I never thought I’d be bothered by someone letting their gut hang out, but here I am. As usual, I can blame it all on “body positivity.” It’s a badge I used to wear with unflinching pride, but now, not so much. What was once a movement for the acceptance of fat people has morphed into a marketing tool, a headline buzzword, and a hashtag often flooded with photos and videos of conventionally beautiful people with conventionally beautiful bodies telling us, “It’s OK! Love yourself!”
You’ve heard this all before. I’ve said it all before. But when I saw the reaction to a video of Selena Gomez lying on a boat with an unashamed tummy fold and declaring “I’m not sucking shit in” because “real stomachs are coming the fuck back,” I felt like I had to reiterate. So here I go.
To be clear: This is not a criticism of Selena Gomez. As a celebrity with millions of followers, many of whom are young and impressionable, she’s setting a good example (I believe) by publicly allowing herself to just exist in her body, sans-sucking. That is awesome.
It’s the resulting articles (even more specifically, the headlines; that’s what people are reading the most) that have rubbed me the wrong way. “Makeup-free Selena Gomez shares body-positive TikTok in skintight swimsuit,” reads one headline. “Selena Gomez Declares ‘Real Stomachs Are Coming Back,'” says another. My least favorite: “Selena Gomez Loves Her Stomach – And So Should You.”
That last one begs the question: I don’t know, should I?
Gomez’s body is completely valid the way it is, but let’s be honest in saying that it’s not a marginalized (read: fat) body. I’m sure she meant no harm whatsoever in using this TikTok audio to declare that “real stomachs are back,” but the pairing of her slimmer-than-average body paired with that phrasing can suggest that “real” stomachs are ones that are still admissible by our society’s fatphobic standards — not ones that take up space or have more than one roll or hang over their waistbands.
We’re told we should love our bodies because Selena Gomez loves hers, but most people don’t have Selena Gomez’s body. Many people live in bodies that are met with weight discrimination at every turn: on the internet. At work. At the airport. At the doctor’s office. To confidently suggest it’s as simple as looking at Gomez’s single belly fold and suddenly feeling overcome with pride for your own body is tone deaf at best.
These headlines and articles can herald Gomez as a warrior of body positivity, but what she’s doing really isn’t all that groundbreaking — she’s just hanging out in a swimsuit, enjoying herself. Nothing wrong with that, but this grandeur hero talk in the media tends to happen any time a thin celebrity makes any kind of statement that could be construed as body positive. There aren’t a lot of fat celebrities out there to begin with, but if any of them aside from Lizzo said something similar, would be granting them the same body worship? I think we all know the answer to that.
And, look, I get it. I’m a digital media editor; I know firsthand that most of the time, you just have to do what you know people will click on. As a professional writer, you rarely get to pick what you cover, and it’s even rarer to dictate your own headlines. It can be easy to lose your real opinions when you’re at the hands of audiences who want very specific content. Looking back, I’ve certainly written some of those articles mindlessly praising thin celebrities for their “bravery” when it comes to self-love. In this line of work, no one is immune to bad habits.
But it’s time to reassess the way we observe and interact with these kinds of posts — and, for us journalists, to reassess the way we write these reactionary stories. It’s great when celebrities, regardless of body type, are upfront and transparent about self-image. That’s something we never even dreamed would happen back in the 1990s and 2000s.
Still, we all need to be more honest. Can we admit that thin privilege exists? And can we stop labeling those who have it “courageous” for baring it all? For them, there’s simply not as much at stake.