“Body Positivity” Is Meaningless

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S1: Every day I wake up and I’m subject to the burden of embodiment, how dare I be a shape?

S2: Hi, I’m Madison Malone Kirchherr,

S3: and I’m Rachel Hanson, and you’re listening to AC, why am

S2: I? In case you missed it, Slate’s

S3: podcast about Internet culture.

S2: Rachel, I would like Froyo.

S3: Oh, what’s got you in the mood for some froyo. Some Pinkberry.

S2: I’m a strawberry froyo girl. Little coconut on top of winning. You said you

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S3: don’t like coconut. I’m sorry.

S2: Oh, you’re missing out. It’s like delicious fingernails. No. Why? The thing that has me thinking about for you, though, very, very darkly is Demi Lovato, low key, picking a fight with a Froyo shop in L.A..

S3: I saw this going by on Instagram and I saw like Demi Lovato feuding with Big Chill yoga. And I was like, you know what? I don’t think I need to pay attention to that. And I didn’t.

S2: Big Chill spelled with two G’s and two L’s.

S3: Yeah, honestly. Well, chill is normally spelled though, so.

S1: Shit it is.

S2: OK, so the big chill with two G’s and two ls. That’s a correct statement. Demi Lovato posted a bunch of messages that she had sent to the Big Chill because she found it triggering that the store carried sugar free products. And Demi Lovato has been very vocal that she’s in recovery from an eating disorder. She said she found it extremely hard to order there because you have to, quote, walk past tons of sugar free cookies, other diet food before you get to the counter. She called them diet culture vultures.

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S3: OK, I there’s no easy. Yeah. Like, I also don’t like particularly enjoy walking past diet food, but also people have sensitivities, like it’s not really it’s oh God.

S2: The store the store responded pretty similarly saying, you know, hey, we cater to a large clientele. So, you know, we have items for people with diabetes, people who have celiac disease, people who are vegan and demi double down. And I think there’s ultimately peace on the Frolo front. I think Demis last statement was something to the effect of I’m just really passionate about this. And it wasn’t coming from a place of I think she in the Big Chill will maybe live to chill another day

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S4: if we can make this environment safer for everyone, including people that are in recovery from an eating disorder. And just want a little froyo if we can do that, while also giving Froyo to vegans and and people with diabetes. Let’s go. Let’s fucking go. Let’s do it. It just has to be clear.

S2: So that was an online exchange largely rooted in diet culture. But honestly, it feels like everywhere I turn we are talking about diet, culture, body positivity is just in the air right now.

S3: We’re not both pandemic, but we are approaching the point at which it is no longer a public health imperative to sit on your ass on your couch and order delivery, which means that there is just this influx of post pandemic body. Maybe you want to lose weight and then the backlash to that which is your pandemic body is fine. And then there’s like the third wave discourse about that. And all of it is extremely exhausting. And I’m not ready for every single gym that I signed up for. I went to exactly one class to send me an email advertising what I should be doing and get back in shape.

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S2: So on today’s show, we’re going to talk in case you haven’t figured it out about body positivity, just to give a little content warning, we’re going to talk a lot about body image, eating disorders, all that sort of stuff. And if that’s not for you, we totally get it. Catch you in our next episode. I got to say, body positivity is not a topic teenage me would believe that I am like willingly about to publicly discuss. Hmm. But thank you to the recent onslaught of media takes and some very bad tweets about Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I think we have to.

S3: Yeah, the Krispy Kreme really sealed this in the site. Gaist The entire debacle around what was essentially free donuts in exchange for getting vaccinated kind of revealed the ways that body positivity has become this buzzword, that both no longer means what it used to and also means nothing. But as the body positivity movement has kind of gained momentum online, it’s really grown beyond its radical roots in the fat acceptance movement and become this catchall like the fat acceptance movement was initially predicated on access to health care and ending body discrimination and letting fat people live their lives without being denied the things they are like they rightfully have as humans. But somehow that very small have been watered down to tic talks made to make size ten white women feel. Quote unquote, better about they’re completely fine and normal and let’s be completely honest, like hot bodies,

