Body Positivity

The Body Positivity Blog

One step forward, two steps back - An examination of the flawed logic of ‘fat acceptance’. By Jane Lambert

Only a couple of months ago, on these very pages, I highlighted some activewear companies who were going above and beyond in their attempts to be inclusive. Shortly afterwards, a huge, multi-national fitness brand, Nike, introduced a plus-size mannequin to their Oxford Street store (I’m not saying the two things are related, but we like to think that the reach of OM is far and wide…).

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that Nike have been quietly including a wide range of sizes in their activewear collection for some time now. They have also worked with a number of plus-size bloggers and influencers to promote their line, not being afraid to show the world that they want to include people of all shapes and sizes in their promotions. So putting a mannequin with a different body type front and centre in one of their flagship stores is not necessarily a surprise, but it’s definitely something to be celebrated.

If the story ended there, wouldn’t that be wonderful? We would be looking at another small victory in the fight against body shaming. Sadly, it’s 2019 and for every step we take forward, it seems as though we have to take another two back.

Backwards step
As soon as the photo of the Nike mannequin hit social media, people had opinions about it, and they weren’t shy about sharing them (after all, it’s 2019, and it’s the seeming anonymity of social media we’re talking about here!). Some decided that the ‘obese’ mannequins were encouraging a dangerous lifestyle, and promoting an unhealthy message.

Of course, engaging with trolls on social media is never a good idea, so many people within the plus-size community who were overjoyed to see a fitness mannequin that looked a bit more like them, simply made judicious use of the block button. Harder to ignore, however, was an article published by a leading newspaper (Telegraph), in which the journalist used her platform to deride the body-positive movement, refusing to use those words at all, and calling it “fat-acceptance”. In the article, the journalist suggests that the move by Nike to include this mannequin as part of its advertising campaign, is “treating the obese model as potentially healthy in the cause of profit”. For me, the worst part of the article is the quote that did the rounds on social media: “She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic, and on her way to a hip replacement. What terrible cynicism is this on the part of Nike?”

Flawed logic
If we apply even an ounce of logic to this argument, we can easily identify the flaws. Fat people (and women, in particular) are being mocked, ridiculed, and frankly bullied because they are overweight. The logic is that it’s lazy to be fat, because the simple solution is just to go to the gym, do some exercise, and lose some weight. But, and here’s the big problem, we’re not actually allowed access to activewear – that’s the end logic out of all of this. According to the Telegraph journalist, this woman cannot run, as she’s far too fat. So the issue becomes something different. When people express outrage at the mere existence of a plus-size mannequin on the grounds that they are concerned about a fat person’s health, it’s mostly nonsense. If they truly cared, they wouldn’t engage in shaming, which obviously is never going to yield positive results. If you want to encourage someone to exercise in order to lose weight (which is problematic in and of itself unless you are a medical professional), trying to restrict their access to activewear doesn’t seem like a good place to start. The argument seems to be that fat people should do exercise, because their bodies are offensive, but not in clothing specifically designed for the purpose.

You are amazing
A company like Nike knows what it is doing when it creates promotions like this: everyone has been talking about this mannequin. While those who disagree with it tend to shout the loudest, if you can wade through the noise, you’ll find more people who feel empowered and inspired by it. It doesn’t feel good to be a plus-sized person when confronted with the wave of negativity that something like this throws up, but a good way of overcoming that is simply to find your way back to your yoga mat. Remind yourself that your body is amazing, however big it is, and whatever shape, size or colour it might be.

Tell us what you think
What do you think of the notion that body acceptance, or body positivity, is merely ‘fat acceptance’? We’d love to know your thoughts.

Next time you're feeling down, trawling through social media, remember the lyrics to the Christina Aquilera song, "Beautiful":

I am beautiful
No matter what they say
Words can't bring me down


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