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Dear Virgie white swimsuit header

Dear Virgie,

There seems to be a conflict between body-autonomy and the body positive/HAES community. There are folks who have had WLS or have a super restrictive diet (health reasons, allergy, etc.) who feel like there’s no place for them. The BoPo community shuns them because they chose intentional weight loss or food restrictions — they feel super alienated and like they don’t have a right to their experiences. They don’t fit into diet culture, either. The black-and-white thinking of the BoPo community is something I feel like I want to talk about. I’d love your input.


Dear Friend:

I think this idea that the Body Positive (BoPo)/fat positive community shuns people is problematic.

I mean, it kind of reminds me of reverse-racism accusations. Because weight-loss talk and propaganda permeate most people’s everyday life, I truly believe that people have the right to set up spaces that are free of that. Period. Sure, there are potentially a million caveats to why someone would be restricting what/how they eat, but what truly baffles me is why it isn’t OK to simply state “this space isn’t for that conversation” and have that be respected! Like, damn. It isn’t that fucken hard, girl.

These are spaces of SURVIVAL.

If our culture weren’t so vitriolic and fat-hating, these kinds of spaces wouldn’t need to exist. These spaces are important, and are intentionally there to set boundaries for people’s emotional and mental wellness.

I find the issue often (though, of course, not always) here is that people with privilege want access to all spaces, as they are accustomed to moving freely throughout all spaces. I have found that, often, the people making these accusations of feeling alienated or shunned are white, straight, cis women who do not know what it feels like to not have access to every space, and therefore are attempting to create a case for their feelings of rejection while using language that is politicized.

Let me be clear that co-opting politicized language in order to articulate feelings of discomfort is harmful and a product of the lack of empathy that characterizes entitlement ideologies.

It’s also important to understand that when an entitled person has their entitlement pulled out of the realm of deniability, rendered visible and named, it can be jarring for them, but being jarred is not an experience of oppression. It is a legitimate and sometimes painful experience of discomfort, but it is not oppression.

It’s important for them to take a moment and recognize that feeling like a “bad” or “mean” person may be an important moment of education for them, and they can choose to be accountable and ponder why a group of people would have issues with their behavior, rather than immediately projecting blame onto them for having a need.

The truth is that when someone or a group sets a boundary, that doesn’t mean they are “shunning” people. It means they are setting parameters and describing what behaviors they believe do not promote the well-being of the person or the members who are part of that group. Setting these boundaries and parameters are not perfect processes, but they are important processes for people who systematically experience marginalization.

Like in Babecamp, for example, I am about to do a Facebook group for the first time, and there will be a rule that there is no weight loss talk.  Even though some people might feel frustrated or upset about the rule, that doesn’t mean the rule is oppressive. Using words that are reminiscent of or hinting at oppression allegations is a manipulative act often undertaken, again, by people with privilege who feel upset that they are expected to do the labor of feeling discomfort rather than being accountable and internally inquiring about that discomfort.

I would say that, on the whole, BoPo and fat-positive communities are exceedingly patient and generous, and behave well within the boundaries of reasonable boundary-setting behavior.

Hope this helps!




Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help those who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight. 


Virgie Tovar, MA is an author, activist and one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master's degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.

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