Here at AnyBody Argentina, the Argentine chapter of Endangered Bodies, we often get asked about our values. Why does Argentina need a size law? Do other countries have one? What does “body positive” mean? For people who are unfamiliar with our type of activism—or just beginning their body-positive journey—some of the terms we use might be confusing. That’s why we’ve created this mini-dictionary of body-positive terms to help you understand our values here in Argentina and as part of the Endangered Bodies network worldwide.
Body positive, Body positivity
The body-positive movement believes that no one should be treated differently because of their appearance. That means that people of every size, shape, and ability deserve space and respect, and no one should be discriminated against for the body they inhabit. The body-positive movement acknowledges size and appearance discrimination exists systemically, which means not only individuals, but entire systems in society perpetuate the oppression of people with certain body types. Like most forms of systemic oppression, discrimination can take on both overt and insidious forms. Overt forms of discrimination include not hiring someone for their size, or, as is the case in Argentina, not being sold clothing in larger sizes. Insidious forms of discrimination, or microaggressions, refer to instances where differential treatment is unintentional or subtle. For example, commenting on the food choices of someone who is fat while not commenting on a thinner person who is making the same food choice: ‘Are you sure you should be eating that?’ or ‘That looks very unhealthy for you.’ If it is unhealthy for one person, it is unhealthy for everyone, irrespective of a person’s size.
Worth noting, the body-positivity movement is not without criticism from other activists for its emphasis on cultivating positive emotions, and for being co-opted by capitalist organisations which promote body diversity by objectifying different forms of beauty and profiting from them. The mandate to be happy in an oppressive system can be understood as unrealistic and violent, and serving another form of oppression by policing the right to be angry (as well as sad, frustrated, or even neutral). For this reason, some activists prefer the terms ‘body liberation’ or ‘body neutrality’. Reframing the movement in this way dislodges expectation by emphasising that a body should be free, and one’s relationship to one’s body is a personal endeavour.
Diet culture is a culture that places value on being thin, and erroneously equates thinness with health. At its core, it understands thinness as morally and aesthetically desirable, and that it should be achieved at any cost.
Diet culture can lead to eating disorders, yo-yo dieting, fat phobia, and discrimination against fat bodies. As a body-positive organization, we reject diet culture and dieting for weight loss, and believe everyone should do what they feel is best for their body, without judgement.
Fat acceptance movement
The fat acceptance movement aims to change the way society thinks of and treats fat bodies. The goal of the movement is to eliminate weight-based discrimination in all aspects of society, from the size of public seating to discriminatory hiring practices.
Fat phobia & sizeism
Fat phobia is discrimination or fear of fatness and fat bodies. Its related term, sizeism, refers to discriminatory practices against fat or larger bodies. It can be institutionalized, such as stores not carrying above certain sizes, or on an individual level, such as a person mocking another for being fat.
Fat shaming / Body shaming
As the name suggests, both fat shaming and body shaming involve making someone feel ‘ashamed’ for the body they inhabit. Specifically, fat shaming is mocking or humiliating someone for being fat whereas body shaming is mocking or humiliating someone for how their body looks.
With the advent of social media, and its exponential success, public forms of body shaming proliferate the internet. Concern trolling refers to instances where someone is seemingly on the side of the person who is being discriminated against by showing ‘concern’; however, this ‘concern’ serves to reify an ill-informed belief. The argument usually follows: ‘I completely support you, but you really shouldn’t do x, y or x’. For example: ‘I agree that there should be body diversity, but it really is unhealthy for you to be fat’. This form of argument perpetuates a very sinister myth about the correlation between a bodies’ appearance and its relative health (See HAES).
Health at Every Size (HAES)
Health at Every Size, or HAES, is an inclusive movement that, in its own words, “supports people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.” HAES is critical of scientific and cultural assumptions that promote the idea that weight loss is necessary to achieve health. On the contrary, randomized controlled clinical trials suggest that a HAES approach, rather than a weight-loss approach, is associated with improvements in physiological measures (e.g. blood pressure, blood lipids), health behaviors (e.g. eating and activity habits, dietary quality), and psychosocial outcomes (e.g. self-esteem and body image).
Hegemonic bodies and dissident bodies
Bodies that fit a certain mold--usually tall, thin, white, western bodies--are often the only bodies the media portrays. They are the bodies that society (notably the media and beauty and fashion industries) tells us are “ideal” and are thus are referred to as hegemonic bodies. These bodies are not inherently better (or worse) than other bodies but they are dominant in our visual culture, even though only a small percentage of bodies fit that mold.
In opposition to that, dissident bodies are bodies that can’t or refuse to fit that imposed mold. Their very existence goes against the cultural imposition of hegemonic bodies by showing that bodies exist in many different shapes and sizes. We also acknowledge that those with hegemonic bodies benefit from the same systems that oppress dissident bodies. Although no one is exempt from social pressures and bodily expectations, certain bodies acquire privileges while others experience different forms of discrimination. For example, thin privilege refers to the social rewards that one acquires by virtue of being thin.
