For many, picking sides in this debate needs no hesitation, particularly when finding factual arguments against the concept of body positivity (and there are quite a few, where health is concerned). When looking deeper into the issue however, matters are complicated, as proponents have different attitudes and aspirations, from benign to utterly toxic.
- People who have experienced bullying and simply want it to stop
Although generally seen as reality distortion, this movement has become a refuge for those who seek acknowledgement for the very real suffering they have been put through pointlessly, sometimes for decades.
Their argument is in fact very logical – namely that people have no claims of entitlement to how others look, except for sexual situations, which involve (on average), for each person, one to a few individuals on this entire planet. Hence there is no reason to analyse every person we come across in terms of sexual desirability, since no sexual encounter is possible or likely. Many disagree, saying the analysis is a built-in mechanism; however, the point of voicing one’s conclusions abut the desirability of people they will never actually sleep with is lost to me. Especially voicing it to the world and to those they target.
There should be boundaries established by decency, but unfortunately, we live in times when boundaries are increasingly unclear. The world is a fiercely competitive place; since any aspect can be used as a means to stand out – including the size and shape of one’s genitalia – no part of a human being, physical or not, is excluded from appraisal.
It is true that society at large does not understand the difference between body shaming and other types of bullying. By instilling the idea that one is reprehensible to look at/ be in the presence of, the person is made to feel they will never be accepted by others in any situation, causing them to become very isolated and depressed. Whereas other defects, perceived or real, can be hidden with a bit of effort, there is no way to hide one’s size in a real life situation, hence a person feels targeted whenever they step outside their home, sometimes inside it as well. Also, this is not an issue one can fix from one day to the next, so there is no immediate relief in sight from the shame of being bullied; in fact there is no guarantee the bullying will ever stop.
Bullying also demonstrates the cruelty of the human jungle, as one’s chances in the world are reduced to the quick”eye test”, the failure of which obliterates any true qualities one might have. You can be intelligent, caring, well read, emotionally available 24/7 and have so much to give, yet if you don’t pass the one second ”eye test”, no one will even attempt to know you better. Whilst this type of judgement is rooted, especially for men, in the way their brains are wired and is a fact of life, it also seems very unfair.
The question I believe every bullied individual asks himself/ herself is why. Why can’t they peacefully go about their daily business, perform their role in society, have goals and dreams and not bother anyone, receiving the same respect from others. It seems reasonable enough, right? I will detail the answer to this question below, when describing the mentality of the bully, as I perceive it, and the reasons why campaigns such as ”fat acceptance” will never work.
2. Empathetic progressives in general
Many of them are sincerely well-meaning, while their intentions are merely to reduce the discord with regards to physical appearance (and not to enforce an ideology). Supporters of this campaign include therapists who have heard the stories of so many bullied patients they are aware of the harm done by everyday remarks to those who already feel down.
3. Ostracised people turned toxic
Moving on from harmless individuals who simply want to live without being insulted by strangers, one notices those who start making moral judgements regarding the weight-related decisions of others. Just browsing the web I came across opinions criticising those who make a point of losing weight or helping their children do so.
You can see toxicity creep in as soon as envy of others’ physical condition reels its ugly head, along with disapproval of those who want to improve theirs. This is obvious in cases involving feminists protesting the use of models in ads and campaigns of all sorts. While they see themselves as brave and revolutionary, to the rest of the world it spreads a potent fragrance of sour grapes. Quite clearly the fact that other women are attractive in the commonly accepted (biologically driven) sense bothers them; it interferes with their body positivity.
This shows that a certain category of people are only peaceful as long as they remain ”the underdog”. The moment they secure some influence on society, they start a battle with anyone who disagrees, going from ”I want a kind world where people live and let live” to ”if everyone thought the way I do the world would be a better place”.
Whereas benign supporters of the campaign just want the same respect as all other human beings, these types deem themselves morally superior and are passive-aggressive during debates, identifying with their appearance to the point of turning its promotion into a crusade. For this purpose they will dump ingenuity, adopting manipulation and fact distortion, especially in terms of health issues, in order to make a point.
Others write they are triggered when their peers lose weight and are commanded for it. The moment one resents the fact that a peer is succeeding towards a goal and becoming healthier, turning the focus inward, something is amiss – it shows this person perceives reality as revolving around them and their feelings, disregarding everyone else. Unfortunately, this is quite common nowadays, especially for young people.
4. Social Justice Warriors (mainly feminists)
Bullies are all about dictating, shaming and cornering, until complete acquiescence is is achieved. This lot, although subjected to bullying due to their weight, have become bullies in their own right.
To start with, ardent promoters of this movement demand to be considered attractive by a large number of people, as if anyone could mentally program their attraction to others. Their intention is not to be left alone, but rather to draw attention and praise, often by being lewd and expecting applause. I do not understand why presumed promoters of dignity would pose nude, if their purpose was to stop the objectification of women’s bodies.
In truth, they have no problem with objectification, but with the fact that other women’s bodies are being admired whilst theirs are not.
Those who advocate real dignity have a worthy cause. After all, every woman, regardless of her looks, is someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother, being turned by our culture into cheap masturbation material found in public toilets beside the bog roll; a consumption good for all to use. And the same goes for men; their objectification and imposition of the metrosexual image is a very sad phenomenon.
