The body positivity movement wasn't created for all bodies
Morgan McLaughlin shares a story of growing up in the world with a larger body and the knock-on effects this had into her adulthood. She also shares her thoughts on why she think the body positivity movement is exclusive.
I was just twelve years old. School would start at 9am but everyone would be filing in and fucking around from 8.30am. This was a fun time. Everyone was fresh and happy to see each other, and of course the boys would give the girls shit. One particular morning the boys were playing the “who am I?” game. You know, the one where you put the card on your head, and everyone gives you clues as to who or what you are.
This particular morning, I had my back turned for a few seconds and when I turned around everyone was laughing at me. I didn’t know why; I hadn’t done anything funny. A nice blonde haired, blue-eyed girl came up to me and said in her teeny-tiny voice:
“They put something on your back.”
I turned my head around and sure enough, there it was, taped on my school jersey: “I am a Pig.”
I didn’t laugh. I usually did, but not this time. I cried so hard that I blew snot all over my teacher when I recounted what had happened.
The teacher talked to the boy who did it. His name was Chris, he was a top student. Along with this, he was one of the best swimmers in the school – his was a reputation that could not be tainted by bullying. After talking to Chris, the teacher told me that he was really sorry, but we should just let it go. So, I let it go, and I have felt the acute burn of that injustice ever since. I have seen how people you’re meant to trust, like your teachers, have prejudices too.
Chris came from a well-to-do family and was highly intelligent, which was good for the school’s reputation. I was the overweight daughter of a single mother. That teacher made a decision to protect Chris, and that decision broke my heart.
Then, there was Brittany.
Brittany was popular, athletic and also from a wealthy family. I put up with her feral and cruel behaviour for months before I finally erupted.
It was almost the same thing that happened with Chris. I walked across the field at lunchtime to deliver a book to a classmate and when I came back to my group of friends, one of them said, “Oi, Brittany was walking behind you going like this.”
My friend put her hands out around the sides of her, walking with her legs apart, imitating a gorilla. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t cry, because I knew it would not garner compassion for someone like me. Instead when the bell rang, I made a beeline for my high school bully, said a cheerful, “Hi!”, followed closely by a punch to the throat.
She gasped hoarsely, her face in shock. I walked away feeling dizzy, in the direction of the principal who was one of the first educators who had taken a liking to me.
“What have you done?” she asked. I explained myself, finally crumbling into tears as she took me into a hug and led me toward her office. I had to beg her not to stand me down – this would be my third strike – and she decided that I wouldn’t be, but I needed to apologise and seem as though I really meant, she said. If I apologised, she would sort the rest of the situation out.
That teacher protected me.
In saying that, Brittany did not get into trouble either. Her parents were too posh and she brought in many a sports award for the school. Don’t get me wrong, violence is never okay, but she didn’t fuck with me ever again.
I was fourteen by this time. I was able to reflect on this act of violence and realise how angry I had become. Although I still maintain that Brittany is an arsehole, I did not want to be someone who punched people. I could think of only one remedy to my problems: to lose weight.
I lost thirty kilograms in three months. I did this mostly over the school holidays. I would wake up every day at 1pm so that I could easily skip breakfast and go straight to the gym. Some days I would go so hard that I would start shaking and seeing stars.
This could be attributed to the fact that I would only ‘eat’ three protein shakes a day which totalled a whopping five hundred calories. Some days I would shake so intensely that I would have to rush to the changing room to chuck down my second protein shake of the day to get it under control.
But I was losing weight. And doing so quickly.
I think back on this now, on the time that I wasted solely losing weight. I remember giving zero fucks about my marks at school, I had no hobbies, I was part of no clubs, I was a full-time loser… of weight.
I was praised by my teachers who would look me up and down and congratulate me. I gained interest and appreciation from my peers and, after a few weeks, I moved from the ‘uncool misfit group’ into the ‘cool misfit group’.
