No doubt you have heard of body positivity, and maybe even other, related concepts like body neutrality and body acceptance. If you’ve gone a bit farther, you may have clocked body liberation or body sovereignty. Going even deeper—and only if you have a specifically curated social media feed—you’ve got fat acceptance, fat positivity and fat liberation.
(If you’re curious about any of these, let me know, and I can write a post about the distinction among them for a future newsletter).
I have a new concept I want to throw into the mix: body righteousness.
It’s a phrase I coined when I realized my work is about teaching people how to stop feeling apologetic for their bodies, and instead start apologizing to their bodies for the way they have been treated. (I owe a hat tip here to
Ragen Chastain, who tweeted something to this effect a few months ago in a way that stuck to my brain like a burr on your jeans.)
But what does body righteousness really mean?
Admittedly, what I’ve got so far is more of a vibe than a theory. It’s a vision in which women and marginalized people can identify with the righteousness of their own bodies, and mobilize that righteousness to fight back against the forces of oppression that ever took power away from them in the first place. This fight is in the service of equality, healing, and community-building.
(Ed note: Is what I am describing basically the feminist movement? Or any civil rights movement? Not sure! These days, they call this “building in public,” darling, and it is a wonderful antidote to perfectionism. So let’s keep going and see.)
Speaking of feminism, body righteousness is both personal and political, an individual practice and a community goal. Its primary departure from body positivity, acceptance or neutrality is its angry edge, as there is very little about it that is positive, accepting or neutral. It has teeth, and it’s willing to bite.
Righteousness is a stance you adopt when you know you’re right to defend or protect something of the highest importance. It doesn’t necessarily sound fun or pleasant, and can, in fact, sound a little scary. It is a demand for safety, justice, and equality for all marginalized bodies, especially the ones that don’t conform to your preferred aesthetic, or that your local politician doesn’t like.
One significant limitation I’ve faced has been trying to develop this theory almost exclusively on my own. I was trained as a political theorist (shout out to my PhD), and if there is one thing I know about theory, it’s that it’s best built in community.
So when I sat down with Renée Haché and Maria Roche to record an episode of their podcast, What Not to Wellness, I was kind of excited that they wanted to talk about my little idea. TBH, it was the very first time I’d really tried to articulate my thoughts on it to someone else, and I’m thrilled that the mics were on when we did:
Maria and Renée really helped me to start building up a proper theory of body righteousness, by pointing out things like:
- how feeling righteous or worthy within diet culture is entirely conditional (premised as it is on eating and exercising perfectly), and is therefore not a solid ground to stand on
- grief is a pre-requisite to make space for body righteousness
- the anger at failing to be the perfect eater can be fuel for feeling righteous about the body you exist in today
- body righteousness is kinda scary, and NOT a starting goal for someone new to intuitive eating or healing body image
TBH, I don’t know how far I’m going to get with this theory. I have a LOT of very unformed thoughts that are not yet ready for prime time. One issue I’m sitting with: there is, no doubt, something racialized to unpack here. How much does my position as a white woman allow me to use this word
”righteousness” at all? No one feels threatened by this body here, that of a fat, white, middle-class, Canadian woman, no matter how much she talks about what Naomi Binder Wall called “the beautiful strength of my anger put to use.” It would be otherwise if I were a Black man, or lived my life trying to avoid being seen as the Angry Black Lady. So how does this reality affect a theory of body righteousness?
Not sure. But one thing I am sure about is that the point of all the healing work that folks are doing on both an individual and collective level is not just about being able to call yourself “beautiful.” The point is for you to be able to show up in the world looking however you wanted to look and still be both safe and desirable (if that’s what you want). And THAT is righteous.
If you’re just starting out with trying to heal your relationship with food and your body, body righteousness can best serve as a guiding star, rather than a personal goal to achieve. If all you’re trying to do is not spend every day obsessing about food, or feeling unworthy to eat at all, body neutrality is a MUCH better goal. If you need help figuring out how to get there, I can help.