anorexia · body image · chronic illness · chronic pain · disability · eating disorders · mental health · writings

there’s no wrong way to have a body: body positivity, disability, & why it’s ok if you still feel fat some days.

There's No Wrong Way to Have a Body: body positivity, disability, and why it's ok if you still feel fat some days. #bodypositive #disability #bodypositivity #spoonie

A few weeks ago a brave friend admitted on instagram that she still struggles with wanting to be thinner even though she is “body positive“.  She admitted several truths in her post that rang true to me, this one in particular spoke to me the most:

“I think about my size more than I care to admit. And despite all the self love and self care I’ve developed, and the love I have for other people in any shaped body they’re in, I still find that I value myself more in a smaller frame. As someone who cares deeply about the body positive movement I feel like a traitor in some ways for admitting this.”

I could have written those words myself.

Ever since my mid-twenties I have done my best to align my thinking to the “radical” belief system that all bodies are valuable – no matter the size, the skin color, or the physical abilities of that body.

I believe that one’s health is not solely dictated by their BMI, that diets are BS, and that loving yourself as you are is ok and not only that, it’s paramount. My long arduous battle with anorexia certainly helped push me towards the Body Positivity movement but several other factors have also helped me to hold these truths close to my heart.

I feel so strongly about body positivity and yet, so many days I find myself feeling anything but positive about my body.

Some days I feel like a fraud.

I’ll post a Nayirrah Waheed poem about loving your body on Facebook and then 30 minutes later wheel myself to go to the bathroom and then get stuck there in front of the mirror, examining whether my arms look fat. I know I shouldn’t participate, that I should turn off the light and leave the mirror alone, but I get caught in front of it time and again, telling myself all the things I know I am not supposed to say about my body.

This happens far more than I would like admit. I can say all the right body positive phrases and notions to someone else and believe every single word…yet when it comes to applying body positivity to myself, I struggle some days.

How can I believe in that all bodies are good, beautiful, and perfect as they are when I don’t always feel that way about mine?

No body is perfect.

I read a great article a week ago about how body positivity can be faulty when it comes to trans issues, specifically telling someone who is trans that their body is “perfect” as it is.  It definitely gave me a lot to think about and I hope I can carry the message of the article forward in my interactions with the trans people in my life.

It also resonated with me as many of the body positive phrases the article found problematic are also not applicable or helpful to those of us who are chronically ill/disabled.

“Your body is a good body.” “Your body is perfect.””Love every part of yourself”

All of that sounds well and good on paper. However when you happen to own a body that malfunctions and creates miserable pain, your body doesn’t feel very good. I can tell you that when I am sitting in my wheelchair looking out the window wistfully at a street I have never walked on and at a car I can no longer drive, my body feels so very far away from being perfect. Some sayings within the body positive movement cannot be applied to those of us who are disabled or chronically ill.

Perhaps its time that this kind dialogue within the body positivity movement needs to shift.

The fact is that bodies aren’t always good. 

Bodies under siege from an illness or from an accident can create a lot of pain and strife. Even those with mental health issues may not be able to align themselves with the idea that their body is good when every day they suffer with intense anxiety, roller coaster moods, or terrifying hallucinations. By telling me to “change your perspective, not your body” its feels like I am essentially being told that I should be fine with the chronic pain I am constantly in or that I should be ok with the fact that my brain damage puts me at risk for developing Alzheimer’s early.

There’s also a large focus on health within the body positive community, which I do think is important. Its far better for people to focus on moving and nourishing their bodies for the sake of health rather than focusing on being a specific size or weight.

The issue again is that some of us will never be “healthy” and how do we find body positivity  when health is not something we can easily attain? Where do the chronically ill fit in?

Body positivity cannot be not a one size fits all movement.

I have come to realize that each of us is on a journey to body positivity and that journey is a deeply personal one. How we get there may be vastly different than how someone else arrives at self love and acceptance. A friend may still participate in negative self talk or may still try to diet every so often.

This doesn’t negate that they are trying to find their way, they are just taking a slightly different path towards self acceptance.

It’s also important to recognize that we all deal with different body “privileges” and that how we experience our body (and in return how the world experiences our bodies) may be very different than your best friend or your mom or your next door neighbor.

We have too many people with too many different backgrounds, privileges, and experiences with different kinds discrimination to assume that that we all can follow the same narrative of body acceptance and positivity.
(girl standing against wall) body positivity, body positive, wheelchair, disabled, feeling fat

I am white and I have been tall and thin for almost my whole life.

