The Whitewashed, Diluted Reality of Modern Body Positivity: The Important Black History of the Body Positivity Movement

Historical Background

Over the past few years, the body positivity movement has gained substantial momentum on social media. This movement, originally formed by a group of fat, queer Black women in the 1960s, was, at its heart, a fat liberation movement, and meant to create a space by and for marginalized bodies. It was absolutely revolutionary for a group of fat, queer, Black women to demand respect from society.

In 1972, activist Johnnie Tillmon said, “I’m a woman. I’m a Black woman. I’m a poor woman. I’m a fat woman. I’m a middle-aged woman. In this country, if you’re any one of those things you count less as a human being.”

Where Modern Body Positivity Falls Short

The body positivity movement of the 21st century is unfortunately an often watered-down, whitewashed version of what it used to be. White women dominate the conversation. The larger bodies celebrated are often still relatively small. The intersection of body positivity and gender identity is largely ignored.

It seems as though society has taken the body positivity movement, originally an absolutely radical rebuke of societal beauty standards, and warped it to still be revolutionary, just not “too” revolutionary.

Black model Simone Mariposa commented on these limitations of the modern-day movement, saying: “Body positivity right now is centered around women who are still conventionally desirable.” Research has shown, time and time again, the importance of representation for marginalized groups—and not the token “checking-the-diversity-quota” representation we see so often in America.

We need real, intersectional representation. It feels important to note that thin bodies and white bodies are not excluded from the movement; they just shouldn’t be the center.

Going forward, it is vital that when we use the term “body positivity” we acknowledge and remember the history behind the movement. We need to continue to advocate for Black voices, queer voices, and fat voices in the movement, and recognize the intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality, and weight stigma.

Love Your Body Week: Ohio State’s Body Positive Initiative

Love Your Body Week 2021 is an initiative to drive conversation around body image to the Ohio State community and takes place during the last week of February. When recruiting events for the week, we wanted to make sure there were events that pushed this conversation beyond what we normally see on social media:

  • Book discussion events on The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor and Hunger by Roxane Gay center Black voices.
  • Our Gender Identity and Body Acceptance event brings awareness to the gender dysphoria that trans and nonbinary individuals experience, and how that relates to body image.
  • Our Weight Stigma in a Diet Culture World event emphasizes the systemic stigma and hostility that fat people experience every day.

We are so proud to be offering events that include and celebrate everyone. You can learn more and sign up for events on our Love Your Body Week 2021 website.


Claire Pitrof, 4th year 

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