This is why 'body positive' can sod off and let 'body neutral' make us feel truly empowered

Erm, #BodyPositivity: we have a bit of a problem. No one trusts you anymore. You used to mean something to millions of real women; you used to be a breath of fresh air in a thick Instafog of thin, filtered and cartoon-stretched bodies with overtuned washboard abs, mannequin-smooth tanned thigh and lion’s mane blow-dries.

You were once a gentle, empowering movement for diversity and inclusion, to show that ‘normal’ could be inspiring and influential too. You weren’t just about clothes size: you stood up for the invisible bodies that mainstream media hid away, for prevalent disabilities and disfigurement, for skin disorders and thinning hair. You stood for skin tone minorities, stretch marks, post-pregnancy tummies, flat chests, acne scarring, birthmarks, cellulite… and for invisible chronic illnesses and mental struggles. All the things women have been bullied into thinking are subnormal, but seeing them out in the open on screen gave them crucial sisterhood #bodypositive support.

And then you sold out.

Somewhere along the timeline, you were kidnapped by marketing teams, twisted into a hysterical gimmick and focused predominantly on “plus-size” women.

I know this to be true because it’s a big flashing neon arrow following me and my size 22 body around. Why me? Why specifically a fat girl? Women of all sizes, heights, shapes, abilities and races have their own personal body battles and might welcome some kind affirmations too. But you’ve gone and singled us big girls out, making us the fat-friend that skinny social media needs to feel better about itself.

Well, I’m over it. I’m over being cattle-stamped with this fake hashtag that pretends to be helpful, when it is basically a strict instruction to be/think/feel/look happy in order fit into a visually pleasing society. This newly mangled ‘BoPo’ is the subliminal equivalent of a van-driving builder hollering ‘Cheer up love it might never happen!’ down the street. Like actually fuck off. Being told to be #BodyPositive when you’re a fat person is invasive, occasionally intimidating, and assumes we are all negative misery-guts.

It directly insinuates that our emotions are wrong and if we just cheered up we’d be thin and confident and love ourselves. Newsflash: I’m a grown up, I can decide on my own whether I want to like or loathe myself. I’d prefer to scroll and shop without the constant reminders that I should analyse myself and delve into the mental shitstorm of coping with a fat body. I’m really good at that already, thank you.

I’ve gone into this more deeply in the new SS19 print issue of GLAMOUR, where I essentially call bullshit on #BodyPositivity. When I wrote the piece I wondered whether anyone would agree but, wow, the team were blown away by the number of writers who backed this feeling. Our honest opinions are in the magazine, and you can read model Charli Howard’s brilliant and enlightening piece on the backlash of Body Positivity, too.

And the backlash really is happening. It began when mass fashion brands brutalised the message of Body Positivity and made it into a stunt to promote extended size ranges, plastering the slogan all over their social platforms and stores in a frenzied attempt to make larger women feel included. But it turned out they weren’t following through. I think the best way to explain this is with an example; I hesitated to use this particular one because I don’t want to compromise GLAMOUR’s commercial relationship with this brand, but sod it, it’s a masterclass in double standards and misappropriation, and the reason why #BodyPositive is so #CrazyNegative. So, Oasis, I’m calling you out.

I walked into your huge, double-fronted, two-story shop on Oxford Circus recently, because I heard you’d launched a plus size range. Curious to see what I could spend my paycheque on, I searched around but couldn’t see anything above a size 16. When I asked where the ‘curve’ section was, the store manager told me in these exact words “it’s all online as a body-positive trial to see if it sells, and there isn’t room on the shop floor for it anyway” (LOL the irony). In fact I think I did literally laugh out loud: is inclusivity a ‘trial’? Is this what they call fat-shaming? I’m not sure; but I am sure I was being told that me and my wide hips and big bum and chunky arms are not welcome through these doors, and to disappear into a hidden corner of invisible online shame where I can’t ruin the skinny, cool, perfect aesthetic of their shop floor. And the ‘Curve’ range online? There are four pairs of trousers. Oasis: you are all fart no shit. How completely backwards. Abusing an emotional movement for the sake of a marketing microtrend is the reason #BodyPositivity is having this backlash.

But all it not lost. We should be thanking Oasis and their sanctimonious endeavor: with all backlashes tends to come a calming antidote, a sensible solution that negates this defrauded frenzy. It’s called #BodyNeutral and it’s the rational outlook that I’m craving for. It means a global silencing of the hysterical messages being shouted at fat women, and a progressive new platform for all real bodies to partake in society unconditionally.

Crucially, it is not specific to size, BMI, ‘plus’ or ‘curve’, but about bringing an authentic, interesting and enlightening spectrum of humans onto our radars, as #BodyPositive originally intended. Because seeing myriad beauty in all its glorious, complicated, awkward, silently chronic, visibly marked, big, small, imperfect, perfect, abled and disabled array is true power and positivity to all.

I guess it’s the subliminal equivalent of the van-driver winding up his window, focusing on his road ahead without hassling anyone. For womens’ sense of self and identity, it is quietly insinuating (not instructing) that what you think might be different or wrong or unacceptable is actually completely fine and normal, and desperately needed to rebalance the social media status quo and bring it back to neutral. For brands, it looks like any other ad campaign or post displaying diversity and normality, but following through with consistency – not just once every four grid-lines.

And, ultimately, it’s about eliminating #BodyPositive, #BodyPositivity and #BoPo from our cyber vocabulary for two reasons. By removing this calculating gimmick it stops women like me being singled out for their size as a saviour to society’s uncomfortable lack of diversity. There is more to women than our weight and it’s time we had a conduit to showcase this, so that we can stand on unbiased ground to simply be accepted as humans, not categories or trends or pity-parties. And secondly, women don’t need to be told how to behave, be, feel or display themselves, even if it’s masqueraded as a cheerleading slogan.

So let’s allow all our bodies to be unconditionally welcomed with #BodyNeutral. It’s where I’ll be searching for inspiration and empowerment. Will you?


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