How Whiteness Killed the Body Positive Movement
Body positivity changed my world. Why didn’t I do more to make sure it changed things for Black women, too?
It was March 2017, and I was sitting on stage at SXSW, arguing with a men’s rights activist. I’d been invited to host a panel called “My Body Is NSFW,” about the issue of censorship and erasure of fat bodies in media. I’d pitched the panel based on an article I’d written for my column, The Anti-Diet Project. Beside me sat Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg — both iconic media figures and personal heroines of mine — whom I’d invited to join as my panelists. As a fangirl, it was the thrill of a lifetime. Furthermore, they’d been speaking out about body positivity long before it was a buzzword (and doing so as a queer and Black woman, respectively). The event had gone beautifully thus far: a passionate discussion about unconscious bias, intersectionality, the progress made by those of us in the body positive movement, and the urgent work still yet to be done to dismantle systemic anti-fat stigma.
Then we opened the floor for questions. The MRA stood up, pointed his smartphone at us, and in a quiet, almost docile voice, accused us of discriminating against him and all men, who were biologically programmed to prefer thin, attractive women. Body positivity was a hate movement against men, was it not? (I’m paraphrasing, simply because his “question” was so long, convoluted, and overstuffed with logical fallacies it would make your brain bleed.) He was obviously trying to incite our fat feminist rage — thus we responded with calm voices and reason. Of course body positivity wasn’t a hate movement. Beauty standards were socialized, not biological, and so on. The MRA wasn’t satisfied, and refused to stop talking. The back-and-forth continued for five excruciating minutes, with Nicolette and Gabi doing most of the talking. They whipped out statistics and evidence-based arguments, their voices growing firm and righteous while I struggled to keep mine from shaking.
While I often liked to point out that body positivity was for everyone, I became ever more aware that it was mostly women like me who benefited from it.