As we head into the new year, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about body positivity. It’s a topic often misunderstood, or perhaps distorted is the more appropriate choice of wording because we so often look through such a myriad of lenses of ‘what is right’, ‘what is positive’, and ‘what makes someone happy’ that we lose our way.
The New Year often brings ‘Body Positive’ problems
At the beginning of the new year, massage therapists, personal trainers, yoga teachers, and other holistic providers often see a surge of new faces coming in to begin their new year’s resolutions of better health and fitness. All this is fine, but we must, as providers in this new year, remember being body-positive means being body neutral.
We may never know why someone picks the journey they are on, and we especially may never know the road they took to get there so choosing your words thoughtfully is important. All too often, people carry with them the weight of their past. If your client’s goal is to get in shape, it’s no one’s job to tell them how they
look on that path because that might define how they feel. Maybe the goal is to lose 10 lbs, and you hired me to help you, but that still does not give me permission to comment on your body, for any reason. Even if you hit your goal, that can be someone else’s job; commenting on your body is not mine.
It is easy to shame someone under the guise of body positivity. Culturally we often accept it. Common themes are ‘you should be thin because it is healthy’, ‘New Year, New You‘, (what may I ask, was wrong with the old you?), ‘that exercise is the key to health’ (well, what about people who can’t) Even if you Google body positivity, you might find pictures of a slightly plus sized woman looking effervescent, perhaps exercising, or drinking a pressed juice. That picture is nice, and I am glad it exists, but it leaves all the other kinds of bodies out there and all the other kinds of body/soul joy attached to them. In our effort to be body positive, we have chosen yet another kind of body to make our emblem.
Our words about Bodies matter
Practitioners need to mind their words as it is easy to do harm and cause damage that lasts years. I would be lying if I told you that I had not heard many people tell me that they have bad posture. When asked why they believe that, they will tell me “Oh, my (insert PT, Chiro, personal trainer) told me years ago”. 10 years later, they carry that faulty bit of information around with them, and, no, they do not have ‘bad’ posture.
Not all people struggle to be thin. Some people struggle with food in general. A comment about how healthy and ‘thin’ you look can trigger someone’s eating disorder. We say things such as, “She has a yoga body“, or “They have a runner’s body“, or perhaps, “You look good, did you lose weight?”, or “I can tell you have been working out“, These comments can sound positive, but they are harmful. A body is just a body, no matter what it is doing. Not all women want to look pretty, not all men want to look tough. Indeed, none of us needs to be told to smile or relax. While it might seem like a lot, and you might have to walk on eggs, you do not. A body is just a body, no matter what it is doing.
So I urge you as a practitioner to keep in mind being body-positive means staying body neutral. Commenting on the body when working with the body is not your place.