There is a great deal of stigma and shame around certain body types, and fatphobia often perpetuates these stigmas. The body positivity movement was created in response to negative stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding weight, especially in the medical community. The movement encouraged people of all shapes and sizes to love and accept their bodies. Later on, the body neutrality movement originated with a different perspective: rather than focus solely on our appearance, we can focus on gratitude for our bodies and the amazing things they do for us.
At Stigma-Free Society, we believe that one of the most powerful ways to combat stigma is through sharing personal experiences. In this interview, Jessica Lyric shares what body positivity and body neutrality mean to her. She also raises awareness about the obstacles people face as a result of fatphobia, and what we can do to address it and create a world that is inclusive of all bodies. Jessica is a teacher and educational administrator. She is currently a grade 9 Humanities teacher and Geoghegan House Director at Queen Margaret’s School.
1. What does body neutrality mean to you, and how do you implement it in your daily life?
Since having a child, I’ve noticed I have a different level of respect for my body. It was able to accomplish something so incredible that I could no longer hate on it like I used to. In my daily life, I’ve allowed myself to accept my body for what it is and work from there. I no longer wake up wishing my stomach didn’t exist or my boobs were smaller because they have given life and gotten me to where I am in life.
2. What is the difference between body positivity and body neutrality?
I am more of a body positivity person because I feel like that’s the more radical act. Body positivity is loving your body for what it is; body neutrality is appreciating it for what it does: “I love my arms for lifting things; I love my feet for carrying me here,” and so on. In my eyes, body neutrality is how you get to body positivity, but others might not define it that way.
3. What are some of the ways fatphobia perpetuates false health/medical information?
Oh, there are so many. There is an inherent belief in all levels of society that if your body is large, you must be unhealthy and unfit. There’s also an assumption that your cholesterol and blood pressure must be high and that you need to cut down on fats. I know so many thin people who eat ten times more junk food and sweets than I do, and I know thin people who do not have my stamina. When I was living overseas in France, doctors did not know how to treat me and acted as though I was an anomaly. I’m only a size 18, but they treated me like I was the mother in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’. When I go in to see a medical professional, I am immediately met with those prejudices. Therefore, it takes much longer to find out what is actually wrong with me, if ever. The automatic response is “lose weight” to literally every malady.
4. How does poor media representation contribute to stigma around certain body types?
Have you ever seen a romantic movie where a fat person is the lead? Have you ever seen a TV show where a fat person was deemed attractive (without some magical reasoning à la ‘Drop Dead Diva’)? When you grow up without that example, you value yourself that way. Fat people are usually represented as angry, mean, vindictive jealous people (‘Glee’), or drooling, envious messes (‘Mean Girls’). We don’t get to live full lives in the media. I will point out one exception: ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ from the UK was an amazing show that represented a fat character as a full human being.
5. In your opinion, what are the main challenges that people face while shopping for plus-size clothing?
Options! There are several more options now because of online shopping, but when I was growing up in Vancouver Island in the 90s, there was absolutely nothing. I would have to go to the States and find anything in my size, and I wasn’t even that big back then – I was about a size 10. For adult plus-size clothing, there is a tendency to give us leggings and a giant tunic so that we kind of look like a tent all the time. Alternatively, there are librarian-style outfits, but nothing that anyone would deem as fashionable. It’s taking me a long time to find websites with the kind of clothing I would actually want to wear; and then again, it’s only on websites.
6. What are the most important changes we can make at the individual and societal level to address fatphobia?
I would say we just overall need to get to a place where fat doesn’t preclude beauty. I’m not sure how that happens but I’m pretty sure Lizzo is a huge step forward and I wish we’d had someone like that when I was a kid.
7. As a teacher, do you have any tips on how educators can foster body neutrality in the classroom?
The easiest class to focus on is PE. Do not focus on weight loss. Rather, focus on ability and how you feel. Elevate the voices of plus-size people, especially those around you. Finally, compliment the fashion of plus-size people – they never hear that.
The Impact of Fatphobia in Medicine
Stigma has real consequences for mental and physical health. Fatphobia among medical professionals can lead to inadequate healthcare and even discourage patients from visiting their doctor. You can read more about fatphobia in medicine and people’s experiences with stigma here: