'You Can Treat A Person’s Body With Respect Even If You Don’t Find Them Attractive'

Two Malaysian body positive activists talk to us about the struggles they face.

  • Wednesday, 24 January 2018
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'You Can Treat A Person’s Body With Respect Even If You Don’t Find Them Attractive'
Image: Ratna & Nazirah Ashaari

“Eh, you put on weight ah?”

How many of us have heard this question and felt a little knife stab our heart? And then start furiously promising ourselves to hit the gym the next day and to lay off the rice from now on.

Or have you ever looked in the mirror and examined your jiggly bits, only to feel so much contempt for yourself and so much regret for eating that plate of nasi kandar earlier? Or are you one of those who scroll through social media, stalk people with ripped bodies posing in their bikini only to wish you could do the same?

Allow us to introduce you to body positivity.

Body positivity is a movement that encourages love for one’s body, regardless of weight, skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, disability and age. It is an inclusive movement that encourages us to celebrate the diversity of beauty around us, ignoring the social norm and unconscious bias when it comes to one’s appearance.

It is a fast growing movement having started in Britain, and is finally making subtle waves here in Malaysia. Very subtle, almost non-existent waves here, solely for the reason that we are a judgemental society.

Unlike the West, we feel the need to comment on a person’s weight or tan or any other physical attribute that doesn’t conform to the ‘norm’ within the first five minutes of seeing them.

Body positivity is deciding what feels good and healthy for you personally, and letting other people do so for themselves. Some also say that it is freedom from the suffocating societal messages that keep people in a perpetual struggle with their bodies.

Come in for a hug!
Body positive activists empower each other, and have built a community filled with love, care and concern, with an emphasis on acceptance.

We at Rojak Daily have a chat with two Malaysian ladies who love their bodies and preach body positivity via social media.

While body positivity encompasses many aspects of one’s body as mentioned earlier, this article will discuss body positivity in terms of fat acceptance. 

Self-love all the way

'Fat is just a word'.
“Fat? Who says that’s an insult? It’s just like calling someone tall or blond. It is a neutral descriptor, and is definitely not a bad word. Yes, I am fat. Why would I be afraid to be called that? It is just a word, after all,” says Ratna, a Malaysian body positive entrepreneur. 

“The common misconception is that this movement is only for fat people. In reality, the movement is a very inclusive one and is not limited to any one group of people,” adds Ratna, who runs her own plus size clothing line, Adevi Clothing.

This fashionista was part of a trio of body positive plus size ladies who posed in their bikinis for a Singaporean magazine’s body and fitness supplement in 2016. Naturally, the picture was shared on social media.

There is no ideal weight.
The photo was then removed by Instagram, on the grounds of being offensive. That’s right; a picture of the ladies donning bikinis was removed by the photo sharing application that thrives on such photos, because these ladies are plus-sized. 

When asked on her journey being body positive, Ratna shares with us, “Body positivity was an introduction to a truly liberating life for me. I was able to finally let go of the ridiculous idea I had of myself being happiest at an ‘ideal’ weight.”

This in fact, rings true to many of us who feel like we only deserve to shop/eat/be happy once we have attained our ideal weight. 

They can't hurt me no more!Nazirah Ashari, renowned body positive activist and Instagram personality, says the same thing.

“I used to be so hurt when people called me fat, but in the process of self-acceptance, I realised that over-analysing what people say about me was the biggest hindrance.

"I figured that if I wanted to start getting over these words and how they’re affecting my self-esteem, I needed to be able to accept them and start looking at them differently. And that's exactly what I did. I even started calling myself That Fat Tudung Party Girl on my now defunct blog,” she tells us.

A good support system is important.One of the very few body positive fashion bloggers in Malaysia, Nazirah tells us that it all started back in 2005 when she started her fashion blog while in university.

Having always expressed herself through fashion, Nazirah chooses to tell a story by way of her daily ensembles. This trendy go getter moonlights as a vocalist and takes pride in her circle of supportive friends.

