Body Positivity’s Race Problem

Like feminism, especially in its early days, body positivity has a race problem. Think about the top 10 body positive activists, the ones with the largest social media following, how many are white? If you are picturing the same 10 that I am, you are probably picturing 8 white women, one racially ambiguous woman who never talks about racism, and one self-described racialized woman with light skin. That is far from representative of the world around us and very problematic. Body positivity needs to be inclusive of all bodies and that includes all skin tones. We can never forget that the roots of body positivity come from fat activism. Creating equity through social media activism means highlighting the images of people we aren’t used to seeing around us by making space for the bodies that aren’t usually represented in the mainstream media.

Perhaps, you pictured a slightly different group than I did and included a few more women of colour but I pretty much guarantee you can’t think of more than one very popular, in terms of social media following, who is a woman with dark skin. Even when the community does its best to be inclusive of a variety of races, it is almost always a light-skinned or racially ambiguous woman. Social media is just as racist as the society we live in. It is classic whitewashing and it sends the message that lighter skin tones are more desirable, a heartbreaking message for so many young girls and women to receive. Social media has the power to change this messaging and that is what body positive activism should be about, in my opinion. I’ve included this album of so-called body positive campaigns that completely fail at being inclusive.

Check out some of the major body positive hashtags and reposting pages, you know the ones I mean. Look at how many of these images are of white women. These pages will claim to be inclusive of all bodies, but when you look at the photos they share and the makeup of their admin teams, it becomes really clear how they actually feel about diversity. Actions speak louder than words, much louder. The one or two exceptions are pages that are run by women of colour and as a result, they have made racial diversity a priority, which is fabulous. As the creator of the #SelfiesForSelfLove page, I have made it a focus to have a representative admin team and to ensure the images we post reflect the world around us. Our team includes; a queer white in-betweener size woman, a black woman who celebrates her postpartum body, an Asian plus size woman, and a white queer trans woman. This is one way that I, can use my privilege even the playing field.

Even worse, there are a few body positive activists who have actually done or said racist things and not faced a total boycott. One major account actually posted photos of herself, a white woman, in blackface. When other feminist activists called her out on it, she defended her choices. Eventually, she caved to the pressure, or as she called it “harassment”, and took down the photos. Realising that she had already been blocked by the feminist accounts calling her out, she actually reposted the photos. She refused to acknowledge they were racist images based on a long history around the painful tradition of blackface in the media. While a few accounts spoke out, unfollowed and blocked this woman, most did not. Their silence sent a loud message that they accepted this racist act.

We all need to do better, much better. This is everyone’s responsibility, but as a white woman, I think we have a special role to play in correcting the effects of racism. Our unearned privilege has done damage to this society and striving for equity will benefit us all as we achieve an equal society. It is our responsibility to take up less space and to make room for women of colour. If this isn’t a conscious effort, I guarantee you that you aren’t doing enough. Believing racism should not exist is very different from being an anti-racist ally who is actually doing something to ensure racism ceases to exist. Who are we following, retweeting, giving shout-outs too? Are they all other white women?

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How often do you as a white woman get interviewed about your body positive activism? Do you ever decline and direct them towards a woman of colour instead? If I accept an interview, I always insist that they give me time to tell them about some other activists they should contact and why. I then praise my activist friends and ensure the interviewer will want to reach out and hear from them. Many of my comments during the interview will reference other activists’ work and achievements so even my quotes in the article will be more inclusive. When I write an article, for example, 9 Bopo Babes for Love U Magazine, I consciously chose not to include some popular white women in order to make space for women of colour and others that often lack representation in the media.

The media itself is racist so if we do not ensure the voices of women of colour are elevated we will never achieve equality. I am not trying to imply that women of colour need us as white women to save them, but I am saying that we need to stop taking up so much space. By making room for women of colour to use their own voices to tell their own stories we can be a true ally in the work towards ending racism, especially within the body positive community. If we truly want to be body positive and for everyone, this isn’t a choice. We have to act to do better and we have to do it now. What are you going to do today to ensure your activism is more inclusive of people of colour? Perhaps you could start by sharing this article with your white friends and asking them to get involved with you.

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