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S1: bodies that look like this

S2: also look like this. Bodies that look like this also look like this. That particular video is of a thin woman in a bikini whose body looks like thin when it looks like this and this and this and this. And it is normal, safe and preferable that your body makes bulges and rolls as it moves around

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S3: to allow you the best range of motion that you can have. I’m sorry, I’m still stuck on the like the safe part of it. Was there a safety element that I’m unaware of with bulges like

S2: unsafe at any size? Yeah, people cannot help themselves from talking about bodies right now, which is how we found ourselves hearing from Dr. Leana Wen, who used to be the head of Planned Parenthood, fully losing it on Twitter about this Krispy Kreme donut. Give away the short of it being Krispy Kreme was offering a free doughnut to any person who came in with a vaccine card, which. Great. We love that. Love to see it. The like catch all was there was no limit. If you wanted to, you could just keep coming back de de de after day. So Dr. Wen just starts tweeting about how if you eat a donut every single day for a year, you’ll gain ex. No, I’m not even going to like, get into the calories in pounds because it’s just I’m not going to elevate that nonsense. And basically, like, you will turn your body into gloop if you eat a donut every day for a year.

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S3: Yeah. Which again, I don’t think Krispy Kreme was recommending a B I, I don’t know who would actually do like she seems to be there’s a strawman involved here

S2: and he really loves donuts and

S3: the strong man loves donuts but is also like we’re talking about what eating a donut everyday will do to your body. What is Koven going to do to your body? Like if this is what’s going to get someone to get a vaccine? I’m sorry, but I don’t care

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S2: at this moment in time. Really overlapped with a point in the vaccine rollout in the United States where a fair number of people were able to access the vaccine because of their weight. Specifically, many people, because of the weight they had in fact, put on during the pandemic, were then eligible for the vaccine based on BMI, BMI.

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S3: And we’ll get

S2: there. We’ll get there.

S3: Yeah. I mean, in New York, me and several of my friends qualified

S2: for me, the host of this podcast and plenty of other people.

S3: Yeah. I mean, there was this moment when these eligibility requirements are being discussed where at least on my timeline or in my circles, it was kind of like, oh, finally, this thing that has been haunting me and buy this thing. I mean, BMI since I was in middle school is finally going to actually be useful for me.

S2: Yeah, I mean, for those who maybe are not as familiar with BMI, it’s two hundred year old system based on the body of a European white dude. It is racist and inaccurate

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S3: and was also never meant to be used like to discern individual health. It was a population based measure. So we were never actually meant to use BMI, which stands for body mass index, as a measure of individual health.

S2: It did force a lot of people to publicly or semi publicly acknowledge having a quote unquote, bigger body in some form. And I think that was hard for some people, easy for other people and for a lot of us. Just sort of a weird experience. It was very bizarre to suddenly have like a body that the medical establishment has told me is bad for so long. Serve me.

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S3: Yeah, I just remember feeling and seeing this kind of ambivalence around all of it, this kind of guilt, I think, for people whose BMI was over 30 who otherwise were in fine health, feeling like I am not actually at risk in the way that somebody who has like a pulmonary condition or like high blood pressure or whatever is. And it just felt to me like this kind of bubbling up of body talk that I think the pandemic had largely raised in that we all kind of acknowledged or at least I don’t want to say we the people I was surrounded myself with had just kind of acknowledged that this was just a year not to think about your body leg. And then I guess as the end of the pandemic, the horizon approached, I could just feel online this like bubbling up of toxic body conversation. Like, I really kind of appreciate it. The past year, it was the first time. I think since I was like fully conscious as an adult, that I felt in a kind of escape from diet culture,

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S2: well, that’s over now, because whether you’re talking about how you’re trying to lose quarantine weight or you’re talking about how you’re not trying to lose it, there’s definitely just it’s in the air right now. You can’t escape talking about bodies which all roads in the body discussion lead to, quote unquote, body positivity, a meaningless term at this point. That leaves me fairly confused and anxious about how I’m supposed to feel about my stupid body. I’ve long said that in my next life, I want to be a ball of hot gas, honestly.