She does not mince her words when it comes to her posts, all of which stay true to herself while empowering others with her modish fashion choices and real life rants. 

How can it be healthy?

So let’s talk about everyone’s favourite comeback. It seems like body positive movement promotes obesity, and what about the health hazards of not being thin?

Not promoting obesity.
Body positive advocates DO NOT promote obesity. Instead, it’s about loving the body you're in RIGHT now, not waiting for when you lose the weight, nor waiting for when you're able to hit a health or fitness goal,” clarifies Ratna.

“How can you tell that someone is unhealthy merely by looking at them? Is health solely based on one’s weight? There are other factors that determine one’s health, like having enough sleep, smoking, consuming alcohol, the list goes on. And yet, these issues are almost never addressed as much as we do with a fat person!” shares Ratna.

There is more to body positivity than obesity or the obsession with health. The movement basically says that health is a priority, if you choose it to be.

Calling them fat won't help them lose weight.
While there are many measures of one’s health, it is absolutely none of your business how someone chooses to address the issue. Looking at an overweight person in a condescending manner, or commenting about their weight is NOT going to make them want to lose weight for health reasons.

Ratna believes that a lack of understanding about the movement has brought forth these queries, and she adds, “The movement basically says that there is no one way of living life, and there isn’t one right type of body to have, that’s it!” 

First, you need to learn to emphatise.Nazirah concurs, “The problem we've seen over and over again is how anti-fatness is often tied to bullying and fat shaming. While your cause (health) is valid, the way you do it is not, and that by itself is the problem.

"If you feel very strongly about health issues concerning fat people, you need to learn to empathise. Empathy makes you more sensitive of issues fat people are dealing with and trust me when I say, it is more than body health, it is almost always related to mental health and that’s worse,”

In 2013, a local mainstream newspaper published an insensitive and offensive article referring to fat people as baby elephants, with disgusting analogies under the pretext of emphasising the health and social hazards of being overweight.

Due to the heavy backlash from bloggers like Nazirah, the writer eventually issued an apology, and the article is now lost in the annals of electronic media.

'Anti-fatness is pure bullying and the intentions are never genuine'“Yes, we sink pretty low when it comes to anti-fatness in this country! The same people who call me a pig claim to do so because they care about my health. Let's get real; anti-fatness is pure bullying and the intentions are never genuine.

"People who want the best for others (fat or otherwise) will take proactive action to not only help those in need, and reject any form of bullying in any way possible. This includes creating a safe space for people to be whoever they are on social media without fear of hate,” she declares.

Many people don’t seem to realise this, but you can treat a person’s body with respect even if you don’t find them attractive

“Happiness and kindness should be the goals people strive for instead of weight loss! You might be slender or straight size but if you don't have a good heart and you project your unhappiness by shaming others, what's the point?” Nazirah asks. 

You don't need to prove yourself.
While the body positive movement does reject diet culture and orthorexia, it does not demonise healthy habits, such as eating well and exercising.

“In fact, many body positive activists work out if they are able to and choose to do so. However, it is important to remember that there is NO NEED to constantly prove oneself as worthy by way of one’s choices in food, lifestyle and exercise.

"Everyone, and that includes the overweight and underweight can choose to eat whatever they want and exercise or not, as nobody has anything to prove to anyone else,” adds Ratna. 

The movement also promotes self-care.
The movement encourages self-care, in whatever means that appeals to you. Of course, self-care is imperative. It is probably the most important aspect of oneself.

However, this term carries a different meaning to different individuals. Self-care could mean working out in the gym, hitting the courts for a game of badminton, meditation or just going to the beach.

Body positivity encourages everyone to accept that the notion of self-care differs from person to person and there should be no judgement as to how someone chooses to lead their life.

Why pose in your bikinis?

Being confident with your body is key.
Another question that many people feel the need to ask is; why do body positivity activists feel compelled to post pictures of themselves in bikinis and undergarments?  

