An Incomplete History of the Body Positive Movement

Apr 17, 2020

Dec 12, 2020

In this age of heightened connectivity (looking at you, social media) and upticks in movements focused on self care/self love, the phrase “body positivity” is constantly present. Not complaining about this: I wish we all repeated this phrase to ourselves throughout our days, to our friends and family, as often as we need to hear it. But it is worth noting how wonderfully pervasive it has become. One area that could use this phrase more, however, is the fitness community, both on social media and throughout gyms, personal training facilities, and studios. Enter Clarity: Atlanta’s first ever explicitly body positive gym, looking to change the fitness industry by helping our members, one at a time, find peace in movements that feel good to them.

It may surprise you to learn that the body positive movement existed long before Clarity came into being, long before our owner Abbey was born, long before any of us were born, for that matter. What follows is a very incomplete history of the body positive movement, from readily available internet resources. What I can tell you for sure is that as long as bodies have been around, so has the core of body positivity: appreciating and loving being in the body you are in, regardless of what it presents as. These are some milestones of the explicit body positive movement that we would love to share with you!

1850: a time of Victorian sensibilities and Dickens novels. It also happens to align with the sparking of the first (explicitly recorded) body positive revolution: the Victorian Dress Reform Movement1. This consisted of mostly middle class white women, fighting back against corsets, which were both fashionably appropriate and the cause of psychological and physical pain due to unsafe “waist tightening”. Having a small waist at the time was both fashionable and necessary, a sign of class as well as acceptability. These women formed a movement to fight back against this oppressive force, trying to get the rest of Victorian society to accept bodies of all shapes and sizes, including ones with “too big” and “too small” waists1. This dualistic goal aligns with the current body positive movement, but is notably different from the “fat positivity” movement, and the two often get conflated. The fat positivity movement focuses specifically on the acceptance of fat bodies, due to the current and historical levels intense levels of discrimination, as bodies not considered “thin” or “normal”.

100 years later, the body positive movement had its next history making moment. A radio host

in New York in the 1960s held a “Fat-In”: a protest against the discrimination of fat people in the culture at the time2. This “Fat-In” was followed by an influential article by Lew Louderback called “More People Should be Fat!” in 1967, which is a divisive article to this day about “thin” culture, and Louderback and his wife’s experiences embracing their fatness and ending their diet culture obsession3. One poignant line reads, “[t]here is something distinctly unhealthy, even sinister, in the anti-fat madness that has swept this country in recent years” (Louderback, 1967).

Swiftly following the article, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was

born4. The NAAFA was focused particularly on ending discrimination based on body weight, and to demarcate the difference between “unhealthy” obesity and fat bodies (which remains a point of conversation and divergence in today’s movement as well)4. This organization still exists, fighting primarily in the spheres of public advocacy, education, and support for those experiencing discrimination.

Health at Every Size (HAES) came out of this organization, which is another group advocating for the body positive movement5. HAES is taking on primarily the medical community, which has long relied on faulty models like BMI that don’t accurately reflect the ways in which size and health can be disassociated5. All of the employees of Clarity Fitness took the HAES pledge, renewing our commitment to recognizing bodies as healthy for reasons besides size, and working to advance this knowledge within our own communities.

In the 1990s, The Body Positive was founded, which is the premiere body positive organization6. Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott created The Body Positive as a place and movement that can teach people to listen to their bodies (rather than the rest of the world), and to live fuller lives by doing so6. They have vastly increased education and access to resources about being in touch with our bodies, honoring them for where they are at (which is a perfectly good place to be), and allowing them to exist peacefully. The Body Positive became another tool in the pockets of advocates and activists, leading us to where we are today. Social media has allowed for a huge increase in the spotlight on the body positive movement, from celebrities like Tess Holliday taking on the modeling, fashion, and entertainment industries and their bias, to everyday instagram feeds of fat people, thin people, and everyone in between living their best lives unapologetically7. Disability movements are being brought into the fold with many hard fought battles for recognition and representation by other stigmatized bodies for reasons besides weight. While not all social media feeds and organizations that claim to be “body positive” are aligning with the core values of acceptance, the majority of body positive businesses, people, and advocacy are doing important and incredible work.

Clarity Fitness is one of the newer iterations of this movement, becoming the first explicitly body positive gym in the Atlanta community. We are so excited to become a part of the (incomplete) history of body positivity, and are committed to standing with those who came before us in the fight to allow all bodies to exist peacefully and with love. The fitness industry desperately needs a body positive awakening, and we are one piece of the puzzle looking to change this small world for the better.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_dress_reform
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_acceptance_movement
  3. http://www.powerfulhunger.com/powerful_hunger_blog/history-of-fat-acceptance-lew-louderback-1967-article/
  4. https://www.naafaonline.com/dev2/
  5. https://haescommunity.com/
  6. https://thebodypositive.org/
  7. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tess-holliday-self-cover-fat-acceptance_n_5b354781e4b0f3c2219f45be

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Sara Kass

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