Body Positive Movement vs. Health at Every Size: Similarities and Differences
With the Body Image Reset launching next Wednesday, May 8th (ekk!!) I thought today would be the perfect opportunity to discuss one of the most FAQ’s I get asked when discussing body image: what’s the difference between the body positive movement and health at every size. While there are many overlapping themes and similarities, they are also unique differences and distinctions between the two that important to understand.
Definition of the Body Positive Movement
The body positive movement is just that…a movement. A social movement to be specific, that encourages all to love their bodies and a core belief that all humans should have a positive body image no matter your body size, shape or appearance. The movement is much more about social justice and equality in comparison to health at every size, which we will discuss next, which focuses more on a model of health and specific ways to take care ourselves.
Another great definition of the movement comes from bodypositive.org stating that being body positive is “a way of living that gives you permission to love, care for, and take pleasure in your body throughout your lifespan”.
Because pursuing positive body image is inevitably going against societal norms and expectations, it therefore challenges societal conditioning and what we view as culturally appropriate.
It is important to understand that the body positive movement was originally created for the most marginalized (i.e. the most discriminated) bodies in today’s society, often meaning the largest body sizes. Fat acceptance advocates and fat activists feel, rightfully so, that the movement has changed from its origin, which originally was for liberation not acceptance and assimilation.
Health at Every Size
While the body positive movement is about social justice and a political movement freeing all bodies of body shaming and diet culture, Health at Every Size comes from the medical perspective and specifically provides the scientific literature, evidence and model of care for ways to take care of ourselves and our health, without weight being the focus or the predictor of health outcomes. To put it simply, Health at Every Size supports people in developing healthy lifestyle habits, regardless of their size.
Health at Every Size includes supporting each of us to enjoy and respect our bodies, listen to our bodies and eat for pleasure and nourishment, and helps you decide what to eat and how to live well. In Linda Bacon’s book Health at Every Size, she answers in the appendix four simple ways you can practice HAES: accept your size, trust yourself, adopt healthy lifestyle habits and embrace size diversity.
Another great definition is straight from Linda’s website:
“It supports people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors. It is an inclusive movement, recognizing that our social characteristics, such as our size, race, national origin, sexuality, gender, disability status, and other attributes, are assets, and acknowledges and challenges the structural and systemic forces that impinge on living well. “
Health is Not a Qualifier to Love Your Body
So while being body positive is part of Health at Every Size through respecting your body and embracing size diversity, the two are not mutually exclusive. You are allowed to love your body and pursue being body positive, without health being a qualifier. I point this out because its very important to understand this fact: not everyone has to care about health. In other terms, you do not have to pursue health in order to love yourself and your body.
Megan Jayne Crabbe in her book, Body Positive Power, does a fantastic job sharing more insight into this conversation:
“These days, a fat person who dares to be visible in the world has to face a constant stream of fatphobic hatred. Fat people are accused of promoting obesity for merely existing in their own bodies. They face harassment ranging from mild abuse to death threats for nothing more than how their body looks…Fat people are the last remaining group that it’s socially accepted, in fact, socially encouraged, to be prejudiced against…In the conversation about equal rights, size discrimination gets left out, and fat people remain reviled and ostracized in our culture. Why? Because they’re unhealthy. Because they are willfully and knowingly destroying their physical health by refusing to lose weight and change their outside appearance. At least that’s what the headlines have taught us…And lastly, whatever we might believe about size, fitness, weight and health, doesn’t really matter when it comes to body positivity. Because physical health is not a requirement for self love, respect or to be treated with basic human dignity. Those are things that we all deserve, regardless of how our body look, or how our bodies function.”
My Thoughts on the Body Positive Movement and Health At Every Size
While I am a dietitian and I get so much joy discussing ways to take care of ourselves and our health through wellness, I am firmly okay and believe that it is okay if this isn’t a value for us all. If we judge others for not pursuing health, we are projecting our own insecurities onto them. If we judge others for desiring to love their bodies no matter the size, we are projecting our own limiting beliefs onto them. I hope each and every one of us, one day, can be body positive, because its a basic human right we all deserve. And if we want to pursue health through Health at Every Size, wellness without obsession and a holistic (body, mind and spirit) lifestyle, that’s awesome. And if not, that’s awesome too.
I understand the complexity, and likely disappointing, feelings a fat activist rightfully feels at this point in the body positive movement: what first began as a way for marginalized body types and members of society to demand social justice has now shifted towards what it has become today- fitspo pictures, thin and able-bodied women sharing pictures of body positivity and even diet culture has joined the bandwagon.
I also understand that in stating that I am “the body positive dietitian” I’ve added to that confusing messaging and likely muddled down the message from its original context. But here me out for a second:
I have counseled women of all body types and sizes in my practice and years as a dietitian. Never, have I ever, experienced a women who didn’t have poor body image. Feel the need to shrink herself. Feel the need to take up less space. Never.
Personally, I feel that as long as we all understand the origin of the movement and understand there is a difference between internalized fatphobia and truly experiencing fatphobia, we can also pursue being body positive. As long as we understand there are no qualifiers, that all bodies including larger bodies deserve to love themselves, we can also pursue being body positive. As long as we don’t state shaming statements such as “as long as they are healthy”, we can also pursue being body positive.
We all deserve, no matter how small or large, to feel positive about ourselves and our bodies. My mission in life is to help women feel empowered and pursue fulfilling lives, and I firmly believe that feeling empowered in your own body is the first step to experiencing that on a larger scale.
And that’s why I created the Body Image Reset, to begin the process of moving towards self love, body acceptance and body positivity. No matter your body size: whether you are a size 00 or size 30, you deserve body positivity. No matter your race, national origin, sexuality, gender, disability status, and other attributes, you deserve body positivity. The body image reset is not about specific actions to pursue health or wellness, its about resetting your mind to reframe your thoughts, question them and learn strategies to begin to see yourself in a new light. Its everything I’ve learned about how to become body positive, focusing first on changing your mindset around yourself and your body.
Tell me: What are your thoughts on the body positive movement and health at every size practice?
Want to learn more? Listen to episode 53, An Intro to Health at Every Size and the Body Positive Movement, on the Nourishing Women Podcast.
Also be sure to check out today’s IGTV on the body positive movement as well.