Cartoon: A Concise History of Body Positivity


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This cartoon is another collaboration with Becky Hawkins.

Most cartoonists hate drawing crowd scenes; Becky, given several scripts to choose from, picked this one out immediately. I’m glad she did; this comic really shows off Becky’s ability to draw different sorts of bodies and fashions.

Of course, doing that well usually requires diving into internet image search engines; imagination is fed by research. Here are some of the photos Becky used as inspiration for this cartoon.


I think – or, anyway, I hope – that this cartoon explains itself well enough so that even people who aren’t familiar with fat politics will get it.

Tigress Osborn, writing for the BBC, sums the issue up:

Unfortunately, as more people started using hashtags like #loveyourbody and #allbodiesarebeautiful, the most marginalized bodies in society have become marginalized again within the very movement they started.

Some Body Positive believers say that weight loss talk should be included in Body Positivity messaging, as losing weight makes people feel better about themselves. Even major diet companies describe themselves as Body Positive. Some activists still embrace Body Positivity as a gateway to more radical body liberation movements. To others, the phrase has become so meaningless that they’ve either adopted variations or simply won’t use it at all.

Body Positivity is nothing without its Fat Activist grandparents of all genders. It’s also nothing without the Black women and femmes who amplified the message at the beginning of the trend.


I just paused in writing this post to go refill my water glass. When I opened the freezer to get ice, a box of corn flakes on top of the fridge came tumbling down, and I said “AAAHH!” and then caught it one-handed, without a single flake being spilled. It’s a matter of no importance, but it’s probably the greatest moment of physical competence I’ve had all month, so I wanted to tell someone about it.  :-p


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels. All the panels show people standing  in a blank cartoon space and talking directly to the readers.

PANEL 1

Three women, all unambiguously fat, are smiling warmly and talking to the readers. The one on the left, who is white, is wearing cool boots, and an open red plaid shirt over a black dress. She’s wearing squarish glasses. The other two women are black. The middle woman is wearing a crop top shirt with a brightly colored blue and pink pattern, and bright blue shorts. The woman on the right is wearing a plain white tee, blue shorts, and red-and-blue sneakers.

BOOTS: Body positivity means that no one should apologize or be made to feel bad for their body.

SNEAKERS: Love the body you’re in!

PANEL 2

A white woman, thin and with carefully styled blond hair, has walked out in from of the three fat women. She’s carrying a big sign that says “Love the body you’re in” in cheerful large lettering that’s a bit nostalgic for the 1960s. Below the lettering is a picture of a tube of lotion.

Behind the new woman, Boots looks startled and distressed. Sneakers is holding up a finger like she’s trying to object. And we can’t see what Crop Top is doing, because she’s almost completely blocked from view by the woman’s sign.

THIN WOMAN: “Body positivity” sounds great! You know what this would be amazing for? Selling skin care products!

SNEAKERS: Um…

PANEL 3

Two more thin white people have entered. One is a young woman with a pony tail, wearing yoga pants and a crop top; she’s sitting on the floor, legs curled under, and is holding her smartphone high to take a selfie. The other is a salesman-looking man, wearing a blazer over a v-neck shirt, who is holding up a book for us to see. The book’s title is “Love Your THIN Self.”  Both of the newbies are talking very cheerfully.

Between these two newbies, and the blonde woman with the sign, Boots and Crop Top are almost completely blocked. (We can see Crop Top’s eyes, which look annoyed). Sneakers can be seen better, and is open-mouthed with how appalled she is.

PONYTAIL: If I bend just the right way, there’s a fat roll! Helping women like me is what body positivity is all about!

BLAZER: Diet companies are also part of the body positivity movement! Losing weight will help people love their bodies!

PANEL 4

There’s now a lot of smiling people, nearly all white, crowded into the panel. Most are thin, a couple are a bit chubby, but there’s no one here you’d describe as “obese.” Everyone is grinning and talking to the readers.

Boots and Crop Top cannot be seen at all. We can see just a bit of Sneakers, as a smiling woman in a pretty pink blouse with an open back, with string forming a spiderweb pattern over the open part, violently shoves Sneakers out of the panel.

EVERYONE IN UNISON: Remember, body positivity is for everybody!

PINK BLOUSE: Except for really fat people. We can’t glorify obesity.

CAPTION AT BOTTOM OF STRIP

A large caption under the strip says “A CONCISE HISTORY OF BODY POSITIVITY.”


This cartoon on Patreon

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12 Responses to Cartoon: A Concise History of Body Positivity

  1. 1
    Eva says:

    Great cartoon! Thanks to you and Becky Hawkins!