Ratna opines, “If we are okay to see slender, ripped people in their bikinis and underwear, why can’t body positive activists do the same? We live in a society that has constantly condemned and criticised fat people existing. Hence, people feel like we do not deserve to show our bodies in this manner.

"'How dare you be fat and happy and show it off?' They are basically saying (or thinking) that fat people are supposed to be in hiding, and they should be ashamed of their bodies. People cannot come to terms with the fact that there are fat people out there who are happy with their bodies.”

Nazirah, however, has a slightly different take on it.

“Often when we look at the type of content created to describe body positivity, it is almost always surrounding those who can demonstrate the concept in ways by doing things that they once weren't confident enough to do like wearing a bikini and showing off areas of their body that are seen as 'ugly' or unacceptable to society.

"We see more and more content that encourages people to wear whatever they like, that they should break these silly rules about bigger people only wearing dark colours, and the works.”

Body positive is how you perceive it.While that is empowering, she says, she wishes more women who choose to dress modestly embraced the idea of body positivity.

“Fact of the matter is, wearing the hijab is body positive by itself! The hijab is my way of setting my own beauty ideal and not following others' standards. Because of my hijab, I am not only expected to dress modestly and cover my body, but I choose to do so by my own willing. And that's body positive!

This is not a one size fits all concept that we can replicate across individuals on planet Earth.”

So, how do I become body positive?

The first step to this would be to come to terms with our own bodies, to accept our bodies as they are. Stop body shaming yourself!

This movement is basically a journey towards self-acceptance. Only once you accept yourself for who you are, can you truly love yourself and strive for greater heights. Acceptance is the first step. 

Accept your own body.
Ratna tells us, “Firstly, we all need to dump this idea of an ideal physique. There is no ideal body, we are all made differently. If you would like to be able to do some things that require you to be fit or more active, go right ahead and do that.”

It is important to work out for the right reasons, not to punish yourself, she says.

“We should all stop obsessing about how our body looks! Instead enjoy the way it moves, the way it lives and the way it works in our lives, and how much it does for us. We would all be more at peace with ourselves and our bodies and in turn other peoples bodies will not be our business too!” she adds.

It’s important to understand that being body positive is pretty much going against most social norms.

“There’s a lot of unlearning involved. That means it is not only about your body, but your skin, your hair, your cellulite, your age, disabilities, the list goes on.”

Self love is the most important kind of love.
While it may seem daunting, Ratna assures us that it is worth it.

“Being body positive is a radical act of self-love. This will take time. Start with yourself, gently and slowly. You may fall instantly in love with your body and that’s great! But know that if you don’t, that’s fine too. There will be days that you don’t like the way your jeans fit, or your t-shirt cling, but that’s okay,”

Social media is a good place to start, according to Ratna.

“Start by following more body positive individuals, unfollow accounts that are opposite of what your new norm is. And surround yourself with friends and individuals who genuinely care for you, and be easy on yourself as it will take time and enjoy the process of this freeing journey.”

It all boils down to yourself.
Nazirah simplifies it to three easy steps: “1. Know thyself. Master it. Find it, if necessary. 2. Have empathy. 3. Be kind, always!”

The sad reality is, everyone has been body shamed at some point or other. And this includes Victoria Secret models, taunted for being too thin or not being pretty without makeup.

It is vital to understand that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and there really is no one ideal physique. Bodies can be ectomorphic, endomorphic or mesomorphic and some people are just built a certain way.

And that’s okay! There is no need to body shame or pass snide remarks on their weight or any other physical attribute.  

You gotta love yourself.
All of our body parts are supposed to exist in a million different variations, each one as wonderful as the next. We have been assaulted by the idea that our body parts aren’t good enough for too long.

You don’t need a yardstick to start loving yourself. Think about it, your body does so much for you, from the basic physiological functions itself. Doesn’t it deserve more love and less hate? 

Feel free to follow Nazirah on Instagram at @nazirahashari. Ratna’s stylish plus size apparel can be viewed at @adeviclothing.

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