Feminism is the social and political movement for gender equality. Due to historical privileging of the male gender (and certain manifestations of masculinity), it aims to redress and challenge past injustices towards a more inclusive society. The term intersectional feminism was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to speak to the lived experience of black women. That said, intersectionality attempts to look beyond gender, and acknowledge that race, class, sexual orientation, ability, and other elements of one’s identity may have an impact on one’s lived experience of privilege and oppression in a given society. In other words, intersectional feminism understands humans as multi-layered and recognizes that different systems of oppression are not only interrelated, but affect people in complicated ways. For example, a middle-class white woman will not have the same experiences as a middle-class black woman. By paying attention to these discrepancies, intersectional feminism aims at a more nuanced approach to an inclusive society.
Intuitive eating is an eating practice critical of weight-loss diets and restrictive eating. Instead, it involves listening to what your body needs, and ridding yourself of any guilty feelings, by honoring your hunger and letting go of the pressure to eat a certain way in order to lose weight.
Plus size and Fat tax
Similar to the use of the term “real women,” stores that sell plus sizes are selling clothing in larger sizes. Although plus-size clothing is often hard to find, those sizes represent a significant portion of the population, and should not be considered a niche market. The myth about ‘plus sizes’ lying outside of the norm often results in differential treatment of people with bigger bodies. For example, bigger-sized clothes is often more expensive and justified under the guise that more material is used (often referred to as fat tax). Although one cannot argue against the fact that more material may be used for making bigger clothes rather than smaller clothes, one can (and should) argue against the idea that this warrants a price differentiation. Two arguments can be used to expose the inconsistency of this logic:
- Incrimination of material also occurs between sizes that are considered ‘smaller’ yet these prices remain the same. For example, a size 4 dress uses substantially less material to make than a size 8 dress, however, the price between the two sizes are usually the same.
- Amount of material used to make a product has hardly ever correlated to the products relative price. If you don’t believe us, go to Primark and the Zara and tell us what you find!
Another justification for higher-priced clothing that circulates is the idea that bigger sizes require more manual labour, or specialised techniques to put together, and thus should be more expensive. Again, although these facts may be true, the above arguments still apply. Assuming that specialised techniques are used, it is safe to say that different techniques are used to develop a wide variety of clothing, and that these practices do not necessarily correlate to a difference in price. When there is an incrementation on price based on someone’s size, not only is there discrimination based on one’s body, but also on one’s class.
Fat or curvy bodies are often referred to as “real” bodies or portraying “real” women due to the lack of representation of fat bodies in the media and fashion, beauty, and diet industries. However, all bodies are real regardless of whether they fit the “ideal” or not. The preferred terms for larger bodies are fat, or plus-sized. We avoid terms such as “overweight” and “obese” as they carry great stigma within the medical community and the public at large. For instance, the word ‘overweight’ implies that something is ‘over’ or ‘above’, and therefore normalises certain weights over others. We don’t, for example, refer to someone as being ‘over-height’, we simply refer to them as tall. Likewise, the word ‘obesity’ carries a lot of prejudices as it is used in the medical tradition to speak to people of a certain BMI and often used to justify differential treatment of fat patients. For these reasons it is important to be critical of the terms we use when describing the human body.
Self-acceptance and self-love
Self-acceptance—and its more elusive counterpart, self-love—means accepting your body as it is, and by extension, accepting yourself. This doesn’t mean that your feelings about your body won't fluctuate from day to day, but it does mean that despite these fluctuations, one should try to cultivate acts of kindness and understanding toward oneself. For this reason, it is important to understand self-love and self-acceptance as a journey, and not a destination. The foundation of this ethos is the idea that we all share a common humanity, our body is valid just the way it is, and it deserves to be valued and accepted unconditionally.
Body acceptance/self-acceptance is connected to Body Positivity but it is not a mandate that you must love your body. Instead it is about learning to reject societal messages that your body is not okay. Body acceptance can also mean that you are neutral about your body; it’s about finding a way to not direct the collective hatred of non-idealised bodies to oneself and your body. Although the onus is on society to change, and not on you to develop resilience against hateful messaging, it is important to practice acts of self-care as we continue the fight for an inclusive society.
In Argentina, many consumers, typically those with non-skinny bodies, have a hard time finding clothes that fit because the majority of stores do not offer a wide range of sizes. In other words, most Argentine clothing brands prefer to only offer smaller sizes, which we consider institutionalised size discrimination. The size law refers to legislation that mandates that retailers offer a fixed number of sizes. Currently 14 different municipal and provincial size laws exist in Argentina. We support a national, coherent and inclusive size law. It is our hope that when a national size law is implemented, Argentines should have an easier time finding clothing in their size, no matter their size.