Body Autonomy vs. Body Positivity: How My Mindset Changed

I first starting diving into the body-positive world in 2016 – I think. And as I’ve mentioned before, I was introduced to the movement by Tess Holliday, it really helped me love my body and led to fat acceptance and a bunch of great things. But lately, body autonomy fits my outlook a lot more.

What’s the difference between body autonomy and body positivity?

A great question, that I’ve gotten a few times. And that I had to look into as I was trying to figure out my own thoughts.

See body positivity used to be about a lot more than what you see on social media – and it still is! But the conversations have begun to circulate more around white, straight-sized (or passing) women. I still relate to body positivity but thought there was no need to take up space in that area last year, it was just my preference.

I’ve said that I think it’s becoming more of a buzzword used in marketing, and I don’t think a lot of people know the history behind the movement. This article “From New York to Instagram: The history of the body positivity movement” is the most encompassing (and all in one spot) breakdown I’ve read so far, byTigress Osborn, the chair of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) in America.

By definition (although there’s a lot) body positivity refers to the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size, and appearance.

Whereas body autonomy is the right for a person to govern what happens to their body without external influence or coercion. I am taking more about general levels in regards to body image, but this extends well beyond that to pro-choice, for example.

How the heck can you be body positive when you don’t love your body?

Listen, I know it’s a journey. I know it changes every day – and I would say the majority of the time, I love it. Or in the past, this was the case.

But recently I am mostly angry at my body and frustrated. It actually has nothing to do with my size but the fact that I have recently developed alopecia. Very recently! And it’s not something that I can control, outside of booking an appointment with a dermatologist that isn’t until spring.

So what this looks like, currently, is me losing hair rapidly and having three bald spots (at the moment): two small, and one larger than a tennis ball. It makes me self-conscious, incredibly aware of how your hair can affect your self-esteem, and pretty helpless.

And there’s no filter that’s going to make me feel any other way.

I don’t want to be ‘brave’ for sharing anything about it, which is why I haven’t posted about it like I usually would. It’s something completely out of my control and I hate that and makes me not like my body very much because of that.

Body positivity, like any type of never-ending positivity, can be tiring

And I think that goes without saying.

Think on the same wavelength of always ‘having’ to appear okay, when you’re not. It’s not healthy long-term, and not realistic. I am so sure there are people out there who love their bodies every waking hour and that’s great, but that’s not me.

I’m speaking of it being tiring from a privileged place as well – I am white, and (more and more so) straight-size passing.

It never occurred to me it would be tiring, even when I share every thought or doubt on social media.

Am I body-positive fraud?

I’ve had this thought before.

And even wrote an entire post questioning whether or not I was (am?) a fraud.

Now, it hits a little different. See, as you all know, I’ve been working out more or less non-stop since August, and have been making diet (as in what I’m eating, use of the word) changes.

My body is changing. Slowly, it seemed, and now a little faster since I started being more thoughtful about my food choices. I still believe that there’s no bad/good food – but I recognize the difference I feel when having a snack versus eating the entire contents of a snack bin in a binge.


Me cheering for the thighs, as mentioned.

And I like the change. I like the way my thighs look stronger, I like that the jeans I bought in March that didn’t fit when they arrived go on no problem. And my goodness I am finally building a booty.

The guilt factor…

Then, and I know this isn’t just a ‘me’ feeling from candid conversations, I start to feel guilty. Guilty that I am enjoying my body as it grows smaller when for the past how many years, I’ve been determined not to shrink in any sense of the word. And I don’t know if smaller is the right word, as the scale shows barely a difference so my weight itself is not telling.

I’ve felt like I’ve put myself forward as a body-positive advocate of sorts, and I think I unintentionally created pressure on myself, even if it is in my head. I questioned all meanings of bopo late last year when Lizzo did her juice cleanse – but she never labeled herself as some sort of body-positive hero for us or anyone, and I respect that. She was placed at the front of the movement by her fans, without her asking. Not a huge fan of anyone promoting anything diet-related publically, but again it’s her choice. And when she addressed it after, one of her comments stuck with me: “I got exactly what I wanted out of it and every big girl should do whatever the f—ck they want with their bodies.”

Since then, I have been wondering if I feel guilty because of how I feel or do I feel guilty because of the idea of letting people down?

So I’ve picked body autonomy, but that’s not to say I’ll change my mind (again)

And that’s when I came across this term: body autonomy. Being able to do what I want with my body, without facing judgment. Easier said than done, I know, but I think I like the term for now.

There is also the idea of body neutrality, which I think is something I would like to work towards. It is the idea that you can “exist without having to think too much about your body one way or another, positive or negative. You can simply exist and be worthy of respect without thinking about your body at all.” I sure as hell think I’m worthy of respect without thinking of my body but need to work on the not thinking about the body party.

But another definition caught my eye as well: “Body neutrality encourages individuals to be loving and accepting of the body you are in while at the same working towards your health and fitness goals. This is a fundamental practice within my methodology, emphasizing on achievements vs. appearance can be very inspiring both mentally and physically.”

So you can see how one can change their mind, with so many different terms and definitions out there. This is a disclaimer that my outlook could change by the time you read this! Okay well, maybe not that fast. I think that’s okay though, to always be thinking and changing your mind about things related to anything but especially yourself, I would like to think it means growth.

Today I relate most to body autonomy, I will be changing slowly and that’s okay.




  1. January 22, 2021 / 11:25 AM

    I think you can still be an advocate of body positivity and lose weight. Doesn’t body positivity mean loving your body at whatever size it is?

    • bri
      January 25, 2021 / 1:36 PM

      It does! But losing weight intentionally can be considered fatphobic, and I certainly don’t want to enforce that (even by accident!) it’s a tricky landscape.

  2. January 25, 2021 / 1:41 PM

    This is a great breakdown to help people better understand the different terminology that is too often thrown around. I would love to embrace body neutrality, that really is the big goal for me. That being said, I’m DEFINITELY not there yet! Something I will be working on as we move forward in 2021.

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