Mental Health Bites

Weight bias in the body positive movement

I consider myself part of the ‘body positive movement’; I believe that everyone should be able to feel comfortable and confident in the body they’ve got, irrespective of size, shape or any other difference.

However, apparently I’m not a welcome part of the body positive movement….  Because I’m ‘thin’.  How’s that for irony?

Let me explain.

Earlier this week I found myself idly perusing Twitter looking for some Eating Disorder-related content to re-tweet when I stumbled over a (supposedly) ‘body positive’ conversation.  The original poster (who shall remain nameless) was asking how ‘fat’ people felt about ‘thin’ people calling themselves body positive.  It seems the majority felt that ‘thin’ people have no right to talk about body positivity, that they have no idea about weight stigma, and that basically anything a ‘thin’ body positive person might say should be responded to with an eye roll.

I feel disappointed and frustrated.  I have a lot to say.

Firstly – exactly what specifies ‘thin’ and ‘fat’?  Does there exist a middle ground?  And, how are we measuring that – by BMI, clothes size, personal feeling, or something else?  Is it objective, or subjective?

Take me as an example – my BMI is within the ‘healthy’ range, my clothes size is smaller than the UK average (the UK average being a women’s size 16), and I have more curves than I once did.  I think most people would probably describe me as thin (largely owning to the fact I am objectively little) – but I would consider myself to be whatever that unnamed middle ground is….

The fact that even I (an Eating Disorder Therapist) feel uncomfortable to say the above is very telling.  There is seemingly no way to talk about our own body, with the language that we have available, without annoying, offending or upsetting someone else.

Talking about body weight also typically provokes very weight-biased responses – irrespective of the size of the person saying it.  If I reference gaining weight, people rush to reassure me that I’m thin (despite the fact I didn’t suggest gaining weight was bad, or good – because, actually, it is simply a fact).  Conversely, when I lost weight while in hospital (for an appendectomy) I had someone I work with compliment me for it (for the record – I didn’t take it as a compliment!).

Once I had a very weird experience in a supermarket; when a complete stranger walked up to me, placed her arm around my waste and said “you’re nice and thin”, before walking off.  I assume this woman thought that a) this was a nice thing to say, and b) that it was acceptable to get into my personal space like that.  In fact, I actually felt quite uncomfortable.  The thought, “am I too thin?” crossed my mind (weight stigma!), shortly followed by a pondering on whether it would be appropriate to go and hand her a business card: ‘Kel O’Neill – Counsellor specialising in Eating Disorders’.

We are expected to feel something about our weight – something specific, something sold to us by the media.  When I refer to myself as body positive I am basically saying I really don’t care what size my body is, or yours – because weight genuinely doesn’t reflect your worth as a person in any way.

I feel similarly about food; I don’t eat something because it’s ‘healthy’ (because, what is healthy?) – I eat either because it tastes good, or it’s what’s available. I don’t count calories.

I totally appreciate that, potentially, the above statements come with some ‘thin privilege’ – but I mean it with all my heart.  I would not change the way I eat for any reason other than health – for example, if I found out I was allergic to something.

Don’t get me wrong, I am completely aware that there is more stigma associated with being ‘overweight’ – and that I have ‘thin privilege’ in many situations.  However, having ‘thin privilege’ doesn’t stop me empathising with the experience of people who don’t, it doesn’t stop me from wanting EVERYONE to feel comfortable in their own skin and it certainly doesn’t stop me from encouraging others to love themselves as they are.

You can’t call yourself body positive – while excluding someone from the dialogue because of their weight.  That is literally the definition of weight bias.


This is MASSIVE topic – one I’d certainly be open to posting about further.  Also, keep your eye out for posts about my research into ‘weight bias’ (coming soon), and consider attending the ‘Weight Stigma Conference’, and the ‘Appearance Matters Conference’ next year to learn more.

2 thoughts on “Weight bias in the body positive movement

  1. Stella Neophytou

    Why are we constantly judging each other, and who makes the rules about what is the norm. The reason people are struggling with body image is because we have so many people saying so many things we are failing according to someone or others idea of what we should look like.

    We need to nurture a body friendly atmosphere not this battle zone where the rules constantly change.

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