Black Joy

New year, same body: What body positivity can look like for you

Since January 1st, how many weight loss ads have appeared on your social media timeline?

Probably too many to count.

Peloton. Gym membership specials. Or – in my case – reels of smiling “former” fat people behind a caption that reads “Taking medicine isn’t cheating.” Bizarre.

The United States’ persistent cultural obsession with refining ourselves for the New Year often means making physical changes to your body. It can be controversial to call body-targeted resolutions fatphobic, but that’s exactly what they are.

The emphasis on weight loss has even impacted the healthcare industry and made it difficult for fat folks to receive adequate care. An example of this is the over reliance on the BMI, which is not a good indicator of our overall health. However, if you fail to meet the BMI standard for a “normal” weight – and most of us are failing – you’ve probably been told by a doctor to lose weight. However, weight could be entirely unrelated to the issue you’re seeking treatment for.

From my experience, something as simple as a stress-related muscle spasm has led to lectures from nurses about being overweight.

With so many messages telling us that our bodies aren’t good enough, it’s no wonder the diet industry is still booming – and it’s only getting worse. In 2019 alone, the weight loss and diet industry had a net worth of 192.2 billion. This is expected to nearly double by 2027.

Diet culture is at every turn, even among dieticians and nutritionists, a field you might expect to lead with a body inclusive framework. And though the dietician field is predominantly white and rife with the racist origins of weight stigma, there are a growing number of Black women redefining the industry. Meet Esther Tambe, a body-positive Registered Dietitian who focuses on raising awareness about eating disorders and providing weight-inclusive nutrition counseling to Black communities:

“I got started with nutrition and the emphasis [on] improving the relationship with food and the body due to lived experiences and just seeing [others] who had eating disorders and disordered eating . . . as I started doing more work as a dietitian and [understanding] that being weight inclusive and not talking about weight as the only reason to improve your health [was possible], that’s when I realized, okay, this is what I resonate with as a dietitian.”

As Tambe emphasized several times, weight does not determine health. She stressed the importance of examining health and what it means to you from a holistic perspective.

“I think the big question would be how does one define health? Because everyone has a different definition of health . . . But can you still improve health without losing weight? Yes, you can. So, if you realize you’re not sleeping enough, how do you add in more hours of sleep or decrease screen time at night. . . Are you actually eating enough throughout the day? Not skipping meals? Those are things that one can focus on without worrying about that number on the scale.”

A Forbes Health/OnePoll survey found that weight loss and fitness were among the top reported New Year’s resolutions. However, Tambe cautions against the notion of even calling your desire to lose weight a resolution. By definition, a resolution is the act of solving a problem. And to think of your body as in need of fixing isn’t healthy or sustainable.

“Could you go [into it] with a different mindset or reframe it? Like maybe, what are some intentions I want to [set]? Or what’s something new I want to do for 2023? How can I step out of my comfort zone? But we don’t need to call it resolutions.”

Additionally, internalized weight stigma contributes to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, among a host of other mental and physical health issues. The purpose of body positivity isn’t just some trendy, anti-health platitude. It quite literally saves lives.

Aside from the diet and nutrition field, social media and personal blogs have also been sites of body positivity promotion.

Author, model, and founder of the blog Notoriously Dapper, Kelvin Davis is at the forefront of body positivity that centers Black men. Following an unpleasant encounter at a department store, Davis wanted to create a space that allowed Black men to feel comfortable and stylish regardless of their size.

“I got my first job as a middle school art teacher. And at that time, I had gained a good bit of weight and I was looking for some stylish clothing. . . I had always been into really bright colors and all those kinds of things. So, I went shopping to spruce up my work wardrobe a little bit. And I went into a store to get this red blazer [but it] was only available in the size 42. So, I asked for a size 46-48 and the lady told me that I was too fat to shop there. That was like my first time being publicly body shamed. It made me feel very insecure [and] very unconfident in myself.”

Davis’ blog and brand are pretty groundbreaking for the movement, which heavily focuses on women, with white women often in the forefront.

“I started the blog in 2012. And over time, I was just very consistent with it because I’m passionate about [this] and around 2016 or ‘17 when the women’s movement really was at its height for body positivity, people just wondered if this existed for men. So, when people would Google male body positivity, my blog would be the first thing that would come up on Google, Yahoo, or any search engine.”

Davis’s Notoriously Dapper blog is also about style. He emphasizes the importance of personal fashion and challenges folks to focus on that for the New Year rather than weight loss.

“My advice to anybody that’s struggling with body image is to, one, understand that the way that your body is right now is the way that it is going to be. So, you have to accept things as they are in each moment. I am just not a big fan of people changing their bodies to fit a societal standard of beauty. . . over time you develop your personal style [and] the cool thing about style is that it’s you, it’s your personality. So, it never goes out of style because you’ll never go out of style.”

Both Tambe and Davis encourage prioritizing your health beyond simply losing weight. The best New Year’s “resolution” or intention you can set for yourself is to spend less time on what your body looks like and focus more on what it feels like. Is it well-fed? Hydrated? Your body deserves your nurturing and kindness.

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham (she/her), affectionately known as Dani Bee, is Reckon’s Black Joy Reporter, and a Chicago-born, Mississippi-raised writer based in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2021 Lambda Literary fellow, her work has been published in MadameNoire, Midnight & Indigo Literary Magazine, Raising Mothers, and elsewhere.

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