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3 misconceptions about body positivity

Written by Judith Matz, LCSW

A man looking at his reflection in a mirror.

As the body positivity movement gains more mainstream attention, many clients want to work on becoming more body positive. But not everyone means the same thing by “body positivity,” and it’s essential to clear up some common misconceptions.

The concept of body positivity has its roots in the work of marginalized groups. The size acceptance movement of the early 1970s focused on ending fat shaming and discrimination based on body size. The term “body positive” came into wider use in the 1990s in the eating disorder community amongst professionals, activists, and those with lived experience who understood the importance of rejecting the thin ideal. With the explosion of social media in the past decade, #bodypositivity has become a highly popular hashtag. And while growing interest in body positivity is cause for optimism, it can also leave clients feeling that they’re “not doing it right” or that they’re not included in the movement.

Here are three common misconceptions about body positivity to consider as you work with clients to move from body shame to body positivity.

Misconception #1: Body positivity means loving your body 24/7

Body positivity means relating to your body with acceptance, appreciation, and respect. Body positivity does not require someone to automatically love the way they look, or to feel positive about their body at all times. Instead, this concept helps people detach their body image from their value as a human being and supports them in cultivating practices that strengthen physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

No matter how much a client embraces body positivity, it’s important to understand that in our fatphobic culture, negative body thoughts are still likely to arise at times. Additionally, there may be other non-weight-related reasons people don’t feel at home in their bodies, such as gender identity, physical disability, or chronic pain.

As you work with clients to cultivate body positivity, helping them find new strategies to respond to negative body thoughts is the key component in reducing body shame and increasing self-compassion.

Misconception #2: Body positivity is limited to being “a little bit bigger” than the cultural ideal

Body positivity is meant for people of all sizes, shapes, colors, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and ages. However, images tagged as #bodypositive on social media are often of white, cisgender women who are just slightly larger than the thin ideal.

It’s essential to represent all types of bodies as deserving of acceptance, appreciation, and respect in order to make body positivity a truly inclusive movement.

Misconception #3: Having a positive body image is the same thing as being body positive

“Body image” refers to a person’s perception of their own body and is not contingent on body size. There are people of all sizes who feel good about their bodies and people of all sizes who don’t. Clients can practice numerous strategies to develop a more positive body image, such as having enough clothes that fit their current size and letting go of weighing themselves. Building a positive body image is an important aspect of becoming body positive.

While strengthening one’s own body image is an individual act, “body positivity” is a broader social movement that values all bodies and rejects fat shaming and systemic weight bias. Someone can have a positive body image but still not embrace body positivity—or even understand what the term means.

In addition to working on body image, clients who want to become body positive must also reflect on whether they contribute to diet culture and weight stigma, even unintentionally. For example, participating in diet conversations or giving weight loss compliments supports the belief that a thinner body is a better body.

Body positivity is a powerful approach to help clients let go of body shame, feel more at home in their own bodies, and transform diet culture.

Do you want to know more about body positivity?

You can help clients feel better about their bodies—and move from body shame to body positivity—by pointing them to “The Body Positivity Card Deck.” This deck includes 53 strategies for body acceptance, appreciation, and respect.

With these simple practices, reflections, and inspirations, you’ll learn to find appreciation for your body. This deck contains unique healing strategies that will guide you to build self-confidence and respect for the body that you have—and help create a more inclusive world.

Judith Matz, LCSW, is the coauthor of two books on the topics of eating and weight struggles, including “Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Comprehensive Guide to Treating Binge Eating Disorder, Compulsive Eating and Emotional Overeating.”  She received her MSW from the University of Michigan and earned her postgraduate certificate at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, where she trained in the treatment of eating disorders.

Learn more about her educational products, including upcoming live seminars.

About the publisher

For more than 40 years, nonprofit organization PESI, Inc., has provided cutting-edge continuing education to professionals across the nation. Working alongside the world’s leading experts, PESI educates and instructs the general public, public organizations, private industry, students, and professionals in acquiring, developing, and enhancing their knowledge and skills.

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