TW: Dieting/weight loss. There will be mentions of these subjects in this post in (what I hope will be) a tactful manner; that is, not specifically engaging with the subject, but mentioning it in relation to body positivity and it's associated impact. Basically, it's mentioned but not in a "put down the doughnut" sort of way! (Never put down the doughnut).
We all know that this time of year isn't conducive to positive body image. We're bombarded with messages, directly or subliminally, that thousands of people have become 'fat' over the course of a few days of festivities and subsequently must do everything within their power to be 'not fat' from New Years Day (and not a moment before). We are reminded in no uncertain terms that to be fat is socially, morally and medically unacceptable. It's a travesty. It's a crisis. It's an epidemic. It's disgusting. It's wrong. It's unhealthy.
We've always had these messages, they've just become more prolific with the rise of social media and people's dire need to share every finite detail of their lives with the world. We've even reached a point now where it's frustratingly common for brands to decide that it's part of their business plan to body shame their (potential) customers; each week bring a new ill thought Instagram image dictating how X body is better than Y body and so forth. I digress; I'm sure we're all too familiar with 2015's PR faux pas by now.
Having said that, oddly, there are still many people in disagreement. People who, for whatever reason, feel the need to question people's offense, triggers and suchlike. More often than not, those who feel that it is their place to question such things, are either (a) utilising their thin privilege and/or (b) supporting damaging cultures that perpetuate poor body image (such as diet culture). Body positivity may encompass freedom of choice (to choose what you do or do not do with your own body), but said freedom does not grant you the right to question other people's choices or emotions, especially if the motives behind said questioning come from a place of privilege.
This may seem like a long and off-point introduction, but I felt that it was important to give the reasons behind this post some context; to highlight why I feel that there is a need to explain how to be (or not to be) a body positive ally. Let's begin...
1) Body positivity is intersectional, inclusive and non-discriminating. It is not just for one (or not for all) body type, gender (NB: inclusive of non-binary, transitioning and otherwise non-cis folx), ethnicity and so forth.
2) Check your privilege. I cannot stress how important it is to recognise your privilege and the lack of privilege of others. If and/or when you have privilege, it is your responsibility to educate yourself and champion the voices of those with less privilege. You should also recognise that you do not have the right to question others based on your privilege; for example, those with thin privilege do not have the right to question fat people about what they feel to be fat discrimination and so forth. That is not to say 'don't ask', but please be aware of where your question is coming from and to whom it is directed. In some circumstances it may be perfectly acceptable to ask someone a question in order to increase your own understanding, but there are several points to consider when doing so; particularly whether or not it is appropriate (remember, your education is your responsibility).
3) Do not publicly discuss dieting and/or weight loss. Asides from the fact that these subjects are part of the damaging narratives of diet culture, it's also a subject that can be extremely triggering. Dieting and/or weight loss discussion, from the perspective of undertaking the act, has no place in body positive spaces, regardless of your personal opinion on the matter. NB: Evidently there will be discourse on this subject as part of body positive activism, which should be superseded with a trigger/content warning.
4) Recognise that everyone is at their own stage of their personal journey. In fact, some may not even have embarked on it at all. From the perspective of being an ally, it's important to acknowledge that even the most 'devout' of body positive activists are not at the end of their journey, nor will they ever be (as there is no end). We (activists) have to take each day as it comes, sometimes even each hour, and we are not perfect (though it's unlikely that we would profess to be). Subsequently, we do not always have the time or the energy to fight every battle (and goodness me sometimes it really is a battle) and educate every person. Appreciate our limits as much as you appreciate our actions.
5) Mind your language. No, seriously. The language that you choose to use for yourself could be negative and/or damaging to others and, equally, the language used by body positive activists may not necessarily be appropriate for everyone. It's a difficult minefield to navigate and I'm sorry that I can't give you any straight forward answers; you just have to do the best that you can, just as we try to do ourselves. One example is the word 'fat', a word which has very much been reclaimed as a positive for many people, but for many still holds negative connotations. It's therefore equally important to (a) be aware that that describing someone as 'fat' may not always be appropriate as well as to (b) be aware that some people choose to use 'fat' as a positive word and it is not for you or anyone else to question that.
6) Do not equate body positivity with beauty. Beauty is a social construct and, whilst it's associated messages can be positive and empowering ("you look beautiful", for example), body positivity and beauty are not one and the same. Being body positive doesn't require you to look a certain way, whilst at the same time it doesn't require you to reject the social construct of beauty (if you don't want to). Unfortunately, brands are very much into selling aesthetic and normative beauty standards as body positivity; please don't fall into the same trap.