S3: Yeah.

S2: Which is why the other day I saw this ticktock of a woman making as similar a similar argument that really made me laugh.

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S1: I’m not very positive. I’m not bad in neutral. I’m bad in negative. I want to be vapor or like a plume of blue smoke or mist or a rumor and

S2: be a rumor in the video. It’s just a woman staring straight to camera with long brown hair, sort of seductively explaining that she would not like to be a corporeal form. Because how embarrassing.

S1: There’s bones. There’s bones in my face. There’s bones in your face. Aren’t you embarrassed?

S2: OK, frankly, if she tried to sell me Beachbody and did it in that voice, I might be compelled.

S3: But I think the compelling part is that she would never try to sell you beachbody. Like you can tell, it was just phenomenal. But also something like erotic puritan about the idea of the body is like disgusting.

S2: After the break, Richard and I are going to get into our earliest memories of the body positivity complex,

S3: come back to listen to our Tom. She wore an

S5: itsy bitsy, teeny weeny yellow.

S2: And we are back with a bop

S3: bop that has scarred me mentally and emotionally since 2004.

S4: New news from Yoplait Light. A clinical study shows it helps you burn more

S3: fat and lose more weight. They had this commercial in the early OT’s about this woman who was, you know, getting her bikini body back and was eating Yoplait to lose all this weight. I really, truly think this might have been like my first brush with the concept of like a bikini body or diet culture. Honestly, just hearing it kind of made me a little nauseous. Like I just remember, like, feeling so bad in my body whenever I saw that commercial. And I was a child, a literal child. I mean, I don’t know if you have this kind of seared into your memory, but I fully remember being, I think, nine or 10 and it was like health class or whatever. And we were all lined up in the hallway and we had to get on a scale and tell them our hides. So there’s just this line of kids behind me. And then they were calculating BMI and tell you in front of all your classmates if you were overweight. No. So I like, according to BMI, have been overweight since I was like nine or ten because not really designed for my kind of body.

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S2: My like one of my, like, formative memories comes a little bit later. But when I was in college for Eating Disorder Awareness Week, there was a day where the organization would cover up all the mirrors on campus.

S3: Oh yeah.

S2: Which yeah. Like the mission here I’m on board for, but now I’m staring like washing my hands in a bathroom sink, staring at a bunch of flyers that are like, you’re beautiful, fake body standards. And I’m like, I am more aware of my body in this moment than I was when I was just looking at my reflection.

S3: Yep, I was and joking before the break about Puritanism. But this is kind of way in which body positivity has turned awareness of your body into this weird, shameful thing where it’s like if you’re ashamed of your body, something’s wrong with you. When it’s like maybe it’s the broader culture. I don’t know, maybe we should not make this an individual problem instead of a structural one.

S2: Right. And it comes at you from both sides. Right. You’re not supposed to feel bad about your body, but if you feel bad about it and want to change it and you’re like doing totally healthy things to, like, change how you look or change how you feel, that’s bad, too.

S3: I mean, somebody who’s been, I think, really amazing on speaking about this is Lizzo, who on her ticktock and also on all of her interviews, she’s very much been vocal about the ways in which body positivity has been co-opted by people who are like conventionally attractive, but who feel the kind of. Shame that society is imposing on all of us, and I just want to make sure we’re not invalidating that like it’s really hard, but that is not what the point of this is supposed to be. Lizzo actually had this really great tick lately, responding to this woman who was kind of just like, why can I not just feel comfortable in my body? And this is what Lizzo had to say.

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S1: Fat people are still getting the short end of this movement. We’re still getting shit on. We’re still getting talked about, maimed, shamed. And no one cares anymore because it’s like body positivity is for everybody. Yes. Please be positive about your body. Please use our movement to empower yourself. That’s the point. But the people who created this movement. Big women, big brown and black women, queer women are not benefiting from the mainstream success of it. Our bodies are none of your fucking business. Our health is none of your fucking business. All we ask is that you keep that same energy with these medium girls that you praise.

