Body. Acceptance. How is it possible that two simple words hold so much meaning and importance? The body acceptance movement is so prevalent in our social and media spaces, that it’s even been (sigh) co-opted by advertisers trying to make a buck.
But how marketing gurus feel about body acceptance is irrelevant to this concept. What’s important is how we show up, and what we do to take part in, educate ourselves and others about, and spread the message to our communities. If you feel timid or unsure about how to be a helpful ally in the body acceptance movement, keep reading. We’ve got a lot to say about it.
1) Educate yourself. We cannot stress this one enough. It’s important. Education comes BEFORE empowerment. It must. We cannot create safer spaces for everyone without first understanding the challenges and struggles of others.
We can educate ourselves by seeking out the stories of other folx. Folx in our communities, and folx we would otherwise not meet. Folx in front of us and folx on the internet. We can educate ourselves by listening to pioneers in the body acceptance movement. By understanding the subtle differences between body acceptance and body positivity. By being proactive in our own education, rather than requiring others to teach us.
If this all sounds like, “YAH, YAH, I WANT THIS BUT HOW DO I DO IT?”, we understand. The social spaces that expose us to these ideas contain a whole lot of double-taps and not a whole lot of resources. That’s why we’ve created our Education + Empowerment Program. Throughout the 4-month digital course, students are given the tools to skillfully seek out educational materials, and navigate the language with discernment and wisdom.
education comes before empowerment
2) Make room for others to speak. It can be empowering, and often feels like a necessary part of our journeys, to speak about our own stories of recovery, body image, and body acceptance. We get it. We honor that. But consider one crucial thing: We have to create room for ALL bodies to tell their stories. And for some of us, when we speak, our voices make it harder for others to do so.
We must be honest with ourselves: Our society doesn’t make much room for people in oppressed and/or minority bodies to tell their stories. Historically speaking, we love hearing white, thin-presenting, able-bodied women speak about the challenges of finding peace with their physical selves. Because although our culture works hard to instill feelings of insecurity, unworthiness, and fear into the hearts of white women, it also loves hearing white voices speak.
We do not mean to devalue these women’s stories and journeys. Every human being deserves to feel safe and well in their body. But when we only create space for these women at the table, we send the message that we don’t care about, or value the stories of minority women in oppressed bodies.
As a disclaimer: While the Every Body Is Beautiful team is made up of women with a variety of backgrounds, we know that we do not represent all bodies, hence the importance of making space for others. Many of us, throughout our lives, experience privilege of many sorts — and have operated with a narrow frame of reference. We find it incredibly important to continue to educate ourselves and seek out the insights and opinions of others, especially fat women of color. A FEW of our favorites are Sonya Renee Taylor, Natalie Patterson, and Virgie Tovar. Because we don’t know everything about this movement. Not by a long shot. We have much to learn, and we’re working to do that, while honoring others.
3) Owning Your Mistakes & Learning From Them. We are raised to feel shameful of our missteps and mistakes. We live in a hyper-competitive culture that views a f*ck-up as a moral failure of the highest degree. But guess what? In this line of work — the work of radical body acceptance and body respect — there will be f*ck-ups. As we raise our collective and individual consciousness, we are bound to make some missteps along the way. All of us.
What’s imperative is what happens next, and how we handle it. We must aim to heed the insight of Your Fat Friend in this incredibly good article: She reminds us that learning is a process, and to honor the process, we need to be honest about where we started, and how we are evolving. In other words: Don’t pretend like we have always understood it all. Don’t brush our accidents under the rug. Own it when we hurt others. Listen to them when they tell us how our actions are problematic. Be humble. Be receptive.
This is a process for all of us — definitely the EBIB team, too — and it’s tough stuff. But it just may be the most important thing of all.
So what now? Know this: By creating space for and listening to others speak, you are contributing to the collective healing of our society. You are taking a stand against body oppression. You are working to heal your own wounds. You are doing the work in the most real way. Thank you.