One of the first voices that I encountered in my journey toward Body Liberation (which only momentarily careened through the land of Body Positivity) was Jes Baker. If you haven’t read Jes Baker’s books Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and Landwhale yet, I suggest you do that as soon as you’re done reading this blog post. Jes is an essential voice in Body Liberation but before she used that phrase, she was often heard encouraging folks toward Body Love. You should also watch Baker’s Body Love TedX Talk, linked right here. At a certain point, on her journey, Baker decided that Body Liberation was a better phrase than Body Love and in her blog post entitled “Why I’ve Chosen Body Liberation Over Body Love,” she explains why. Similarly, I want to explain why I choose Body Liberation over the phrase “Body Positivity.”
I’ve actually already written a blog post that explains the difference between these terms: Body Acceptance, Body Positivity and Body Liberation. This previously written post goes a long way to explaining why I choose to use Body Liberation instead of Body Positivity when I talk about what it is that I do. But, there are still some additional thoughts I’d like to add that could clear up the importance of the shift from mere Body Positivity to Body Liberation.
Now, on her blog, Baker also defines something she calls “Lisa Frank BoPo” and has written another blog post about why this “Lisa Frank BoPo” is “Just not Enough.” Baker defines “Lisa Frank BoPo” as “a strain of rainbow-colored body empowerment, covered in sparkles, which is purposefully vague so that it ignores larger body issues like racism, ableism, and the inaccurate equation of fat equaling unhealthy.” I laughed out loud when I read this phrase and this definition because if you look at Bad Dog Rebel’s branding we are ALL about rainbows and sparkles! But… what Baker says about Body Positivity staying away from the more difficult issues of racism, ableism, as well as fatphobia and weight stigma is at the heart of my personal understanding of Body Liberation and explains why, I too, steer clear of the phrase Body Positivity when defining my work.
Baker explains that encouraging people toward “Body Love” actually sets people up for the flip side of the same kind of obsession as what Diet Culture encourages. I would argue that Body Positivity does the exact same thing. And, in addition to setting people up for obsession, we set people up for failure because which one of us, swimming in the Diet Culture soup as we all are every single day, can actually feel positive or loving towards our bodies every single moment of every day?
Unfortunately, there is an additional aspect of the term Body Positivity that is particularly insidious. You don’t hear many fitness professionals or yoga instructors calling themselves “Body Love Instructors” or “Body Love Trainers” — there’s something, linguistically and semiotically, about that phrasing that feels creepy but Body Positive has caught on like wildfire and it is the easiest thing in the world to say… “I’m a body positive instructor” or “I’m a body positive trainer.” But what does that phrase even mean? For the folks who have been Body Positive since the beginning, it probably means something closer to Body Liberation. Unfortunately, for some folks who have only recently adopted the concept of Body Positivity, it means almost nothing at all. It’s a “Good Vibes” Mug on what Bo Burnham succinctly exposes as the “White Woman’s Instagram.” It’s like… omg, Bebe…I’m like… SO body positive, right!?
Body Positivity was never supposed to mean as little as having a positive attitude toward one’s body but since Diet Culture has co-opted it and trainers, instructors and coaches who are still pushing intentional weight loss as a healthy behavior have begun to use it indiscriminately without having an idea what it actually means, it has been diluted to the point of meaninglessness. The major message you hear from mainstream fitness and yoga professionals who are proudly waving the Body Positivity but have no idea what it means is, “Ya! Body Positivity! Because if you are positive toward you’re body, you’ll do what it takes to be thin!” Using Body Positivity without confronting and dismantling our fatphobia (as well as… racism, ableism, ageism, transphobia and homophobia) is like jumping into a swimming pool with all your clothes on. You can do it but you won’t be doing it right and you’ll look pretty foolish and feel pretty uncomfortable.
Baker defines Body Liberation as “freedom from all outside expectations, even our own. Liberation is not having to love your body all the time. Liberation is not asking permission to be included in society’s ideal of beauty. Liberation is bucking the concept of beauty as currency altogether. Liberation is recognizing the systemic issues that surround us and acknowledging that perhaps we’re not able to fix them all on our own. Liberation is personally giving ourselves permission to live life.”
This is a gorgeous definition and it aligns with my own but again, there is a linguistic and cultural reason I choose Body Liberation over Body Positivity. The term, “Liberation” carries gravitas. Body Positivity, as in Baker’s “Lisa Frank BoPo,” is easy and doesn’t force you to think beyond “yay! Positivity! Kittens! Rainbows! Unicorns!” (Not that there’s anything wrong with kittens, rainbows OR Unicorns) but the implication of using the phrase Body Liberation is a seriousness, a thoughtful intentionality behind the work that simply doesn’t exist in the word “Positivity.”
Unfortunately, Body Positive Trainer or Body Positive Coach is much easier to say and makes more linguistic sense than Body Liberation Trainer or Body Liberation Coach. “Body Positive” is also locked into the culture of this Body Liberation world because of search engine optimization. If brands want to get noticed for doing this type of work, they have to use Body Positivity or else google won’t see them and therefore they cannot grow their following and will not be able to survive. I believe this is a big reason why it is taking longer than it should be for the entire culture to transition from Body Positivity to Body Liberation. Additionally, Body Positivity is an easier pill to swallow for fitness professionals still absolutely stuck on what they consider to be the reality of the problematic “obese” body. When you cannot or have not confronted your own fatphobia, it’s harder to get down with “liberation” and easier to hold a peace sign up and smile for the selfie and say “positive vibes.”
Everyone is on their own journey. In a culture steeped in the belief that thinness equals health, it is simply going to take most of us a REALLY long time to understand that forcing bodies into submission through restrictive dieting and punishing exercise is actually downright antithetical to HEALTH.
SO, ultimately, whether we gravitate towards Body Love, Body Acceptance, Body Positivity or Body Liberation, I hope that we can at least remember, the reason for this journey at all is to find peace and freedom in our relationships to our bodies, movement and food and, perhaps even more importantly, to recognize that every single person in the world deserves this same freedom. Let’s let go. Let go of the labels and the phrases and the pressure to do anything in any way that feels restrictive or punishing of ourselves or others. In this letting go, THAT is where we will be free to experience our own definition of AUTHENTIC HEALTH.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.