While I was a size 10-12 for a short period of time, I have existed on this planet for 33 years with the privilege of both having a certain skin color along with having a socially acceptable waist size (even if that waist size wasn’t small enough to me).

I do not know what it is like to worry about someone calling me fat as I run down the street. I do not know what its like to have someone complain openly about sitting next to me on a plane. I do not know the sting of someone making assumptions about me because of the color of my skin. I do not know what its like to be terrified when pulled over the police.

My two best friends have had vastly different experiences than me due to people saying terrible things to them because of their weight/shape. I have learned a lot about what its like to navigate America as plus sized women from the stories and painful truths my best friends have shared with me.

Sometimes the things they tell me bring me to tears.

The thought of strangers being incredibly hateful to the two women I hold most dear enrages me. I fantasize about reaching through my computer screen and throttling the group of jerks who make fun of my best friend  on a “we hate fat people” forum. I leave tiny half moons in my palms from clenching my fists too tightly as I listen to the terrible things people used to say to my other best friend in high school.

There is no wrong way.

Now that I am in a wheelchair, I am learning more about what its like to have people look at me differently. I understand what its like to be categorized even though someone has never spoken to me. Last fall I had a man tell me I was too pretty to be in a wheelchair. It reminded me of how fat women are often told “you have such a pretty face”.

(shadow of a woman in a wheelchair) body positivity, body positive, wheelchair, disabled, feeling fat, geneen roth

My body positive narrative has shifted dramatically and continues to shift the longer I am in my wheelchair.

My understanding of my body and my relationship to my body is more complicated now and some days I feel angrier at it than I ever have before. I know the anger serves no purpose and makes no sense but some days I am furious at my legs and my nervous system. Im sure some people would tell me I shouldn’t be mad at my body, “it’s not my body’s fault” etc but those people may never undergo the physical challenges I deal with or grapple with the complexities of being disabled.

This is my narrative and my journey with this body and it can be painful to have someone tell me I am not being body positive.

We can all learn from each other’s experiences so listen up and be aware when your privilege may keep you from hearing what someone else is sharing about their body. There is no wrong way to have a body and there is also no wrong path to liking yourself. Someone’s narrative may not match yours and that’s ok.

Self love is a journey, not a destination.

I think we all need to remember that our relationships with our bodies are ongoing. Its a relationship that ebbs and flows and will change over time as your body does.

Repeat after me:

Body positivity doesn’t equal feeling 100% positive about your body all the time

You can know all the right phrases, read all the right literature, and follow all the bad ass body positive people on instagram….and still wake up hating your thighs some days.

In the eating disorder recovery community, there is a belief that recovery is ongoing and that you never are recoverED but instead on a continual adventure every day to do your best to stay grounded in recovery. I feel this may also be true with body positivity. You believe in the movement, your passion for it helps you through the day but some days you just still feel fat.

Feeling fat or ugly doesn’t negate who you are, what you believe in, or how hard you work to be body positive.

You are human and we live in a tough society that pushes negative self-talk and airbrushed images at us all day long. Its hard to escape that tough inner critic inside our heads when a very similar one resides outside  of us. I can quiet that nasty voice inside me some days but then I see a magazine cover or stumble upon an instagram account that posts bodies that I will never own and then I am back in my head berating myself.

This is one of my favorite quotes about body positivity:

“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.” (Geneen Roth)

Its time we wave a white flag and stop shaming ourselves for slipping into negative self talk.

We need to realize that body positivity is not all about loving yourself every minute of every day. We are all have bad days and hard months. I know for me when things  in my life are hard, it is reflected in how I feel about my body and food. Frankly it’s impossible for any person to exist entirely in positivity all day every day. How can we say that body positivity is all about loving our imperfections but then expect our feelings towards our bodies to be perfect and 100% positive? That makes no sense to me.

Our humanness means we each are fallible, especially around certain topics that for whatever reason are our “sore spots”. Obsessing about weight and body image has been an integral part of my existence for over 20 years. I used to get upset and angry with myself that years and years later I still struggle so much with these issues.

It’s taken me some time to make peace with that.


I now accept that I will have days where I feel fat or cannot stop thinking about how gross my cellulite is and and how I have cankles. I accept that there will be days where I am obsessed with any morsel of food I put in my mouth. I accept that being a size zero is something I may always long to be despite the fact that its a size I cannot obtain without starving myself.