S2: I saw that Tic-Tac and it really it struck me as a person who, you know, was identified as a fat person by the state of New York, but also has a lot of thin privilege is I am, you know, thin passing person in the world and thinking about all of the campaigns and ads and Instagram influenzae things that have been flung at me as like, oh, this is body positive participating and this is body positive. And it gets into your brain. You start to think like, yeah, I want everybody to feel better about their bodies. But it’s that’s not what it’s doing.

S3: It’s not. And it’s just such like, I think the platonic ideal of between a rock and a hard place because again, on one side, feel good in your body like no one is telling you not to do that. No one wants for people who have been subject to society’s bullshit about bodies, no one’s going to say to you, like, fuck your body. You’re not allowed to talk right now. But the people that fat acceptance movement and body positivity movement was originally built for are not reaping the benefits. Like what is this visibility doing? How is it actually helping people? Is it changing the medical system? Because based on recent medical experiences I’ve had,

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S2: I’m going to say no. Rachel, I know this is becoming a running theme of the show, but what would you like to do, like do on earth this might trauma?

S3: Yes. I mean, OK, so again, I am a person who has like a lot of privilege, like I can shop in most stores and find something to wear. Like I again, just want to preface that I haven’t been to a doctor in a year because there’s a pandemic and I didn’t want to go to a doctor’s office. And so I went to a doctor to get blood work done. I had never had an appointment with this doctor before and he’s taking my medical history. And I’m like, oh yeah, I have X, Y and Z. And he’s like, oh, it’s because you need to lose weight. He is not weighed me. I’m wearing like mom jeans and a loose linen. Sure you couldn’t even see the outline of my body and he just looks at me and is immediately like, you just need to lose weight. And I’m like, really you grey like like fuck you. You don’t even like you haven’t you don’t even know how much I weigh right now. How are you going to tell me they need to lose weight? You don’t even know what I wear. You are looking at me and assuming it just makes you self-conscious in a way that is not productive for anybody. And again, if this is what we are experiencing as to what Tic-Tac would call mid-sized girls, this is not just about finding clothes or like feeling attractive, which are all important things. But this is about getting health care.

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S2: Yeah, I think that’s what bugs me about the term midsize as somebody who falls into that description is like shopping for bodies is hard, like finding a pair of jeans that fits anybody impossible. It’s hard. But, you know, a lot of the numbers in that category fall into its straight sizing, like if you can like what you described, go into a store and find something to put on your body. Like that’s a totally different experience. And that that also translates to your medical experience or to what it’s like to be on an airplane or on public transportation.

S3: And I mean, so much of this is driven by social media. Instagram has been, I think, properly and continues to be lambasted for the ways in which it promotes absolutely toxic body ideals. But we’ve both talked about the fact that we’re really glad that we didn’t have to talk as teens.

S2: So, so glad. Have you seen the the facial symmetry challenge?

S3: It’s impossible to go on the app without seeing it. It’s this challenge in which there’s this filter that flips basically your face around, because when you look at a selfie camera on tech talk or I think on Instagram as well, you’re seeing it as a mirror versus the way people would actually see your face, which is reversed. And so there’s this filter you can click where you can see how your face looks, quote unquote, inverse. And people are doing this trend where they’re like flipping really fast back and forth between them to see, like, how symmetrical their faces are and the way people have lost their absolute shit. So we’re realizing that their faces are not symmetrical, which it’s one not a thing I’ve ever thought to be self-conscious of. And B, also does the thing I thought we had all accepted wasn’t I thought we realized most people’s faces are symmetrical. Like I feel like I remember seeing the gibbet American Girl book or the care and keeping of you. Yeah, I feel like literally one of those, like your most faces are now symmetrical. Like it’s just one of those things where I live. Like I’ve never. My face was symmetrical,

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S2: right, like really hot celebrities have symmetrical

S3: faces, yeah, look, there’s all those don’t click big articles where it’s like, look how symmetrical like Jennifer Aniston’s face is where I was like, OK, yeah, she’s a pro..

