I love body positivity.
What’s not to love? I’m all about any movement for self-acceptance and being a little kinder to ourselves. And after the last few years, in which a medication radically changed the body I had known for so long, it was body positive affirmations and the amazing activists who uttered them that helped me rebuild a healthy relationship with my body and myself.
Body positivity has been like an old friend that I could lean on in difficult moments. It was there when a doctor labeled me “overweight” for the first time. It was there when my disordered eating crept back in and the calorie counting began, and it was there when I learned that you can have stretch marks on the back of your legs and the panic about all these changes set in.
(Bless you, Tumblr, and all the body pos babes who came to my rescue.)
But — and you knew there was a “but” coming, right? — I can’t say that I have always felt included in this movement, you know? Sometimes I wonder who this movement is really speaking to.
There are moments when it definitely, definitely doesn’t speak to me.
As a transgender person (someone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth), some of the language used in this movement can be a little… off-putting.
The most glaring issue that comes to mind is the mantra of “love your body, no matter the shape or size, exactly as it is.” Variations on this include: “You don’t need to change!” and “Embrace your curves!”
Well, I can’t.
As a trans person, I experience body dysphoria. This means that I have pretty significant distress around certain parts of my body because I associate them with a gender that I don’t identify with. This is fancy talk for “Holy shit, I cannot make peace with my body today or ever, because this body is telling the world I’m a woman when I’m actually not.”
On my worst days? I can’t leave my apartment. I ugly cry like there’s no tomorrow. And there’s a crushing weight on my chest, making it difficult to breathe, let alone function like the adult I’m supposed to be.
But contrary to the affirmations that litter my Tumblr feed, it’s not about hating myself, and it’s not even about hating this body — it’s a perfectly good body and it’s served me well through thick and thin.
It’s about hating what my body has come to symbolize. It’s the mixed messages and the misgendering that come with having a “feminine” body but a masculine gender identity. It’s about how invisible my body makes me feel — the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not.
And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.
The anxiety that I came to associate with different parts of my body, and the erasure that I experienced because of it, ultimately meant that my body and I couldn’t make peace; I needed to change my body in order to be healthy, functional and less dysphoric.
Which, yikes, after being told “Never change! You’re perfect just the way you are!” by some well-meaning Instagram photos, it makes me feel like I’m doing this whole “body positive” thing wrong — even though hormone therapy and top surgery are necessary for my psychological well-being.
The reality is that it’s dangerous for me not to change my body. Like many trans people, dysphoria can really wear you down, and it can be unhealthy to allow something so distressing to continue without an intervention.
So, what does my body positivity look like?
It crushes the gender binary — acknowledging that we aren’t all men and women, and that some of us, like me, are non-binary. People of all genders (and the bodies that they occupy) deserve to be visible, supported, represented and celebrated.
And no matter our gender identity, we are all coming up against a fatphobic, diet-obsessed culture — so I’m making room for everyone to navigate this hecka difficult struggle in their own way.
My body positivity does not hinge on the idea that all bodies are perfect as they are, because for some of us, this isn’t true to our experience. But all bodies are worthy — meaning we should treat them with love and care, whatever that care looks like so long as it’s good for us.
My body positivity says that we should all reclaim ownership over our bodies. Sometimes that means allowing our bodies to just be as they are, pushing out harmful body ideals and, instead, letting love in.
But sometimes, reclaiming requires change. Sometimes, it means taking back our bodies from dysphoria, and making the choices that we need to for our health — health that we dictate on our own terms. Sometimes, we must transition towards the bodies that we need in order to be well. That’s absolutely OK. Sometimes modifying our bodies can be our greatest act of self-love.
Most of all, my body positivity leaves nobody behind. My body positivity is still evolving. It is self-critical, changing and growing to encompass each and every person. Fat folks, disabled folks, people of color, transgender people and every intersection in-between — there is a place for you in this movement.
And I’m calling on you, body positive advocates, to not just make space for trans people, but to include us, too.
We need your hashtags, your affirmations, your shameless stretch mark pictures, your inspirational quotes, your fatkinis and your crop tops and all of the validation that comes with it.
So when you say “all bodies,” what do you really mean?
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