We receive weekly calls and emails from students requesting interviews for school projects. We wish we could satisfy all of these requests individually, but as a small non-profit, we do not have the capacity to do so at this time. We highly recommend you read our book, Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice), as a resource for your projects, as it has the most comprehensive information, and addresses most of the questions we are asked.
For additional support, we have created this FAQ with our most Frequently Asked Questions as a reference. If you are interested in an interview for a media publication or if you’re interested in bringing us to your campus to start a movement, please email our Director of Programs and Communications, Naomi Finkelstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.When and how did The Body Positive come about?Did you come up with the term “body positive”?What does it mean to be Body Positive?Why is body positivity important?How and why has negative body image become such a big issue?How does someone become Body Positive?How do we raise Body Positive children?How do we combat body shaming, which has become rampant in our society?What can individuals do to improve this social issue?What is Fat Activism and why is it important?
Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, LCSW, founded The Body Positive in 1996 because of their shared passion to create a lively, healing community that offers freedom from suffocating societal messages that keep people in a perpetual struggle with their bodies. Elizabeth has been practicing psychotherapy for 25 years, specializing in eating disorders treatment. She is committed to The Body Positive’s work because it brings great meaning to her life when she can help people leave body hatred behind and become free to focus on their precious life purpose. Connie’s experience with an eating disorder in her teen years and the death of her sister Stephanie inspired her life’s work to improve the self-image of youth and adults. She founded The Body Positive in honor of her sister, and to ensure that her daughter Carmen and other children would grow up in a new world—one where people focus on changing the world, not their bodies. You can read Connie’s story of healing in Embody.
We, along with Deb Burgard began using the term in the mid 90’s. At that time, several AIDS organizations were using the term “body positive” to support people who were HIV positive. In recent years, it has taken on a life of its own! We are The Body Positive, so look for the capital letters and the word “The” to know if we are associated with anything “body positive” you come into contact with. Keep in mind that not everyone honors the trademark, and may be using our name in ways that we do not define as Body Positive.
To paraphrase from our book, Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice), being Body Positive is..."a way of living that gives you permission to love, care for, and take pleasure in your body throughout your lifespan. Struggles will inevitably occur, especially during times of transition or imbalance." Practicing true body positivity..."allows you to find what you need to live with as much self-love and balanced self-care as possible. Experiences of conflict and suffering become opportunities to learn what is required to further your growth so you can find greater contentment and peace."
Body positivity is important because we have many things to do in this life that are more important than obsessing over our bodies! We have seen incredible transformations occur when people start to realize they can love themselves as they are right in this moment. It's important because too many people have lost their lives to eating disorders. It's important because there is so much incredible beauty in the diversity of people on this planet and we deserve to see and experience it all. It's important because we need all of our energy and resources to be put towards making the world a better place, not wasted on lamenting about and/or trying to perfect our bodies. While our work is for people of all genders, we feel that it is especially important right now to help women step into their power so that together we can shift the predominant culture of our society.
We would argue that the media is the single greatest contributor to body negativity. The beauty and weight loss industrial complexes are out to make money. The advertising world relies on us to be dissatisfied with our appearances so that we will spend money to buy products that come with the promise of happiness. Of course, that promise is never fulfilled, since the products don’t work. Businesses rely on this failure aspect as well, so that the money will continue to flow.
The majority of the images that we see in mainstream media are of young, white, thin, feminine women, (or tall, muscular, masculine men) which sends a very clear message to the viewer that this is the ideal, leaving anyone who doesn't identify with this image feeling unrepresented and unvalued. We see these people in ads and on TV, and their existence is romanticized; it makes us want what they have. We begin to believe that the only way to be happy is if we satisfy the beauty ideal that is set before us. This leads to a great deal of mental distress as we tear ourselves down for being different, and become unable to see the beauty in what makes us unique. Sadly, our uniqueness becomes a barrier to our very happiness. When you add in the fact that many of the images we see are not even real (heavily photoshopped), we are presented with a recipe for disaster. Now you have people striving towards a physical image which isn't even attainable. This leads to body dissatisfaction on many levels, causing intense mental distress and, in many cases, triggers eating disorders and potentially dangerous body augmentation (weight loss surgery, breast implants, liposuction, etc).
Social media is a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand, it has allowed people who were suffering alone to realize that they were NOT alone, and that led to people taking action to promote change. Young people now have role models of people who are unique and living incredible lives. The message is being spread that it’s okay not to look like a supermodel. Instagram and other social media platforms provide an opportunity for people to create and contribute to their own media feed. Because social media allows everyone to contribute their own images and messages which aren’t linked to the advertising world, we are able to see vastly diverse bodies and messages, which opens our minds to the possibility of finding beauty in new ways.
On the other hand, social media has become a conduit for internet bullying, which is obviously a huge and serious problem. Additionally, there is now extra pressure on us to be aware of our images at all times since people are constantly taking pictures and posting them to social media for all to see.
In addition to the influence of media, the people in our immediate lives often contribute to negative body image. Hurtful comments made by family members, friends, partners, or even strangers about our bodies, children put on restrictive diets by parents, doctor visits that are solely focused on weight and BMI, are examples of messages that harm our relationship to our bodies and lead to worsened self-care. It is easy to blame media for all the problems people experience with their body image. It is also important to remember that when the people in our lives buy into the messages that are promoted by advertisers and companies out for our money, they relay them to us in a much more personal way that can be extremely damaging to our body image and self-esteem.
