A guest post by Sydney Barrera, RD, LDN and Rachel Goodwin, MA, LPC, LCPC
As clinicians treating people suffering from eating disorders, we frequently discuss body image. When we start these conversations, most clients assume we will try to move them toward ‘body positivity.’
In the 1960s, body positivity and fat-acceptance activists were focused entirely on fighting for the equality of opportunities, treatment, representation, safety, and dignity of all people living in marginalized bodies. Unfortunately, the present-day version of body positivity has shifted so far from the original intent that few posting about the topic knows its roots. Not to mention that while we acknowledge fatphobia to have its beginnings in the racist ideals of the 1700/1800s (and today!), the early days of body positivity were also largely devoid of the voices of those with black and brown bodies. The National Association to Aid Fat Americans believed to be a pivotal catalyst to the early movement, was started by a white man with a fat wife.
The resurgence of body positivity started as a popular trend on social media in the early 2010s. It made claims focused on accepting all bodies, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender, and physical abilities, while challenging present-day beauty standards as an undesirable social construct. Sounds great, right? While the renewal and transformation of body positivity have been popular for over a decade, body image issues haven’t become less common, intense, or destructive to people’s lives. The truth is body positivity can be quite toxic.
While we as professionals are actively working to get to the root of eating disorder behaviors, the body positivity movement can sometimes reinforce the idea that our worth lies solely in how our bodies appear to the world. It proclaims that the world will be better if we can feel positive about our bodies! In reality, pushing toxic body positivity can encourage preoccupation with appearance and remove the many other qualities that make us complex and unique. Feeling less connected to our true selves can continue to keep us disconnected from our bodies.
We must be more realistic about where our clients are starting and mindful of the ultimate goal. Many think of their bodies as objects to be controlled, perfected, and altered and cringe at the idea of ‘loving’ their bodies. People are more willing to listen when we speak of body neutrality. By focusing on body neutrality, our clients can learn what their body can do for them, how it serves them (or doesn’t), and what makes it unique. This allows individuals to get in touch with feelings and beliefs about how society has taught us a body is supposed to function and appear. Body neutrality practices are supportive among many different cultures and populations through exploring mindful movement, meditation, and therapy practices. And most importantly, bringing back into focus the importance of pushing for body equality, representation, and dignity.
Sydney Barrera, RD, LDN, is the Director of Nutrition Services at SunCloud Health
Rachel Goodwin, MA, LPC, LCPC, is a Therapist for the Virtual IOP Program at SunCloud Health