Suddenly, I was getting into less trouble at school, bullies were a thing of the past and walking across town to the gym after school was my only goal. I wonder, to this day, who I could have been if I had a better goal.
"I would wake up every day at 1pm so that I could easily skip breakfast and go straight to the gym. Some days I would go so hard that I would start shaking and seeing stars."
How many women focus so much on their bodies in order to be treated as though they are enough, that they avoid realising their full potential? How do the women who don’t work on their bodies like it’s their full-time job feel? Did they overcome what I have never been able to?
The reality is that life became a lot easier when I lost weight. People were no longer concerned, they were relieved. It was easier for them to see me as one of them when I started to more closely resemble them.
Quite frequently, I fluctuate between 70 to 110kgs. It’s because of this that I feel as though I have a somewhat unique view on the realities of being at either end of that spectrum.
The body positivity movement is not a reality for me; it makes no sense to me. It seems to keenly include women who are actively losing weight, but what about those of us who are struggling with the reality of living in a bigger body?
How can I learn to forgive people like Chris and Brittany who were brought up with fat prejudice? Chris being a fair representation of a fuckboy who takes every woman at face value and doesn’t care about much else. Or in Brittany’s case, the fit, influencer that makes other women feel incapable of living a worthwhile life.
How do I explain to people that because I ate only 500 calories for three years, and in the process fucked up my metabolism up so badly that losing weight now in my twenties is almost impossible?
My weight fluctuates so intensely because sometimes I’m convinced the only way I will be seen is to take up less space. The times where I gain weight, I convince myself that none of it matters – that I only want to be remembered as kind and funny, who cares about my weight?
I live in an ambivalence that creates a crisis of my identity. By being so obsessed with shrinking and expanding, my identity becomes that of an ever-changing figure. Now, at twenty-two, I have largely given up on shrinking – which means expanding rapidly. As I pack on the pounds, I see how the world changes its perception of me. I see people more reserved until they get to know me, deciding whether or not my personality is worthy of their time and respect. Every day, I become more terrified that I will once again have people yelling out car windows at me.
The body positivity movement is sweeping through social media and into the eyeballs of mass audiences around the world. At first glance, giving wider acceptance to bodies in all their shapes, sizes and abilities is a positive change. There is no need to feel as though you don’t properly belong to the world if you don’t fit the rubric of an ideal body. This is obvious.
"How do I explain to people that because I ate only 500 calories for three years, and in the process fucked up my metabolism up so badly that losing weight now in my twenties is almost impossible?"
But could the body positivity movement be preaching something that it can’t quite deliver on? Do the actual lived-experiences of people, such as myself, with bodies that are not within the norm, match what body positive influencers plaster on Instagram?
While I acknowledge that the movement is well-intentioned, I personally don’t believe it’s an all-inclusive one. It’s one that says plus-sized models are great, so long as they have the right kind of curves, or a petite and ‘beautiful’ face.
It says that you can love yourself at any size, but especially so while you’re losing weight. The movement irreverently tells women, like myself, to grin and bear it when people are arseholes, because we are beautiful no matter what.
This does not change the fact that people are arseholes. It doesn’t change the fact that, actually, we are not considered beautiful by society’s standards, and that comes with its own set of negative consequences. We are not cured by curvy Nike mannequins; we are not placated by perfectly proportioned Kardashian-like models.
The body positivity movement tells us we should love our bodies with exceptions, and that’s not good enough for me… I don’t think it should be good enough for anyone.
I will walk the streets with my head held up pretending that I think I’m the shit. I will continue to convince myself that my head deserves to be held up, that I deserve to think I’m the shit. But I would be naïve to think that everyone believes it.
Morgan is an aspiring world traveller and fierce feminist. She believes in op shops, equality, and being kind. In her spare time you can catch Morgan drinking back coffee, petting cats, and sticking it to the man. Read more of her work here, and lurk her on Instagram @agr8girl.