Body positivity

Can you love your body and be obese? Well, of course you can. As the body positivity movement gains momentum, this is why you should jump aboard, whatever your size.

There’s a fabulous body positive movement going on. It’s taking Instagram by storm, and it’s kicking into touch those dangerous pre-conceived, factory-generated conceptions of who’s beautiful.

But behind the photos of strong, courageous women (and it is mainly women) there’s a persistent murmur saying ‘but it’s not healthy to be fat’. Find @bodyposipanda’s recent post of an obese woman in a bikini in the foyer of a Vegas hotel, scroll down and read the comments, including, and along the lines of, “How can you love your body when you let it get in that state?”

I’ve been cogitating this for a while. Until quite recently, the two issues of body positivity and physical health were inexorably entwined for me, too. But, what I’ve grown to realise is that while they’re linked, they’re two completely separate issues.

For a start, fat doesn’t equal stupid. People who are overweight know they’re at greater risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer; they know that obesity-related diseases put a huge strain on our health services; they know which foods are ‘bad’ and which are ‘good’.

We then have two awful, exploitative industries with which to contend – the fashion and beauty industry, and the dieting industry. The former sells us a digitally manipulated, unobtainable ideal body, the latter entices us to reach that unobtainable ideal by using its means. Both these industries have one objective: to make money.

Because aspiration sells – make it infinitely desirable, put it just beyond our reach, and we’ll part with any amount of money to have it. Insane, but pretty bloody clever that it makes us spend thousands on buying our own bodies.

And I’ve been there. It started back in the nineties when I was a lithe, slim teen, and heroin-chic was in. I read that models injected between their toes to hide the track marks, but I still wanted to nail the look. Deep down, I probably knew that I didn’t have the bone-structure and that those half-starved girls were miserable, but still, I trotted off to Weight Watchers. I wasn’t overweight.

Of course, Weight Watchers should have said: ‘you’re a fabulous size 10. Drink a bit less, exercise a bit more and learn to love your body.’ But they didn’t; they took my cash. In 2001, I drank spirulina and ate practically nothing. In 2003, it was the GI diet. 2004  took me back to Weight Watchers. In 2008, it was Slimming World, and again in 2013. I’ve done the Body Coach diet, the 5:2, the no-carb, Beach Body, and others.

Funny thing is I can tell you roughly how much I weighed at each of these moments, but I can’t tell you whether or not I was healthy. I’ve fainted through hunger, I’ve thrown up through bingeing, and I’ve done goodness-knows-what damage to my metabolism. But was I healthy at any point? I really don’t know; it wasn’t relevant to me.

The breakthrough in my journey to body positivity has been a shift in my self-perception. Instead of thinking about what I look like, I’ve concentrated on what my body can do. I’ve swum through freezing water. I’ve swum a marathon. I’ve given birth to three babies.

This confidence, this positivity has been a game-changer. I no longer feel like I need to apologise for my body, to make excuses for not being a size ten, to fork out on ridiculous diets that are destined for failure from the beginning. Instead, I have celebrated my body, and in doing so, begun to nourish it better and push my physical capabilities.

I’m lucky. I found an activity and a community that accepts all sizes and shapes. Through it, I’ve been able to gain body confidence and mental health, and better physical health and fitness has followed.

And I’ve come to realise that being ashamed of your body is one of the biggest barriers to becoming healthy.

If you’ve never had an issue with food, the many complicated reasons why people become fat and fail to lose weight can be extremely hard to get your head around. You think, ‘if I were overweight, I’d just eat less and do more exercise.’ But it really isn’t that simple.

Again, fat people aren’t stupid; they know that calorie deficit is the way to lose weight. But feelings of shame, embarrassment and intimidation don’t allow many people to push through. Nothing is more off-putting to joining a gym or exercise class than thinking that fit, thin people will judge you.

But if we celebrate all bodies, if we stop fat-shaming, then those people who hide theirs under baggy clothes and are too afraid to go to the gym will have the confidence to start making the small changes that will benefit their health and wellbeing.