There is no magical cure and there is nothing to fail at when it comes to practicing body positivity. It is a set of tools that can be revisited over and over again when life gets hard. Take what works and leave the rest. YOU are the expert of your own body and life.
Workshops and trainings: We also invite you to participate in one of our workshops or trainings, where you will spend time diving into the Competencies in community with others. Listed below are some of the events we offer in Berkeley, CA. We are also available to do public workshops or trainings in your city. Write to us for more information about how to bring The Body Positive to your community.
Please be sure to join our mailing list and follow us on social media to stay updated on dates for upcoming trainings and workshops!
First and foremost, we can help young people feel confident in the bodies they are in by modeling that behavior for them. Kids watch and listen to adults to understand the world around them. Sadly, many learn that picking oneself apart is what people are supposed to do. Compliment young people on their achievements and character over their appearance. When you do compliment them on their appearance, better to keep it general and say things like, "You look so happy!" or "You're radiant today!" Avoid commenting on other people’s bodies or food choices around children.
One of the biggest obstacles to raising Body Positive children today is that the “war on obesity” consistently targets children as people we have to “protect” from fat. This leads many parents and educators to be resistant to learning about a weight-neutral approach to real health for children that honors diversity in ethnicity, race, size, gender, and shape. Education at an elementary level is also needed because children absorb messaging from family members, peers, and media that it is better to be thin. They then in turn begin to view other children in this light as well, which can lead to bullying. Exposure to a Body Positive curriculum in schools improves self-confidence, reduces shame, and garners respect for others. The advice we give to parents and educators is that they should challenge their own beliefs about what health really means to them and how their belief systems affect children. We recommend learning about Health at Every Size and why a weight-neutral approach to health leads to sustainable, life-long, positive self-care behaviors. The mental wellbeing of children is just as important as the physical.
In order for us to stop shaming others, we need to learn how to embrace ourselves. Once we stop being so critical of ourselves, we stop criticizing others, too. It's quite amazing, actually, how the desire to do this goes away when you practice loving yourself and letting go of your own patterns of self-flagellation.
The notion that beauty is a limited concept, and that it's only available to some people, pits us against each other. We compare ourselves and participate in a beauty hierarchy, where we end up feeling “good” or “bad” based on arbitrary and ever-changing terms. Many times, body shaming occurs because someone envies a person’s confidence. If you see someone showing off a body part that you yourself hide because you’re ashamed of it, even more shame tends to kick in. We spend so much of our energy, time, and resources perfecting our bodies because we think if we do, we will be happy. When we see others being happy, seemingly without that sacrifice, it doesn’t feel fair, so we attack them. The reality is that we can all have that happiness and confidence RIGHT NOW. Once we understand that beauty is infinite and that it is something that we ALL get to have, we see it more in ourselves, and in everyone around us. We realize that the media is poisoning our minds and we learn to embrace ideals of beauty that are inclusive of all.
It depends on their age! High school or college-age students can become body positive leaders and start body positive groups on their campuses. Small acts of activism, such as changing the topic or mentioning Health At Every Size when a friend or loved one starts complaining about their body or food choices, speaking up when they see sizeism, writing letters to companies or organizations who clearly don’t “get it”...these powerful actions all have an impact and can be done by people of any age.
Educators and professionals can model body positivity for their students and clients, as well as run Body Positive groups if they’re interested in that level of change. This work has ripple effects that extend far and wide! If you are unable to attend a training, you can hold book clubs using our book, Embody: Learning to Love your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!), which contains a plethora of inspiring talking points as well as activities that can be done on one’s own or in community with others.
Fat Activism means working to change the way society views fat people and fat, itself. It means shifting the overwhelming belief and perception that fat is bad into one that embraces and accepts body diversity. This can be done through conversations, fashion, art, public speaking, education, and more! It’s pointing out double binds, the mixed messages that are so pervasive, confusing, and damaging to our well-being, calling out the companies, organizations and individuals who give them, and demanding that they do better. It’s recognizing the micro-aggressions that are inflicted upon people of all sizes everyday, especially fat people, and educating those who knowingly or unknowingly enact them. It’s taking up the space we need and deserve, and empowering others to do the same.
Fat Activism is important because without it, prejudice, discrimination, and unnecessary suffering of all people will continue. Fatphobia and prejudice affect people of all sizes. Since everyone in our society is taught that fat is bad, those who are fat suffer from social stigma, lack of accessibility, and often times, self-hatred, and disordered eating. Those who are not fat suffer from fear of fat and are at risk for disordered eating in an attempt to prevent themselves from becoming fat. So much energy and so many resources are directed towards perfecting and hating our bodies that many of us have nothing left to devote to other pursuits; our fatphobia produces billions of dollars each year for companies that profit from people fearing their bodies. We must help one another open our eyes to the extremely damaging effects of the diet industry and the ways that we are all preyed upon. We must demand that fat people be treated with dignity and respect and shed light on the ways that they are denied this basic human right. We must do our part to create a fair and just society for all people.