise for my doctor, or my friends to hear my weight. “You don’t look like you weigh that” which is meant as a compliment but it honestly never bugged me. When I knew I was in shape, running constantly and going to the gym, I did not care what the scale said. 

It’s really hard for most of us to let go of that number, but I’m telling you right now the number doesn’t matter. It’s all about how you feel. If you feel good, the number on the scale doesn’t mean anything.

While the number on the scale doesn't matter to me, I do believe that eating somewhat healthy and being somewhat active is crucial to feeling good physically, and then also mentally, about yourself. This is where our discussion on Instagram became interesting, because people believe one or the other, and it was interesting to hear perspectives from both sides. 


What does body positivity mean to my Instagram audience?

This is where it got tricky. Throughout my conversation on Instagram stories, we did divide the conversation into two different pieces. My feeling on body positivity is that it doesn't matter how much you weigh, but you do need to do good things for your body in order to feel good. Based on decades of research (and general science), there are recommendations for us to work out several times a week, get that heart rate up. There’s also a lot of research about eating relatively well and eating a vegetable or two once in a while. This is what physically helps you feel positive about your body (and overall just better) but there’s also the mental health aspect too. 

The discussion I had on Instagram was essentially based around the idea of, can you be body positive if you eat McDonald’s everyday and don’t move your body? The majority (60-70%) said NO you cannot feel positive about your body if you eat McDonalds everyday and don’t move your body. The other 20-30% said yes you can still feel positive about your body while eating junk food and not moving your body. This conversation takes us off what body positive actually means, and is a whole separate conversation but I loved diving into this because it’s a real conversation and it’s opinion based to some degree. Hearing different perspectives, even if they’re different from mine, was interesting and eye opening. I am not right with all my opinions and thoughts but actually having someone respectfully give me a great breakdown of why it doesn’t matter how you eat or what you do, you can still be happy with yourself, made me understand the perspective opposite from mine.  

Some of the Instagram DM responses:

Message 1

"I completely 100% get where you're coming from, and oddly enough I get where she's coming from as well. I think you two are definitely on two different wave links in the mind, for sure, lol!

I think you're speaking more on actually FEELING good, and nourishing your body, to feel better within.

She on the other hand, (in my opinion, from what you said) is she's promoting basic "self love" and/or "self acceptance"; in what sounds like whatever you do....May it be greasy fried Oreos, or a nice salad, lol... Is this healthy? Hell no, not for the mind or body. do I personally believe this is "body positive" not really, but I think the spectrum of being "body positive" covers both of your views.

I feel like larger people who've almost given up in a way, have found each other and pretend to each other they're happy the way they are when they aren't.

Message 2

"No. That's not true. I think you should still take care of your body and not keep feeding it trash."

Message 3

"Sooo I feel like body positivity is so very important. And it's absolutely helped heaps of people to love and accept themselves and to stop trying to fit into a mold. And to my understanding it was a movement to break the social that only the thin/slim figure was what people needed to look like to be considered healthy. Because we all know that not all skinny people are healthy and not all thicker are unhealthy.

So I 110% agree with you! Body positivity has everything to do with being healthy!"

Message 4

I have to agree about body positivity. Body positivity is about accepting that healthy can be any shape, BUT IT STILL HAS TO BE SOMEWHAT HEALTHY! You cannot hide behind being body positive as an excuse for physical stagnation. This is just looking for enablers for a lifestyle.

Message 5

Body positivity to me means being happy about your body at any size. I struggle with this like anyone, looking in the mirror and calling myself fat. I'm trying to feed my brain more body positive things. I feel like mental health and wellness is a different thing. You're totally right - in order to feel and be healthy and feel good about yourself you need to nourish your body mind and soul. And if you're eating crap everyday - the garbage will wreck havoc on your body and your mind even if it's unconsciously because you KNOW deep down you shouldn't be doing it. And that's bad for your body image overall! Those are my thoughts.

What does all of this mean?

At the end of the day, someone else being positive about themselves isn’t necessarily up for debate. Sure the conversation with a lot of people means everyone agrees to some degree that to feel good, you need to do good for yourself. If you feel good and are doing good for your body, then you can psychologically be body positive. However that may not be the end all be all, for everyone.

What I've learned is if you’re happy without working out, and eating fast food on the regular, and you feel good, that’s your own feeling. It’s not something someone else can tell you, even if they personally couldn’t be positive living the same lifestyle. I know for me personally, if I had a McChicken and french fries everyday, I'd likely be shitting my pants because my gut would hate me. If I didn’t go to the gym 3-4 times a week, I would feel lethargic and generally not great. That’s how my body works, and how I feel best, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the case for every single person. At the end of the day, body positivity is different for everyone and we all get to decide what body positivity is for us. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below (let's make sure to keep it respectful.) 

This is a shot of Zion National Park, with the road and the mountains in the background.