One of the biggest clues you’re dealing with a toxic attitude from a ”social justice” campaigner is their hatred of dissenters within the category they are advocating for. Although they claim to respect and support all members of said category, the minute someone disagrees with their approach they become a pariah, the bond of brotherhood/ sisterhood/ common experience suddenly ending. There is nothing they hate more than the odd voice not singing in tune and disrupting the choir.
Here is a relevant example from someone who participated in such a community. The militant, cult-like behaviours sound very familiar:
It’s strange how so many advocacy groups for oppressed people end up behaving like Nazis, wanting to control and censor others until no view but theirs is heard in their midst. They call for a collective identity and a collective mind, as scary as that sounds.
Regardless, when pondering the arguments on the other side of the debate, a few misconceptions come up quite often; here’s my attempt to address a few of them, hopefully in a funny enough way.
- Social acceptance based on your image enhancement equals happiness.
There is a terrible idea out there, reinforced by popular culture, that all you have to do to be happy in a social environment is mould yourself to the exact specifications of the insensitive fuckers who are aggressive to you on a daily basis. Once you manage, you will forget their words and everything will be rosy in your world of pink unicorns.
Except it won’t.
People assume that a demeaned person automatically integrates – mind and heart – into the social environment they’ve been rejected from once the object of the demeaning disappears, namely their defect. Once you’ve been targeted, especially for long periods of time, trust is very shaky; you are always aware that they can turn on you at any time. You know that when you step even slightly out of line they will notice and react. They might not know who you are anymore (they might apply different labels than in the past), but you know full well who they are and how they really think.
Motivation which actually works has to be rooted in something positive, such as one’s desire to be healthier or to have a certain image for their own enjoyment, and not seeking to pacify the hounds, who will – surprise, surprise – find something else to hate them for as soon as their image is no longer prime pecking material. That’s how the larger pack of vultures – also known as society – works.
There is no empowerment in conforming to the standards your bullies impose. Hence, pleasing the fuckers or impressing them – never mind aspiring to their respect or affection – is not likely to bring you happiness in itself.
Which is not to say that enhancing your image is not a powerful shield against their nastiness. But you do it out of self-preservation, in order to survive. It is not a matter of making your life excellent by appealing to others, but rather to keep them from making your life hell by reducing your vulnerability in front them. There is no Kumbaya at the end of this film.
Some might find these arguments contradictory; my point is that whilst it’s good to use your image as a shield, you should not be emotionally invested in what others think of you. You should not let them into your mind.
2. ”It’s easier to make excuses than to bust your ass at the gym…”
Whenever I hear people boast about ”working so hard”, as if expecting a medal, I start to giggle; it sounds almost infantile. The praise they expect for managing to look good – in terms of general usefulness – is just as unjustified as that of fat activists.
What you do with your body benefits you and (presumably) the person you engage with intimately. Unless of course you sell your image (or body) and more people suddenly become involved. It’s ridiculous to demand public acknowledgement for something that is not of public use, elevating yourself to an example others should follow. Others should not need excuses to not follow this example as they might not have the same goals in life.
I’m glad their self-esteem is well established and I’m happy for them, but cannot admire them in the same way I admire an astrophysicist, a gifted artist or a historian working very hard, giving their time to shed light on what is less known about the past. I can’t compare the result of their work to someone’s butt cheeks. When I see the righteous indignation in their eyes about how hard they work, all I can do is smile, if not laugh. I’m sorry.
3. ” I’m giving you a kick up the ass for your own good!”
Anyone who is emotionally invested in your well-being, physicians included, would not refer to the advice they give you as a ”kick up the ass”; even harsh realities are expressed in non-hurtful ways.
Those who claim their mockery has the best intentions are either of low emotional intelligence (unaware of how humans react to their attitude) or deceitful. For many, I have noticed, the fierce attitude towards people they claim disgust them is meant to create an obvious opposition, highlighting their own qualities.
Think of it this way – if all risky behaviour was worthy of the same vehement criticism, they would go for those who are into extreme sports, unsafe sex, hard drugs etc. But some deliberately pick those whose defects are at the opposite end of their best valued qualities, such as physical appearance. Which is often connected to how ”hard they work” to achieve those looks and potentially a felling of frustration for their effort not being appreciated enough.
4. Everyone agrees facades are more important than what’s behind them.
Of course, we associate one’s ability to maintain a good image with intelligence and tact, overlooking known defects manifested in private and admiring someone for carrying themselves around in a dignified manner. However, good observers with a capacity to analyse human behaviour are well aware there is an infinity of possibilities within each individual and thus are not necessarily fooled by appearances. Older people in particular have seen many instances of impeccable facades crumbling to dust or hidden gems being discovered.
Hence, although they might pay lip service to currently held views in order to avoid attracting negative attention, the way people handle their lives and relationships is a whole other world than what the media portrays. Most families nowadays include or closely relate to people with an addiction, people who have been to prison, people who take recreational drugs, people with a very visible physical defect, disability or major illness and so forth. And when faced with stereotypes labelling thousands or millions with the same behavioural patterns, most have stories to tell which disprove their validity.
I can go as far as saying it’s very common to know individuals who are excellently seen in their communities and are a handful at home, or ostracised folks who are actually very decent, trustworthy and easygoing. They are not exceptions by far.
Unfortunately, many use those around them in order to feel better by comparison, which in turn creates acrimony. The irony is that by doing so they feed the culture of competition which brings them all unneeded misery and frustration, feeling the urge to exaggerate a quality in order to compensate for defects, often putting others down in this process. If they stopped the comparisons and constant one-upmanship, they could direct their energy to more positive endeavours.