Introducing EveryBody, a series by Yahoo Canada highlighting the people and organizations working to end weight stigma, promote size inclusivity and prove that everybody and every body has value.
The fight for size representation has long been categorized under body positivity, a movement that was created decades ago by fat women of colour aimed at dismantling systemic and institutional fatphobia. Over the years, however, the focus of body positivity has changed: It’s often now combined with self-love, which many take issue with. Additionally, many brands have begun to capitalize on the movement without honouring or respecting its origins, printing cute slogans on t-shirts that don’t hold nearly as much value as the voices that brought this fight to life in the first place.
Because of this, the body positivity movement has become quite crowded, and so, many are turning to a new wave of change: body neutrality.
As opposed to body positivity, body neutrality aims to encourage humans to accept their body how they are, whether or not they love the way it is. Simply saying “just love your flaws” isn’t realistic; as imperfect people, it’s near impossible to truly love the things that society tells us to hate. Body neutrality tells people that it doesn’t matter whether or not they love the body they’ve been given: what’s important is that they value their body just as much as anyone else.
“Body positivity kind of handles or deals with one part of the problem only, which is our narrow definition of beauty,” says Anuschka Rees, author of the book Beyond Beautiful. “And that's really helpful, it's really worthwhile and it's really important that we keep fighting for inclusion and representation and diversity and everything.”
Beyond Beautiful is described as a guide to living a happy life in a looks-obsessed world. It is a practical, honest view at our society’s obsession with beauty and the negative impact that that can have on our mindset and mentalities. The book aims to fill the gaps left by body positivity, especially the fact that trying to broaden our definition of beauty is not enough to solve the true issue at hand.
“[Body positivity is] not enough because even if we broaden our definition of beauty, it doesn’t fix the underlying problem, which is that beauty still has such a huge value and our society. And what's more is that in a lot of ways, not always but often body positivity, while trying to reduce the effects of body ideals, it actually reinforces the value that beauty has in our society. By constantly telling people, you are beautiful, we're also discounting their other qualities. We’re reinforcing the idea that what they look like matters a lot, and that’s the problem,” Rees says.
“I just kind of noticed from all of the reader emails and messages I was getting, that for pretty much everyone, how they feel about their clothes is really wrapped up in how they feel about their body. How they feel about their looks, has a huge influence over their entire lives and their day to day decisions.”
Since the book was released in May, a strong community of fat women and men have embraced its message, identifying with body neutrality and seeing how impactful it truly is. Some, however, have yet to fully grasp what this new movement is and have occasionally taken issue with it. But as Rees explains, that’s all a part of the process.
“I can understand that the message might take some time to get behind. But I do feel like there is more and more of a shift going on,” she says. “You can also see that when you look at like advertisements. In previous years, it was all about love your body, love your curves. And now it's much more about, do what you want. [It’s] about freedom. So I think there's an interesting shift happening.”
While the topic of body neutrality may still be new, it’s clearly having an impact, made clear by Beyond Beautiful’s active community of over 36,000 Instagram followers. Though some may still prefer to identify with body positivity, body neutrality helps to emphasis the importance our humanizing fat people regardless of what they look like. Happiness is a journey; it cannot be achieved overnight. Thanks to body neutrality, more and more women and men are starting to realize that.
“It's so ingrained in our language that we comment on how other people, especially women, look all the time. But all those things are reflections of the intense value that duty has in our society. I think a really important first step is to really try to focus on something else, something other than what someone looks like, and focus on something other than what you look like,” Reese explains. “ I think by kind of training yourself to think and talk about other qualities of other people — their personality, their opinion, what they've been saying — it also helps you understand that you yourself are more than just your looks.”