S2: The only thing standing between me and being Jennifer Aniston. So I tried I tried the inverted filter. And I’ve never been more acutely aware that I have two very different sized nostrils in my whole life.

S3: And the thing is, Madison, I look at your face for at least, I think an hour or two every single day on Zoome. I have never notices you’re showing me your nostrils now on Zoom and I swear to God I cannot see it.

S2: I was struck by how many of those videos. I felt like they were the only thing on my Facebook page this week, which, given the verdict in the direction of George Floyd trial and just the news throughout the country this week, I was really surprised not to be seeing more political stuff in my 42 page.

S3: Oh, yeah. I mean, this is again, another reason why I’m glad I didn’t have to talk as a teen, because the way the app will shadow band content, which sounds like like I’m part of the intellectual dark web, but I swear to God I’m not. And it’s just objectively true that tick tock will just straight up remove or not show content, which is what shadow banking is, where they don’t technically not allow you to post, but they won’t show it in like the algorithm or something. So you’re not removed from the app, but you were removed from I guess public consumption is basically the concept behind shadow banning. And at some point in the lead up to the George Zimmerman verdict on Tuesday, they had gotten rid of the abolished police hashtag, like when you click on hashtags on a video, they are kind of white, bolded to show you that you can click on them and see other videos like that. And then for a while in the lead up to the verdict, you couldn’t click on a box, please. It was just kind of there, which happens with hashtags that are not permissable on top, which usually has to do with, like sexual content.

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S2: I actually reached out to Tic-Tac to ask what was up, and a spokesperson told me that the specific hashtag abolish the police was taken down in error and error.

S3: Like, what does that mean? I to much accidentally took it off. Someone took it off and it shouldn’t have been taken off. Someone took it off. And there was a decision that was reviewed and they were like, oh, we fucked up. Like, what is an error mean? The bot did it. What’s going on?

S2: Yeah, I still have many questions, but I was told that it was an error and that other abolish hash tags remained up. As to Tuesday night after the Derrick Chauvin guilty verdict, what you were describing as content suppression, what sometimes users will describe as being shadow band Tic-Tac support, tweeted that evening and said that they were experiencing an issue that caused some users a delay, a quote unquote, delay in videos being posted and that they fixed the issue the following morning at like three a.m., which again, timing a hell of a thing

S3: no one thinks I want to say. No one thinks no. I think that’s accurate. No one thinks of ticktock as a free speech platform. And Tic-Tac has never made it seem like a free speech platform. In fact, finding ways to get around the censoring algorithm is so baked into the culture now that it’s not abnormal to see people spell sex like eggs was always just makes me laugh. But in the case of quote unquote political content, a.k.a. whether or not black people deserve to be murdered for existing by the police, the fact that tick tock has this control and that in the place of showing actual content around a breaking news event, they decided to show me and I’m assuming a lot of other people how unsymmetrical people’s faces are is deeply unsettling for so many different reasons.

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S2: I mean, that seems like as good a place as any to end this conversation. Just feeling unsettled,

S3: feeling unsettled in my body. All right, that’s the show will be back in your feeds on Wednesday, but in the meantime, please subscribe and leave us a reading room view on Apple podcast and please, please tell a friend it really helps us find new listeners while you’re telling your friends how much you love us. If you have a piece of Internet history that you’ve been thinking about forever,

S2: you are also deeply concerned about your unequal nostrils,

S3: or you want to know how dance moves might end up copyrighted. You can send us a email at IAC by Mindstate Dotcom or tweet us using the hashtag I see on my iPod and our handles are in the show notes.

S2: I see Why Am I is produced by Daniel Shrader, our supervising producer is Derek John Forrest. Wickman is Slate’s culture editor and Gabe Roth is editorial director of Audio Seyou.

S3: Online or not. Well, you made me laugh, I feel good.

S1: Oh, man.