It is a challenging time for the body positivity movement. Christmas and New Year have just flown by, and most of those who celebrate will – hopefully – have had time to relax, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy some festive fun.
As always, however, comes the inevitable onslaught of New Year diets and detoxes, as if what was eaten with such pleasure mere weeks ago is now to be regarded as some sort of poison that must be expunged as efficiently as possible – lest the soul of the Christmas turkey reanimate and start taking apart our bodies, piece by sinewy piece.
As well as being none too cheering when facing down January, a month almost universally acknowledged as, well, a bit rubbish, this near ubiquitous attitude poses particular challenges for those whose relationship with their bodies is at best challenging and, at worst, pretty toxic itself.
Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of NHS England, made the news at the end of last year when he warned against “diet pills and detox teas”, saying that those who tried them “could end up doing more harm than good”.
Wanting to lose weight for health reasons is one thing, indeed, Powis approves of losing “excess” weight after Christmas if it is done so “gradually and safely”, but trying by whatever means and in as short a time as possible to shift every single pound deemed, for whatever reason, to be excessive is quite another.
And lines blur all too easily. Recently, celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels was criticised for her words about the singer Lizzo’s body: “Why are we celebrating her body?”, Michaels said on BuzzFeed’s show AM to DM, “Why does it matter? Why aren’t we celebrating her music? ’Cause it isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes.”
In a piece for Vox, Katelyn Esmonde hit back, writing “…Michaels is claiming that Lizzo’s “overweight” body shouldn’t be celebrated, based on assumptions about her current and future health status.
These comments are stigmatizing fat bodies in effect, if not in intent.” Again, there is an important distinction between recognising that some people may choose themselves to lose weight for their health and suggesting that those who do not should be judged negatively for their decisions. This distinction is possibly most pithily summarised as “mind your own business”.
That said, is body positivity really what we should be aiming for? The journalist Eva Wiseman noted in the Observer magazine that the movement fails to engage with the reasons people have difficult relationships with their bodies.
Wiseman supports a move towards “a new era of body neutrality. Of proud ambivalence”, suggesting this could be more suited to those who do not want their bodies to be material with which to make bold statements, or who do not want to spend much time ruminating on them at all. “I’m hoping that…the message of the next 10 years will be, not to love your body, but instead, find peace with it”, she concludes.
Maybe, just maybe, the best New Year’s resolution would be, simply, to worry about our bodies a bit less. You don’t have to declare how much you love your body and what it can do by any means (but feel free to do so).
Hating oneself, however, rarely leads to life changes that are positive or healthy, for mind or body. There is freedom in just deciding not to care. So, maybe this 2020 it’s time to stop picking holes in ourselves.
Image credit: Frannie Wise