On the surface you may think the body positivity movement is about accepting yourself, being ok with your size or shape, promoting diversity in media campaigns, and rejecting body-shaming.
But we live in a cultural moment that seeks to breed division and hate in every area of life. Whether you realize it or not, you’re pressured everyday to adopt a mentality of victimization. Division, hate, and victimhood are all antithetical to a biblical worldview, so how should Christians approach the body positivity movement?
First, let me be clear on a few things from the start.
1. All people - no matter your size, shape, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, or family background - should be treated equally and with the respect and dignity that comes from being created in the image of God. The foundational truth that men and women are made in the imago Dei is essential to moral living and the ethical treatment of others (Genesis 1:26-28).
2. Who we are, where we’re from, what we possess, what we lack, and even what time in history we live are all governed by the gracious, sovereign hand of God for his glory and the good of his children (Acts 17:24-27).
3. Division ceases in the family of God. Only through Christ’s perfect life and atoning death can the ultimate division between sinful humans and a holy God be reconciled. Only in the family of God, which extends from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9) will there be no dividing line between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female - or any other societal division - for all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Now, to understand body positivity we must look close. There is far more to it than many realize.
Though somewhat different (but still very similar) movements, body positivity has political roots in fat acceptance.“Fat acceptance, which started in the 1960s as National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), has been around through different waves and forms for about 50 years. Currently, fat acceptance is a social justice movement aiming to make body culture more inclusive and diverse, in all its forms.” Source
“NAAFA was groundbreaking in addressing weight bias and discrimination against fat people as a civil rights issue.”...A collective of women in Los Angeles came together and formed the Fat Underground. Their form of activism was more confrontational than NAAFA’s, informed by second wave feminists and gay activism of the 1970s. (Indeed, many of its members were radical feminists and lesbians.)” Source
“Body positivity is a social justice movement. It’s about centering the voices of marginalized individuals and acknowledging the oppression they experience in our society…First and foremost, body positivity is NEVER EVER about loving your body after a “weight loss journey.” Body positive and intentional weight loss just do not go together.” Source
“Obesity is linked to diabetes and heart disease, and many advocates of the body positivity movement often criticize this research." Source
“Despite the irrefutable facts, fat activists vehemently discourage weight loss and any effort to increase wellness. They not only demand representation but want to silence all forms of dissent.” Source
Clearly, the body positivity movement has roots in LGBTQ+ and feminist activism. It also threatens its supporters by downplaying their physical health.
Some claim body positivity doesn’t go far enough and advocate for fat acceptance. While there are slight differences, it is really their foundation that matters. Both arise from a worldview that adopts division, victimhood, identity markers, and a framework that views society through the lens of oppressed vs oppressor. This worldview comes from Critical Theory, an unbiblical philosophy diametrically opposed to the gospel, currently ripping the country - and the church - apart.
The body positivity movement may promote love for yourself no matter your size or shape, but it's core message is that your body doesn’t matter.
I say that because this movement communicates that your health is inconsequential and pits your mental and physical well-being against each other. Body positivity essentially says:
You’ll never lose weight so don’t bother.
You should ignore legitimate medical concerns of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
You’re not created as an embodied person whose soul AND body are connected and equally vital to your existence.
So if Christians shouldn’t affirm the body positivity movement, how should we think about these issues?
Weight isn’t always a good measurement of health. Muscle weighs more than fat, so if you regularly lift weights, you may be heavier or even have a BMI that indicates you are overweight or obese.
While being overweight or obese are associated with higher incidence of chronic disease, there is such a thing as being “skinny fat.” Though not an official medical term, skinny fat describes a common reality of appearing thin but having an unhealthy amount of body fat, particularly around vitals organs. This visceral fat can cause the same chronic diseases that obesity also creates.
Everyone has a different genetic makeup with various predispositions and tendencies towards body types. Still, we all make choices and have lifestyles that either promote or hamper our health. No matter your health history we should never throw up our hands in defeat and hopelessness. Change is always possible. Improvement is made one choice at a time.
Recognize that bias does occur in society, and yes, towards those who are overweight and obese. This is undoubtedly wrong. Still, we must cling to a biblical worldview that says sinners are going to sin. We’re going to treat each other unfairly and harshly because we are naturally prone to bad behavior. Just look at human history. The remedy for mistreatment is not coercion from the outside but renewal from the inside. The remedy is the gospel, which reconciles sinners to God and to one another.
If you do struggle with weight, don’t hate your body as a result of the extra pounds. God created humans as his embodied image-bearers. Your body matters to him, and believers are commanded to glorify God in their bodies (1 Cor 6:12-20). And more than anything else, if you are a Christian, obedience to this command involves respect and care for your body.
Don’t let societal ideals and social media convince you that you need a one-size-fits-all body type. Rather, pursue a positive way of looking at your body based on Scripture - a God-honoring body image. I wrote 4 posts about this awhile back that you can read here.
To be clear, you don’t improve your mental health by ignoring your physical health, but that is exactly what the body positivity movement advocates. That’s just not how God created us.
There's much more that could be said, but I'll end with the following.
A biblical worldview declares respect for those who are overweight and obese from Scripture, while the body positivity movement demands respect for the overweight and obese through activism.
For Christians, the foundation for this respect is the image of God fueled by the gospel. But proponents of the body positivity movement seek societal change that presses for a morality devoid of the gospel.
Like all other cultural issues, Christians must fight to think about body positivity biblically, knowing our ultimate identity is in Christ who breaks down all barriers of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).