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Saying No To the Body Positivity Movement: A Reflection on Jordan Peterson’s Second Rule for Life
Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping
When Dr. Peterson famously (or infamously) tweeted out the cover of the 2022 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition with the words, “Sorry, not beautiful, and no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that,” I had only been aware of his work for a few months. I had gone from “Dr. Peterson has nothing to teach a struggling single Mum like me” to “I have learned more from this man than I could ever thank him for in a lifetime” in only a few short weeks. I had been excitedly sharing what I was learning from this great teacher, and was quite openly “fighting his corner.” When the tea spilled over the swimsuit edition, all I could think of was, what if I am terribly, terribly wrong about this man I have let into my heart? A Leftist friend messaged me wondering just what the hell I, a woman of size myself, was doing supporting a man who wouldn’t like me. I had visions of going up to meet him and shake his hand at an event and of him refusing to shake my hand and staring at me with cold, steely eyes, intoning, “Sorry. Not beautiful.”
I confess this tweet touched a sore spot in me. After my second child was born, I went from a size eight to a size sixteen. I’ve always eaten well and exercised, but one month before my second baby’s birth, I became a single mother, most assuredly not by my own choice. I needed antidepressant medication to save my life, and an unpleasant effect of antidepressant medication is weight gain. I walked every single day; I used to wear the baby on my chest and my toddler on my back, and walk two or three miles a day in all weather. I was preparing home-cooked meals every day, often whilst wearing the baby and tripping over the toddler.
I tandem breastfed, a choice not made by very many mothers. That means I was nursing both my children. There is quite a bit of evidence that breastfeeding causes a woman’s body to retain fat. Because breast milk is made with fat from the mother’s body, most especially from the gluteus maximus area, I was quite literally “putting my ass into breastfeeding.”
So when Dr. Peterson’s tweet storm happened, it was more difficult for me to be objective. But I value Dr. Peterson’s words too much to let one irritated tweet cause me to discount everything he has ever said. Context is for kings, after all, and so I considered this tweet in a broader context of social discourse that is going on in our world right now.
There is a powerful anti “fat phobia” and “body positivity” movement that is steamrolling the entertainment industry today. And it is that movement, and not the young woman herself, that Dr. Peterson was criticizing. The movement is putting “fat” models on magazine covers, thereby promoting the idea of “health at any size.” The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition might have been the last fashion magazine to hold out against promoting the unhealthy lifestyle, but even they caved in to the social pressures. By saying “Sorry, not beautiful,” Dr. Peterson was criticizing, not the young woman on the cover, but the industry that used her to virtue-signal.
Dr. Peterson has made the argument that the Sports Illustrated cover is yet another example of ideology that is causing actual harm to flesh and blood people, and after some soul-searching, I cannot find it in myself to disagree with him. The body positivity movement is shockingly short-sighted. I have worked as a CNA (certified nurses aid), giving the most intimate care to the most vulnerable and needy people. I can tell you that when you get older and need help with the most basic care, you will not find it so easy to be “body positive” and “proud” of your size. Love the future you and don’t listen to the lies about “fat phobia.” Lose weight while you are young and healthy and can still move. In other words, “treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”
Now mind you, I don’t agree with the manner in which Dr. Peterson expressed his concern about the body positivity movement. I think the situation deserves a far more nuanced and serious discussion, such as the one he had with his daughter Mikhaila on her podcast, and the one he conducted with his great friends, Greg Hurwitz and Jonathan Pageau.
But those conversations provided crucial context and backstory for that tweet. He had made it when he was recovering from an allergic reaction he experienced while on tour, a reaction that caused him terrible, unbearable pain. He likened the sensation to being “on fire.” I had known, from podcasts he had done in that time frame and from several unexplained tour appearance cancellations, that he wasn’t OK. I was terribly worried about him, but I had no idea how ill he had been until that conversation with Mikhaila. He shared that the only thing he could think of to look forward to was being healthy, and not being in pain.
Reader, I cried.
I know what it is to be in terrible, unbearable pain. I know what it is to snap something irritated out of that pain and regret it later. How could I not extend grace to Dr. Peterson when I need grace every damn day? How can I expect to receive grace when I need it if I don’t extend it to others?
I no longer think Dr. Peterson would refuse to shake my hand and look at me with cold, steely eyes intoning, “Sorry. Not beautiful.” Because I took the time to understand what he was saying in context, and because I’m not trying to put my matronly figure where it doesn’t belong, namely, on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
Dr. Peterson didn’t deserve to lose my love, appreciation, and life-long loyalty to this issue. And he certainly doesn’t deserve to lose his clinical license for it.
Author’s Note: If you have enjoyed this essay, look for the continuation of my meditations on the Twelve Rules.
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