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks, Eva! :-)

  3. 3
    Görkem says:

    Thanks for sharing this Amp

    As a white hetero cisman I had gained a lot of self-esteem from the fat acceptance movement. I see now I was wrong to do so – by reading fat acceptance blog posts I was taking up space that was needed by PoC queer people. :-(

    Sorry everyone I will try to do better

  4. 4
    Laura says:

    As a white hetero cisman I had gained a lot of self-esteem from the fat acceptance movement. I see now I was wrong to do so – by reading fat acceptance blog posts I was taking up space that was needed by PoC queer people. :-(

    Wow. There are strawman arguements and then there is…whatecer this is.

    Loving the cartoon though. The corporate appropriation is what I was aware of, but dieting as body positivity I had somehow managed to miss ( dieting as “wellness” or “selfcare” os pretty much inescapable though).

  5. 5
    Eytan Zweig says:

    I don’t think you correctly understood what Barry was trying to say in this cartoon, Gorkem.

    I also think you may not be correctly understanding intersectionality.

  6. 6
    Görkem says:

    @Eytan: I’d be open to learning more – can you explain?

    I thought intersectionality was mostly about the relationship between white women and PoC women

  7. 7
    Saurs says:

    Görkem, sounds like you were happy to enjoy the benefits of a movement but are now deeply discomfited and aggrieved upon learning icky cooties alphabet non-white people get the appropriate credit for fostering it. Really astounding, but deeply telling nonsequitur in a post critiquing the commercialization of this movement you [used to] love so much and the erasure (some might calling it Cancellation, even!) of the people you [used to] identify with (before you discovered they were stealth Fatting While Black).

    Thanks for advertising, once again, precisely which bogeys continue to enjoy living rent free between your ears. The only person here gatekeeping fatness is you, by the by. It’s always projection.

  8. 8
    Em says:

    I’ve got to admit, I used to be on the fence on the issue of fat acceptance. I bought into what society said, that if fat people accept themselves, then their health will be in trouble. But your comics are probably what firmly pushed me into the pro-fat camp. I realize now that people of all sizes can be healthy or unhealthy, and that any form of shaming only makes things worse. I now say: if you’re fat and want to lose weight, good for you. And if you don’t want to lose weight, still good for you! It’s your choice. And as for this comic, it really hits home. I hate the commercialization of body positivity, especially when beauty magazines preach fat acceptance on one page and fad diets on the next.

  9. 9
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Görkem – Intersectionality is the idea that whether a person is discriminated against or privileged (or neither) is not a simple binary yes/no question, but rather one that can be asked about each aspect of a person’s identity. So, for example, a male PoC may both benefit from male privilege and be discriminated against racially, and the two are not mutually exclusive (nor do they “balance each other out”).

    One consequence of this is that belonging to a privileged group in one aspect of a person’s identity does not negate the discrimination/negative attitudes they suffer from in other aspects of their identity. So, a fat cishet white person may have white privilege, cis privilege, and heterosexual privilege, but none of those negate the validity of the discrimination/fatphobia they face because they are fat.

    What it doesn’t amount to is a checkbox ticking exercise. Nor is it a zero sum game. You don’t deserve a place in the social justice conversation by having the “right” kind of combination of features. You deserve it by having something to contribute, and fat people have just as much a right to their own narrative as PoC, or queer people, have to theirs.

    Of course, we all have limited mental resources, and maybe you prefer to spend your attention and time listening to the narratives of PoC, women, and queer people and not to fat people. That’s fine if you present it as “I’m not able to be informed about everything so I’m not going to engage with this”. But not as “There people aren’t the right kind of oppressed people and therefore they don’t deserve their platform”.

  10. 10
    Görkem says:

    ‘But not as “There people aren’t the right kind of oppressed people and therefore they don’t deserve their platform”.’

    Just for the record, that is 100% not what I meant, although I understand why I didn’t make that clear.

    And more broadly, thank you for educating me on intersectionality.

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    To Eytan’s nutshelling of intersectionality, I’d add that an “intersection” of discriminations may be something distinct from its parts. So for example, the discrimination experienced by black women is in some ways specific to how black women are treated, rather than being simply how black people are treated added to how white women are treated. “A black woman may experience misogyny and racism, but she will experience misogyny differently from a white woman and racism differently from a black man.”

    By the way, Görkem, I am myself a “white hetero(ish) cisman” who has “gained a lot of self-esteem from the fat acceptance movement.” I’d never say that I was wrong to do so, or that you were wrong to do so. I’m bewildered that you took that message from our cartoon, but that’s certainly not what I intended to suggest.

  12. 12
    Görkem says:

    Actually Barry it was not so much your cartoon itself as some of the tweets in response to it, I went ito a sort of tweet-reading fugue that informed my interpretation of the cartoon and I forgot to think of the cartoon in and of itself and not so much about how it was interpreted by your twitter followers.

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