I’m definitely not the first person to ask this question, but the answer still isn’t clear-cut: can you be body positive and want to lose weight? After all, isn’t body positivity about the idea that all body shapes and sizes are equally valid and beautiful? How can you subscribe to that and still want to change yours?
Let’s look at everything that body positivity is fighting against:
- the idea that there is only one societally acceptable body type
- the idea that only thin bodies can be healthy
- that there are “good” or “bad” bodies.
When people want to lose weight, they typically use reasoning that directly contradicts body positivity. Statements like “I want a summer body” or “I want to look good in a bikini” subscribe to the idea that only thin bodies can be attractive. On the surface, it seems more reasonable when people say they want to lose weight “to be healthier”—but actually, the assumption that a thinner body would automatically be more healthy is every bit as damaging. Wanting to keep your body fit and healthy is a great thing, but when we allow blanket assumptions such as “thinner = healthier” to exist, we’re actually preventing people from getting any real understanding about how our bodies can stay on top form.
So how can you be body positive and want to lose weight?
Well, I have a few excuses for why I want to lose weight…
- I try not to buy new clothes too often in order to reduce waste, and my recent weight gain has left me struggling to squeeze in to most of my old faves. I’d like to lose weight so I can wear my old clothes.
- My body feels different now that I’ve gained weight; I’d like to lose weight because it’s uncomfortable.
…but the longer I think about them, the more the flimsy excuses fall apart. I can try to kid myself otherwise, but I know that if I had lost weight instead, I’d be more than happy to buy myself new clothes to match. (And, as someone whose weight has fluctuated a lot over the years, I have the receipts to prove it.) Anyway, I still fit into the clothes; I just look different in them!
Even though I pride myself on my high self-esteem, every film, every magazine, every advert I’ve ever seen have all told me that I should fit within a socially-prescribed weight range—and I’ve believed them.
So what do I do now?
I wrote last month about whether wearing make up is a choice, and concluded that it isn’t—but we should be allowed to do it anyway. I can’t claim that my wanting to lose weight is a totally personal decision: just like with wearing make up or shaving, I’m not making these choices in a vacuum. Society has forced beauty expectations on me my whole life, and now I’ve absorbed them.
But that’s the thing: I’ve absorbed them. I’m not going to reprimand myself, and end up feeling like a body positivity failure: I’m already dealing with the pressure of 25 years of social conditioning; why would I add the even worse pressure of single-handedly overcoming it?
Asking “can you be body positive and want to lose weight” is just like asking “can you be a feminist and still x, y or z”—to which the answer is always a raised eyebrow and a resounding yes.
So instead of over-analysing the flaws in my body positivity, I can just try making a few body positive improvements. I can stop looking at fashion magazines and models’ Instagrams—or I can start following some more plus-size models, and broaden the beauty standards I’m exposed to. I can practise mindfulness while I exercise: instead of slugging through it with visions of washboard abs floating behind my eyes, I can enjoy the feeling of what my existing body can do. I can find ways of eating that make me feel refreshed and energised: not only are boring diets hard to stick to, they also make you feel like you’re being punished for being the “wrong” size.
For me, an eating pattern that I’ve enjoyed in the past has been the 5:2 diet. The restricted-calorie days can be hard to get used to, but intermittent fasting is great at clearing your head and at relieving IBS symptoms, and so after a few weeks of it, I tend to feel much happier and more relaxed. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it without doing a lot of your own research first, especially as restrictive eating can be very dangerous for people with eating disorders—but if you feel comfortable restricting what you eat, I’ve found that this diet actively improves my mental health. And I’m excited to combine it with my new veganism to find even more ways to feel good about what’s going in my body!
But most of all, I can be careful with my language: if I start defensively justifying my desire to lose weight, then chances are I’m going to be perpetuating some dangerous assumptions about body image. But my feelings don’t need justification!
I’d love to be a body positive warrior, and a full-time feminist, and to be constantly changing the world with my every choice and action—but I also need to forgive myself for just being a human, not a political battlefield. Because after all, what’s the most positive thing I could do for my body? Remember that it’s mine.
Related: I wrote ‘How one vacation changed the way I saw my body‘ for HelloGiggles last year