To really share body positivity, we need to recognize where the movement came from — Black women.
How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
For a long time, Ravneet Vohra felt so insecure about her appearance that she couldn’t hold eye contact with new people.
“I wanted a body and skin the media told me I must have in order to have value,” she says. “A body I would never be able to attain or even sustain.”
She wished for clearer skin, thinner thighs, and smaller arms, like the women she saw in magazines. She’d pretend to be sick to duck out of family gatherings and avoid being seen in a swimsuit at the beach.
Ravneet didn’t want other people to feel like she did when she compared herself to the thin, white women in the media. So, instead of continuing to follow mainstream magazines, she decided to create her own — and Wear Your Voice magazine was born.
“I launched WYV to shake up the status quo of what was considered normal,” she explains. “WYV built a name for itself in the early days of our birth within the body positive movement.”
These days, the movement is going more mainstream. You may recognize some of the people talking body positivity in major magazines, like plus-size model Ashley Graham, who has graced the covers of Vogue and Glamour, and actress Jameela Jamil, best known for her role as Tahani on the popular TV series “The Good Place.”
It may seem like making body positivity more widespread would be a good thing. After all, doesn’t that just mean more people get to learn how to love their bodies?
But for Ravneet and her team at Wear Your Voice, this popularity was a sign that the body positive movement needed an intervention.
For example, you may have heard of Jameela Jamil’s work, but have you heard of Stephanie Yeboah? Jamil’s body-positive platform was actually based largely on one-on-one conversations with Yeboah, a plus-size blogger, longtime body confidence advocate, and dark-skinned Black woman.
And while Yeboah’s work could make a huge difference for those of us who don’t fit the mainstream media’s narrow idea of “beauty,” mainstream body positive movements are more likely to highlight someone who already has visibility, like Jamil.
And that’s exactly why now is the perfect time to lift up #BodyPositivityInColor, a new campaign from Wear Your Voice magazine.
In the form of a multimedia series running through February and March, #BodyPositivityInColor aims to bring the body positivity movement back to its roots — and in the process, restore the truly transformative power it was always supposed to have.
To learn more about the #BodyPositivityInColor campaign, we spoke with its founders: Wear Your Voice’s founder Ravneet Vohra, Editor-in-Chief Lara Witt, and Managing Editor Sherronda Brown.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What’s the #BodyPositivityInColor campaign? How’d you come up with the idea?
Sherronda: One of the incidents that sparked this idea was Jameela Jamil using language she took from a Black woman named Stephanie Yeboah to launch her own body positivity platform.
Our campaign exists to intentionally amplify people like Stephanie, who often fall into shadow when someone more visible, more palatable, more aligned with society’s standards of attractiveness and respectability regurgitate the words of others and take undue credit.
Lara: We recognized that, as an intersectional feminist publication with roots in the BoPo movement, we had to make space for marginalized peoples’ voices to discuss body positivity without being gaslighted, ignored, or tone policed. So we decided to launch #BodyPositivityInColor as a way to reclaim it from white, cisgender, heterosexual, thin women who dominate the discussions around body positivity.
Ravneet: The work is never over, never perfect, and never inclusive enough. The day we think it is, is exactly the day it is not!
It was imperative that we bring the conversation back to the people who pioneered it: Black women and femmes. #BodyPositivityInColor is for Black and Brown women and femmes, but it is also a celebration of the work they have done, bringing it full circle and celebrating those who keep using their voices and bodies to affect change for us all!
In one of the first pieces for the #BodyPositivityInColor campaign, Sherronda challenges us to remove ‘beauty’ and ‘positive vibes only’ from the center of body-positive conversations. Can you share a little more about how we can still build something ‘positive’ without focusing so much on ‘positive vibes’? What are we moving toward?
Sherronda: I want us to move towards more honest conversations about our relationships with our bodies and how we exist in this world. What is the point of talking about all of this if we don’t tell the unadulterated truth about our experiences? Who does that benefit? Certainly not us.
“Positive vibes only” rhetoric is sanctioned gaslighting. It tells us plainly that honesty isn’t allowed and that it’s our responsibility to control the negativity that gets hurled at us. I refuse to condone or accept that.
Many people hear ‘body positivity’ and think it’s simply about getting everyone — of all backgrounds and body types — to feel good about their bodies. What’s missing from this understanding?
Lara: Feeling good, safe, and happy within our bodies is obviously a worthy and important goal, but with #BodyPositivityInColor, we are reminding our readers that the discussion needs to be broader and deeper than that.
Sherronda put it best when she wrote this: “Having non-normative bodies puts us at greater risk for socially-sanctioned abuse, state violence, hate crimes, and wrongful death. It’s about so much more than just low self-esteem or shame, but these are the dominant themes we see present in mainstream Body Positive media.”
Sherronda: The concept of body positivity grew out of the fat acceptance movement and the scholarship of fat activists, first and foremost. But even within that movement, people of color were often silenced and overlooked by mostly fat white womxn dominating the conversation. Black womxn especially had long been talking and writing about how their Blackness informed how they experienced fat antagonism. What most people don’t understand about body positivity [is that it started in response to] white society’s fear of the racial Other.
How do you feel people might be damaging their health from the way mainstream body positivity is currently moving?
Sherronda: I think we should kill the idea that self-love is the most important part of developing more positive relationships with our bodies. We are worthy of love, even in the moments when we do not love ourselves. It’s dangerous to [all aspects of] our health to place the onus for body positivity entirely on our own relationships with ourselves, rather than on the systems that create our insecurities and traumas.
The way you contextualize health and wellness is different from the mainstream and provides a truly holistic, whole-person approach. How do you see lifting up communities pushed to the margins as an answer?
Lara: I don’t think that there is a possibility for collective healing if we don’t focus on those most affected by it. Mainstream discussions of health and wellness continue to be rooted in patronizing forms of sexism, racism, and fatphobia.
Making space for our communities and putting our voices at the front of these discussions allows society to understand just how much work needs to be done and the ways in which many of us are complicit in maintaining the oppressive status quo.
Ravneet: If we don’t look at a whole person, and every part of who they are, then what exactly are we looking at? I don’t think WYV is doing anything new. We are just continuing to humxnize the movement so we can have representation that pushes other media outlets to follow suit and do better. We can all always do better.
You mention it’s important to keep these conversations going beyond February, beyond Black History Month. What inspired your team to make this move?
Lara: Women’s History Month is coming up in March, so we’d like to keep the discussion open, in particular because white women dominate Women’s History Month coverage and Black and Brown queer and trans women and femmes are left out or intentionally erased from mainstream coverage.
What can someone with a non-normative body — someone who’s not white, thin, neurotypical, etc. — hope to find for themselves in the #BodyPositivityInColor campaign?
Lara: We’re hoping that queer, trans, disabled, and fat Black, Indigenous, and people of color will be able to see themselves within the pieces we’re publishing. We’re hoping our readers will feel affirmed and affirmed in ways that they don’t have to set aside any part of themselves to feel heard and seen.
We’re hoping that they will finally find a space in which a whole range of emotions is welcomed and encouraged, because the truth is that we’re not always just positive. Sometimes we’re angry, upset, depressed — and that’s valid.
You can visit the #BodyPositivityInColor campaign on Wear Your Voice’s website and on social media. Share the stories that resonate with you, tell your own stories, and use the hashtag #BodyPositivityInColor to participate in the conversation.
Maisha Z. Johnson is a writer and advocate for survivors of violence, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities. She lives with chronic illness and believes in honoring each person’s unique path to healing. Find Maisha onher website,Facebook, andTwitter.