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Body Positivity vs. Fat Acceptance: What's the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

Body image is a hot topic nowadays. It seems to be talked about just about everywhere, from social media to TV.

Society’s evolving standards around beauty have shaped so many of us, many for the worst, so it is refreshing to see people finally standing up. Over the last decade or so, trends have shifted away from enduring beauty standards of thinness, with greater talk about “body positivity” and “fat acceptance."

This made me wonder how much the makeup of our bodies (our weight, for instance) matter to our health. Does it matter a little, a lot, or not at all? In my quest to uncover the answer, I did some research on the subject matter and came away quite shocked.



  • Body standards in the US have always been trend-based and Eurocentric, with little regard for different ethnicities and body types.

  • Body positivity and fat acceptance are not synonymous with each other; fat acceptance aims to fight discrimination against larger bodies, while body positivity extends to attributes such as cellulite, scars, disabilities, disfigurements, stretch marks, and height.

  • Body weight isn't the only determinant of health, nor is it the most relevant one, and there is evidence-based research to support being healthy and technically overweight at the same time.


Body Standards in America: A Blast From The Past

Before we get into the surprising truth about how much weight matters and its relevance to our health, it’s helpful to briefly highlight how body standards have shifted in the U.S. over the last hundred years or so. Without understanding our history with body image as a country, it’s impossible to understand why we are where we are today.

The sad fact is that what is deemed a “desirable” body type has always been trend-based. Although historically the pressures have always been largely directed at women to be beautiful, thin, etc., men are also shaped by body image standards, though their standards are fairly consistent throughout history, with the exception of hair and other style changes.

The male body standard in the West has always looked something like this: tall, muscular, v-shaped torso, narrow-hipped, chiseled face and jaw, deep voice, and preferably with tan or darker skin.

Picture Michelangelo's David statue and you have the “ideal” male physique that so many men strive endlessly for.

It’s also important to keep in mind that many of the beauty standards that shape us are based largely on Eurocentric features and beauty standards with little regard for different ethnicities and body types.

For females, I have depicted those evolving trends with a timeline [1]:

Body Positivity Vs. Fat Acceptance

In an effort to challenge long-enduring standards of thinness that have arguably lasted from the 1960s to the mid-2010s, there has been an upsurge in voices promoting body positivity and fat acceptance in the media.

There have also been more fat-accepting role models like Tess Holiday and Lizzo that show us bigger bodies can be beautiful–not just thin ones.

In an effort to better understand these movements and the impact they are having on societal body image, I researched both body positivity and fat acceptance and was surprised to learn they are not synonymous with one another.

So what makes them different and why does this difference even matter?

Fat acceptance is focused more on preventing discrimination against overweight people specifically [2]. It deems larger bodies inherently worthy with no need to change and aims to fight discrimination against larger bodies in various industries such as the workplace, healthcare, transportation (for example, having to buy two seats on an airplane), and fashion.

Even though fat acceptance seems to be all the talk now, the movement actually began alongside the prominent civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The fat acceptance movement is more politically driven and more about exposing the barriers larger bodies face against society and using legal act