Good mental health leads to good physical health. Positivity, pride, self-love, supportiveness – these are the soft skills with which we can battle obesity. Soft skills, not knowledge. Body positivity is about fostering good mental health.



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Back to our bikini-clad glamour-puss in her Vegas foyer. Look at her picture, and before you judge, hear her words:

“I find it ironic that I’ve taken photos in swimsuits all over the world and the one place I was told to cover up was Las Vegas. Sure, thin girls in thongs and pasties are A-OK but a plus girl in a full coverage suit trying to take an epic editorial shot – now that’s too much… I’m learning as I push myself to do more editorial type concepts, the push back is greater. But that’s why I push. It’s more than a girl in the city of sin in a bikini, it’s a statement. We will be seen. We’re not hiding anymore. And we’re going to wear whatever we want, wherever we want. Change is coming; the question is, are you going to stand in the way or help us push through?”

You see, this isn’t an issue of health, it’s an issue of image. It’s about judgement, preconception, acceptance and taking control of how we feel about our bodies. It’s about beating an archaic, oppressive system that’s there to make us spend money.

You don’t have to be healthy to be body positive. You can be obese, disabled, overweight, old, young, thin, athletic, whatever. But people who are positive about their bodies are happier and that makes them healthier, physically and mentally.


Bye-bye bikini bod, hello hipster bush…

Word on the street is that the term ‘bikini body’ is out, actually banned by Women’s Health magazine in the US. At the same time, women’s pubic hair is going the same way as men’s facial hair: big and hipster.

Clearly this is big news for us female swimmers. No longer will we have to a) look like we’re modelling our swimwear, or b) tame our bushes. Result.

Actually, the bikini body phrase ban is a good thing. It comes from the readers of Women’s Health who felt that defining only one body type as fit to wear a bikini was an insult to other body types. They also rejected the idea that the phrase suggests women should be getting in shape in order to look good in a bikini.

Editor Amy Keller Laird pointed out that women are more focused on feeling confident and being healthy, not working out so they can “fit into some preconceived, outdated notion of what’s sexy.” Which is quite right, if not a little slow on the uptake.

Talking of outdated notions of what’s sexy… In a bid to drum up sales for Valentines, the New York branch of American Apparel’s window display went for it in the pubic hair department (pictured above).

Yes, it was a show-stopping PR stunt. But it’s part of a wider narrative about hairy foofs. A recent survey found the majority of women couldn’t be bothered to prune their lady gardens, and their partners didn’t really care either. Gywneth Paltrow recently told an interviewer that she was rocking a 70s vibe down there.

It seems like a weird topic of conversation to bring up with an A-lister; body hair equality has traditionally been a topic for more hardcore feminists. But it’s about time the world shrugged off the taboo and started talking about it.

Shorn muffs come from the porn industry alone. Not, then, from any sexual preference, or for better hygiene or odour, which has been one of the more fatuous reasons given for hair removal.

Through porn, which is where most of us first see a vagina, Brazilians became the norm: what boys expect, and what girls think boys want. In her book How to be a Woman Caitlin Moran says, “Hairlessness is not there for the excitingness. It’s not, disappointingly, there to satisfy a kink…the real reason porn stars wax is because, if you remove all the fur, you can see more when you’re doing penetrative shots. And that’s it. It’s all down to the technical considerations of cinematography.”

In New York, you should now ask your wax technician for a ‘full bush Brazilian’, which is essentially the short back and sides of hair removal – a full muff and a bald undercarriage.

This is, of course, no less ridiculous than a landing strip or full Brazilian. But give the hair removal industry credit for creativity: if men go fully bearded and women leave their pubes to grow as nature intended, they’re going to be left twiddling their thumbs.

I’ve never cared enough for fashionable pubes to put up with utter faff of removal, or the sheer itchiness of the regrowth. Nor have I been put off wearing a bikini by the fact that I don’t have a bikini bod. But I would be pleased if my children grew up knowing muffs are hairy, bodies of all shapes can flaunt swimwear, and healthiness is more important than looks.

Love this tat! I might get it next Muffember…