Do a quick Google search for “body positivity” and your browser page will quickly populate with articles from popular websites, wikipedia entries, and memes galore – all the trappings of a movement gone mainstream. (And if you’re new to this “body positive” or “fat acceptance” idea, allow me to skip ahead here and simply state that the long and short of it all is that being fat isn’t a weakness, isn’t shameful, and certainly isn’t anyone else’s business but your own.)
Yet even as I type that (for what must be the fiftieth time,) there’s a little tiny bit of me that fights back and doesn’t want to accept those truths. A wee inner nugget of internalized societal construct that screams, “But your fatness inconveniences others! You don’t belong! Just stay home and hide already!”
I have to remind myself that this life is an ongoing journey on the path to Being Okay. Accepting my body for what it is and learning how to love all that it can do is just one everlasting road trip. Sometimes there’s a bump in the road, sometimes you roll up on some unexpected but lovely vistas, and sometimes you break down on the shoulder and wait for help.
If you’re looking for a road map for your own body positivity journey, mine certainly isn’t complete, but I hope it’ll provide you with a few highlights, a warning or two, and perhaps a little companionship as you navigate the terrain.
- Starting the Engine
It’s not an uncommon fat lady experience – one day you wake up and you wonder, “hey, what’s so wrong with my body anyway?” You dismiss it, remind yourself that skinny = happy and go about your business. And then it keeps happening. Over and over, more frequently, you find yourself thinking “uhhhh my big butt is kiiiiinda cute.” That’s your cue; that’s your hero’s call to action. Do Joseph Campbell a favor and Cross the Threshold. After all, what’s so wrong with NOT beating yourself up every moment of the day?
- Roadside Attraction #1: Museum of Fat Lady Instagram Accounts
You might find yourself feeling like you need to give yourself permission – permission to feel beautiful as you are, permission to wear something sleeveless when it’s 90 degrees out, permission to take chances and live boldly. If that’s the case, may I suggest taking some inspiration from some wonderful women living their best lives and documenting it to share on Instagram. For me, seeing women who didn’t fit some standardized definition of beauty but were wearing short shorts and being bold just because they could, hit just the right spot. Some of my favorites are: Margot Meanie, Jess Baker, GlitterandLazers, and Sarah Sapora . (I’d recommend frequent visits to this roadside attraction. A little inspiration from others can sometimes help boost you over a roadblock or two.)
- An Ongoing Detour: Partner Talks
At some point, you’ll feel the need to share all the inner work you’ve been doing with someone close to you. For me, that someone was my husband. Fair warning: It’s not a one time discussion. Sometimes they are short updates (“I’m not wearing shapewear under this dress and I don’t care who knows it!”) and sometimes they are long drawn out crying affairs (see: Brittany reads Shrill by Lindy West, feels it is LIKE REALLY ABOUT ME, and then doesn’t understand why her husband is confused by her feelings). What I’ve learned is that coming to love yourself affects the people you already love because they’re invested in you and your happiness. So while this journey is unmistakably about you, you probably owe it to your person to communicate your changing feelings and needs.
- Border Crossing #1: Clothing Experimentation Challenge
Confession: I have not worn shorts since the 9th grade. And then a year ago, at the age of 31, I finally asked myself why: It’s hot, why am I in jeans? My answer though? Utterly unacceptable. What it came down to was that I didn’t want someone else to have to look at my legs, and I was scared they would think I was fat if they had to. As if anyone is confused about if I have cellulite or not. As if I would put on a pair of shorts and suddenly – bam! – the secret is out – I’m fat! The shock, the horror, the clutching of imaginary pearls I was sure to see on the faces of strangers as my secret fat lady identity was revealed to them. Except that, nope, none of that happened. It turns out you can wear shorts, or tank tops, or even leggings and offend roughly zero people. Wear what scares you. It’s liberating and fun.
- Optional Pit Stop: TattooLand!
Perhaps not for everyone, but maybe give it a thought or two. Nothing reminds you that you love that jiggly bit more than some cool permanent art slapped on it for everyone to see.
- Roadside Attraction #3: Read ALL THE BOOKS
This one is a Must-See. Coming to understand why you feel the way you have felt about your body, how it fits into the larger narrative of patriarchy and other forms of kyriarchy is essential for inner peace. My starter recommendations: Shrill by Lindy West, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jess Baker, and anything written by Roxane Gay.
- Border Crossing #2: Posting Pics with Your Wobbly Bits
I’m not saying you should send noods to your office listserv. But the day I wore shorts while sightseeing in my new city and then actually posted the pics on social media, my soul felt lighter. It felt a little more like I was walking the talk and living authentically. Who knew social media could be a part of self care?
- The Road Ahead and Its Roadblocks
In your future, there may be those awkward convos with biased doctors, Internet faux-health crusaders, tense familial discussions and “concerns”, the staredowns from the old ladies in the restaurants, and just those days where you can’t possibly see what could possibly be even remotely okay about your body. Sometimes these roadblocks will be few and far between, sometimes it seems like there’s a whole pile of them standing in your way for days or weeks. But you’ll keep going, because that’s all they are – the momentary stumbles present on any journey worth taking. As you wind your way up and over and through them all, keep in mind that it’s not fat that keeps people from leading fulfilling lives, it’s shame. And shame isn’t an automatic function of fat. No, the shame was created in your mind by someone trying to sell you something. You have permission to stop buying it.
Brittany Pratt lives in the Seattle area and is known to wax poetic about her pugs, brilliant husband, fall foliage, and all things feminism. If you’re interested in pug photos and husband candids, you can follow her on the ‘gram @brittpratt