Im tired of shaming myself over the fact that I have these thoughts and feelings.

It makes no sense to berate myself over the days where I feel fat. In fact continually admonishing myself any time I am struggling with my body is honestly just negative self talk in a different form.

Body positivity is about the journey. Its about loving yourself and hating yourself and finding peace with both. Its about doing our best to treat our bodies with respect but understanding we may slip and fall once in awhile. Our bodies are not perfect and neither is our relationship with that body. I have found that life is all about existing in the grey and this definitely applies to how I feel about my body.

My body is not a problem to be solved and my relationship with my body will never be perfect or 100% positive. I am not a traitor or fraud when I engage in negative self talk or fall into the pit of romanizing my anorexia.

I am a flawed human learning every day what it’s like to own this flawed body and accepting that the relationship I have with that body will feel good some days and rotten other days. 

How about you dear reader? Do you struggle to feel like you belong in the body positive community? How do you deal with bad body image days?


10 thoughts on “there’s no wrong way to have a body: body positivity, disability, & why it’s ok if you still feel fat some days.

  1. This is really wise. Thanks for sharing it with me! Just on one specific point: I have struggled with the saying in the recovery community about never being fully recovered, because I think in some ways my relationship with food and my body is better than many people’s I know who never struggled with an eating disorder. I appreciate that I need to eat to nourish my body, that I could never run like this when I was anorexic, etc. But I also think there are ways in which I have inevitably been changed for the worse by those years of starvation – I just don’t know that I consider that an eating disorder as much as a scar or a painful memory.

  2. Great post. I try to be body positive, but it is easier to be positive about other people’s bodies. It’s hard because mine is constantly fighting me no matter what I do.

    1. Ugh I understand. Feeling positive about a body that constantly puts you in negative situations feels like an oxymoron. I feel like Alanis Morissette should have put this in her “ironic” song. You are trying and thats all that matters <3

  3. I’ve gained a lot of weight since becoming chronically ill. I’m half/half with myself these days because I really want to just let the anger and all the pent up emotions about my weight “go” but at the same time, I look at pictures and think about memories of me at a smaller weight and just “feel better.” Even if I wasn’t healthy then. And maybe it’s destructive thinking–who knows. But a part of me still wants to be at that weight, even if it would be a crazy journey to even try to lose the weight. Hell, it’s a crazy journey enough trying to love myself. Either way–I’m working on it! Thanks for this!

  4. I very largely agree, but find no need to try for “body positive” with my chronic illness.
    I accept “where my body’s at” without getting hung up on what it used to be or how I’d like it to be. I can even appreciate bits of it via Wabi-Sabi, the rightness of the worn, “lived in and used” parts. But aiming for positivity? For me that’s not a goal.
    (but we vary)
    I could not wear that “my body is not a problem to be solved” T-Shirt, because I think mine is. And because it wouldn’t fit me.

    My take, no more. (I can walk with my dark side without risk of it mugging me, which is my negotiated relationship with it: I don’t deny it, it doesn’t try to take over.)

    1. Body positivity started for me long before I got sick, so its something that I have thought a lot about because of having anorexia on and off for 20 years. Body positivity may just not appeal to people or resonate with them. I think just being to accept your body as it is even if your body is sick or doesn’t function normally is essentially being body positive, just you are calling it something different. I think being able to be with your inner darkness is HUGE. Thank you so much for reading and offering your own perspective.

  5. I’ve always loved the body positive movement because I’ve long been a proponent of being happy with yourself no matter your size. But I have also struggled with articles talking about how amazing and functional our bodies are, so we need to love them. My body is not functional so that argument doesn’t work for me. It’s been a struggle to reconcile the two.

  6. Such a great post! Thanks for sharing your heart so openly. The way I feel about my body has only gotten worse since I was diagnosed. I want to lose weight and can’t exercise much without being in bed in pain the next day. It’s frustrating. But I look at pictures of family events where I’m hiding in the background or took the picture myself to avoid being in the shot – either way it’s a reminder I’m not enjoying life to it’s fullest, to the best of my ability. Thank you for this post! Something to work on.

    1. Its so frustrating. Being sick can really make you feel so powerless about so many areas of your life but I consistently hear people feeling very frustrated about not being able to stay in shape or gaining weight due to medications and/or being forced to be sedentary. Its definitely something I struggle with quite a bit. I love how you ended your comment though, living life to the fullest is so much more important than the size of your jeans <3 hang in there.

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