My body and I have had a tense relationship. But we’re working on it! And part of that ~bonding process~ includes accepting it for what it is and not what I think it could be if only I had literally endless time to spend working out and eating magical whole foods that come in colorful bowls.
To do that, I’ve been trying to change my optical diet, so to speak. Instead of haunting thinspo boards (I know, I know, I’m sorry, I was young), now I spend evenings cruising through Instagram to get my fill of curvy folks of all genders, out there living their best lives and wearing their shortest shorts. There’s actually research that backs this behavior; a 2017 study performed by researchers at Florida State University found that looking at plus-size models improved the participants’ mental health.
Anecdotally, it’s definitely been true for me. It’s extremely upsetting to say this, frankly, but I legitimately spent years thinking that only thin people were allowed to live happy, carefree lives. But look! It’s not true! It’s right there on the #bopo #edfighter #selflove hashtags!
Buuuuuuuuut then, as I’m walking my dog and scrolling through images of green smoothies and swimsuits I want to buy to, I don’t know, wear around my house (I live in Seattle; I have no reason to own more than one swimsuit), I almost always find myself with something new to worry about.
Like a body part or genetic quirk that is apparently a thing (see: freaking hip dips). Or some way that I didn't even realize I was apparently doing yoga or the gym or existing wrong. Or feeling like I’m not positive enough. Or that I’m too positive!
CAN I LIVE.
As much as body positivity has been revolutionary for my mental health—and it has been! Really!—the #bopo community (and maybe this is just a product of Instagram) has its very own shiny, pretty, packaged aesthetic that somehow always leaves me feeling, um, #bono. Or something.
The thought process is usually something like this:
How are these people literally always on vacation.
How are y’all always on the beach? Or like, in Paris? Or somewhere? Ninety-five percent of my Instagrams are from my neighborhood because almost my entire life is contained in like four blocks because I’m anxious and perpetually hunched over a laptop.
Plus, you know what’s at the beach? Other people.
Maybe this is what I should be doing for a living.
You know, these folks seem to be doing, like, pretty OK on the financial front. They have those expensive sports bras that say the name of a nice-ass brand on the band and also seem to eat a lot of the fancy style of protein bars.
Maybe I should have also figured out how to to monetize my assets and become an Instagram celebrity who gets asked to speak at conferences about this kind of thing. I’m an ED warrior! I’m a person who works out and eats enough protein!
I could definitely be doing a lot more stuff like this and then maybe I’ll get a cool sponsorship or something.
Lol nope. Nope. Noooope.
*Scroll scroll* oh right, I remember why I don’t do that.
Right, I could never be a #bopo celeb because I’m weird-looking... and also I suspect that Insagram celebrity would require photos of me, and that’s definitely not going to happen.
Even their gyms are nicer than mine.
When they aren’t doing home practice in their inexplicably huge and well-lit homes (or worse, on their beautiful porches surrounded by plants that look like they smell totally delightful), a lot of #bopo celebs are taking gym selfies in locker rooms that don’t look like they have three inches of standing water on every floor surface. They appear to have, like, amenities. Do you know how expensive gyms with amenities are?!
The gym I go to might as well be called Sorry, It’s Broken. There is only one functional toilet in the women’s locker room. Out of four. But it’s the closest gym to my house that doesn’t cost $80 a month.
Which again forces me to wonder HOW DO THEY PAY FOR IT ALL?
Girl, what’s your skin care regimen?
My no-makeup selfies look like a bowl of oatmeal with craisins in it. Yours are so good. Please tell me how to keep the weight of the world from creating a disaster zone on your skin.
Even my eating disorder is a fraud, apparently.
Oh goody, a before-and-after. That’s cool. I don’t have any photos of from when I was super-thin because I also didn’t have any friends and was too poor to even have a cell phone that took pictures. And I wasn’t even that thin I guess, so am I even an #edwarrior? Lol, who knows.
I didn’t even know this was something I was supposed to be proud of... or is it ashamed of... ?
What is a "thighbrow." Why are some visible rolls good and others are not? How is that extremely thin girl considered "curvy"? Why is that poorly lit photo the "bad" photo? Wait, now I’m supposed to be making my butt bigger? Also, all of these people are tall. And mostly white. I KNOW THIS IS NOT THE POINT OF THE BODY-ACCEPTANCE MOVEMENT, BUT I CAN’T HELP ITTTTT.
One of the most negative side effects of the body-positive movement (or, at least, the movement as it plays out in my Insta feed) is that it still manages to sneak in an awful lot of negativity. And like, I know, it’s a lot of people doing their damndest to do exactly what we’re all trying to do, which is feel better and find community. There isn’t one governing Bopo Body of Decision-Makers who act as a monolith to make stubby, pudgy little gals like me feel bad.
This is just the result of a collection of individuals doing what makes them feel good and being elevated for it by their peers, who (as so often happens) tend to respond to and reward things that still largely operate within the existing paradigm.
Which is to say: There’s never going to be someone else who can make me feel 100 percent better about my own issues because they’re still going to be mine and I get that. But.
A lot of body-positive content also promotes comparisons (which ultimately create a "bad" thing and a "good" thing), a kind of lifestyle, and a range of still-perfect figures (from conventionally attractive to what Roxane Gay would refer to as "Lane Bryant fat," and always with certain attributes, including a narrow waist and a shapely backside). Because that’s what we tend to respond to!
In a lot of ways, it’s expanded the variety of bodies that we can see—and it’s encouraged the praise and respect of those bodies. There are a LOT of reason why I still come back, again and again, to that #bopo tag. But there’s also still quite a bit tied up in it that's, like, pretty negative too.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and political consultant who also has an exercise habit. She enjoys plant-based proteins and working out in t-shirts with snarky phrases on them. You can follow her on Twitter @mshannabrooks.