VEGANS, LET’S TALK ABOUT BODIES
DISCLAIMER: We acknowledge that not all people have the same physiology and experience of body image. We acknowledge that anyone can experience the feelings and pressures discussed here. We acknowledge that people of colour, trans people and gender-nonconforming people can experience the issues discussed here with addED discrimination. This article intends to discuss this issue inclusive of all people and all bodies, including all sexes, gender identities, races, abilities and ages.
TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of eating disorders, mental health, physical health, body shaming and sex shaming.
Every January more than 20% of us make a resolutions to reduce our bodies, to lose weight, to take up less space. Despite the growth of the body positivity movement, diet culture isn’t going anywhere just yet.
From #bodypositivity to #saggyboobsmatter, body acceptance has grown as a talking point, with a dissection of diet culture and celebration of different types of bodies ever more present in our discourse and more mainstream media.
But for all the steps forward body positivity has made, body shaming still prevalent in many different forms in all communities, and veganism is no exception. We originally published this piece on bodies in Issue Three of BRIGHT, but it’s just as relevant now. Rather than making a resolution to reduce yourself, why not choose to delve into body positivity instead?
WHAT IS A VEGAN BODY?
What does a vegan body look like? What should a vegan body look like? These might seem like silly questions but it seems like they need to be asked. You don’t have to dig very far deep in the vegan hashtags to find an array of beautiful (mostly white) vegans, eating healthily, working out and living healthy lives. Sound like a stereotype to you? It is. And a tired one. That’s what mainstream media will often portray, though it’s not completely distinct from the truth; some vegans do live and look like that, at least through their social media lens. But let’s be real here, veganism represents a much wider, diverse and more interesting community than just that.
With the existence and persistence of this stereotype comes the issue of bodies, body types, and unfortunately, a lamentable amount of body shaming. If the stereotype is upheld, then vegans are expected to be slim, healthy and athletic, and while some vegans are indeed like that, some vegans aren’t. Just like the rest of society, we don’t all fit into one category.
Talking about bodies is a huge area with many threads, so let’s get into it. What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? How can we be more sensitive and not cause or add to problems? What is our social responsibility?
Here are, from a range of resources, research and different lines of thinking, some facts, thoughts, ideas and points of view on body positivity, body shaming and veganism.
BODY IMAGE ANXIETY
Body Image Anxiety affects at least one in four people in the UK, causing problems such as low self-esteem and depression. Body image anxiety discourages people from exercising, leads to a variety of eating disorders, leads to young people taking less care of themselves during sex, leads to substance abuse and is directly linked to weight gain.
The main social influences causing body image anxiety are the media, advertising and celebrity culture, promoting a very specific ‘ideal’ of thin women, muscular men, youthful looks and caucasian features. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image stated in their report ‘Reflections on Body Image’ in 2012 that these so-called ideals can only be achieved by 5% of the population.
We have seen more body positive campaigns in recent years, but these are still a very small minority in the vast amount of body image media we exposed to. The media may be changing, but not fast enough. So what can we do to spread a more body positive message? Let’s start with body shaming...
So guess what guys? Body shaming isn’t cool.
Someone else’s body, how it looks and what they do with it really isn’t any of your business. At all. This goes for sex shaming too. Stop that.
Body shaming is dangerous because it sneaks in and presents itself in many forms.
You can outright tell someone that there’s something wrong with their body. You can also talk negatively about your own body to others. You can use terms like “flattering” to describe clothing choices. You can criticise people for being too thin, make comments on someone losing “too much” weight or gaining some. These little things, though often commonplace, are not body positive. Even when you’re talking about yourself, you are adding to the body positivity conversation. It’s up to you whether you contribute positively or not.
- EXAMPLES -
“That dress is very flattering on you.”
“That’s so slutty.”
“He’d look better if...”
“She looks good for her age.”
This can apply to anything, saying someone looks good despite something (i.e. age, personal circumstances, anything) is a big no-no.
Veganism doesn’t necessarily mean healthy living or a route to weight loss. And not all vegans are interested in health. It is very, very easy to be or become overweight as a vegan. You can never eat a single piece of fruit and be vegan. You can live on vegan cheese and seitan pizza, vegan burgers and chips followed by deep-fried Vego bars and be vegan.
Whatever vegan food you choose to eat does not make you any more or less of a vegan.
If we shame people for being “fat vegans” we are not only insulting and hurting them, which is appalling enough in itself, but we are also hurting the vegan movement as a whole. If someone thinking about veganism sees comments on Instagram calling people fat vegans, are they going to feel inspired to become vegan? What if an overweight person sees that? Will they really want to become vegan then? Or will they think veganism is not for them, because “fat vegan” is being bandied about as an insult?
Many of us share our lifestyle with others, particularly on social media, and if living healthily is important to us, we’ll share that too. Promoting a healthy lifestyle is exactly what we should all be doing. But what is a healthy lifestyle?
To one person a healthy lifestyle could mean running every day, to another it could mean eating lots of fruit and veg, to another it could be eating a balanced diet and never going to the gym. It’s different to every single person. Ultimately, we should place the emphasis on health and wellbeing over weight and appearance. Fat does not mean unhealthy, as slim does not mean healthy. Every body is different.
HEALTH & FITNESS
Within veganism and within our society as a whole, promoting fitness and healthy living has its place. However, our society has set a standard of looks and health that people should achieve, that, while desirable for many, is not desirable or even possible for many others. 95% of the population in fact.
So why are promoting this as an ideal?
When you see, for example, a fitness Instagram feed, remember that this is one person’s body, genetics, metabolism, etc. Their lifestyle and set of circumstances are different to yours. You don’t need to compare yourself to them, because your bodies are different. Which leads us to...
SOCIAL MEDIA AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
When we share posts we are adding to various conversations, and we should be mindful of what exactly we are contributing. Try to be honest. Try to encourage a balanced fitness regime, not reinforce unrealistic body goals. If you’re going to promote a healthy diet, stay away from posting macros, calories, numbers. They might work for you, but what works for your body doesn’t work for every body.
When you see someone’s social media, remember that this is what they choose to share, this is a highlight reel, a “best of.” It’s not the everyday reality.
FAT IS NOT FAILURE
Having body fat, gaining weight or losing weight is not failure. Your appearance does not define you. Your body does not define you. Who you are is more than how you look.
LOVE YOUR BODY, LOVE YOURSELF
If you want to wear something, wear it. If it’s hot and you want to wear shorts, wear shorts. If it’s cold and you want to wear shorts, wear shorts. Wear whatever you want (as long as it’s not culturally appropriating, of course.)
BEAUTY IN ALL SIZES
Look up Renaissance nude paintings. These people were considered the most beautiful of the time, and had a lot more body fat than we are made to feel is desirable today. And they are beautiful. All bodies are beautiful. Define beauty for yourself.
If the media is showing us warped ideals then we need to combat it with variety. Show yourself how you really are and let’s share the rich diversity our world is really made up of.
IT’S FOR THE ANIMALS
By being vegan you’re helping to save animals’ lives. That’s the reason many of us go vegan in the first place.
Guess what? The animals don’t care what your body looks like, how often you work out or what vegan food you eat. Body shaming yourself or others won’t help them.
BE VEGAN, BE KIND
Being vegan is a form of compassion, by not eating animals or contributing to their suffering. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Don’t forget to be kind to others.