Two powerful trends have gathered enough momentum to be called ‘movements,’ and they will save the world if we let them. They are cultural shifts in attitudes that are changing and will continue to change the collective psychological landscape and, if they meet their aim, make life exponentially better for future generations. They are unassailably linked, but have yet to acknowledge that link. They are the ‘vegan’ and the ‘body positive’ movements, and I’m here to tell you that they’re the same movement—whether they yet know it or not.
Vegans (not ‘plant-based’ eaters) are voices for animals, claiming that no one has the right to look at a group of living bodies and decide that some deserve praise as companions and others deserve violent abuse and death. Vegans advocate for compassionate living and eating, and call bullshit on speciesism.
Body Positive (bopo) advocates are voices for body-equality, and claim that no one has the right to look at a group of living bodies and decide that some deserve praise, and some deserve violent verbal contempt. Bopo warriors call bullshit on fat-phobia, and demand that society questions its belief that it’s acceptable to place value and worth on a human being based on that human’s body size and shape.
To personify this: Both Bopo and Vegan say, “Stop judging living beings based on what YOU think their bodies are worth; based on why YOU think their bodies exist.” The problem is, neither seems to understand this about the other. Until now. Because I’m not going to shut up about it until everyone stops saying “everyBODY except…” and starts playing nice with each other for realsies.
Now, I don’t know who gets to call themselves a bopo expert, but I know it ain’t me. Many people have walked through this world with unchecked hatred slung at them solely because of the size of their bodies, and I’m not one of them. In fact, I’ve lived a life being publicly praised for my body at times—which lead to a lifetime of terror of being discovered as a total fraud (in other words: a real human whose body was not perfect; tragedy). I’d no sooner pretend I understood what it’s like to be publicly body-shamed than I’d presume to understand what it’s like walking through this world as a black woman.
What I do know is that our culture is so disproportionately disordered when it comes to women’s bodies that I have spent a lifetime hating my own, avoiding sex (or not enjoying it), and often believing—genuinely—that until I achieved washboard abs, no man would truly love me. This is garden-variety stuff. Most women have a lifetime of false beliefs along these lines. We’re taught that whether we’re too much here or not enough there, we’re just wrong. Enter: The Body Positive Movement. When I ‘discovered’ Jes Baker, Megan Jayne Crabbe, Sonya Renee Taylor and others, my life changed. When Jes Baker tells me that I should get my “O”s now—not __x__ pounds from now, not after-the-boob/nose-job from now, not as-soon-as-I-______ from now, but NOW, I believe here. And I absolutely love her for it. Jes Baker, you’ve given me the best sex of my life, and I love you, girl woman womyn I love you for it!
But here’s what drives me crazy. Jes, in her unfathomably brave and tender book, Landwhale, talks about turning insults (like ‘cow’) into nicknames by examining what exactly that ‘insult’ is (i.e., in this case, it is a cow). She acknowledges that cows form relationships, think critically, and can solve problems based on past experiences. She knows that cows celebrate life (sometimes by jumping in the air after completing a demanding task). Yet 30 pages after stating she’s ‘totally impressed’ with bovines, she writes: “Eating steak [makes] me feel like Thor.”
That’s the sound of one heart breaking. Now you know.
Nevertheless, before you kale-loving vegans start shaking your heads at Ms. Baker’s perceived hypocrisy, I’d like to remind you that as a group, vegans remain highly hypocritical when it comes to aligning actions and attitudes with what is considered to be values and beliefs—and in a way, it could be argued that it’s worse when vegans are hypocritical in this regard because they pride themselves on being so damn WOKE. I am referring, as you may have guessed by now, to the body-shaming that seems dizzyingly pervasive in the vegan community. Because language is important, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge that ‘plant-based eating’ is great, but it ain’t the same as being vegan. (Plant-based refers solely to what someone eats; vegan refers to an entire lifestyle, culture, and belief system.)
Perhaps this is a problem of plant-based individuals conflating their health-based dietary beliefs with the deep spirituality of veganism and referring to themselves as the latter when really they’re the former. Perhaps (perhaps…perhaps…). But I have met some (rather famous) folx who absolutely identify as vegans who are still blissfully ignorant of their own notably un-compassionate ideas of what vegans should (yes: should) look like. I offer an example.
At one of the many vegan fests I attended in 2018, I met a famous journalist and boldly asked her out to dinner. To my delight, she said yes, and we walked from the festival to a nearby vegan restaurant where my naturally ectomorphic friend would eventually meet us for a meal. When my friend arrived and revealed she wasn’t vegan, the journalist inquired as to why. My friend described how hard it was for her to get enough calories as it was, let alone adding in the ‘complication’ of adhering to a strictly vegan diet. To which the journalist replied, “You’ll be fine on a vegan diet. Look at us [meaning her and me]. We’re fat, and we’re vegan.”
I’m not even going to go into depth about how abhorrent I found her statement to be on a social level. Well, OK, I’ll go into a little depth. Number one, neither of us was/is fat (if either of us had been; I mean, so what if we had?—but the point is her comment felt like a vote for Madison Ave and its ‘impossible standards’ rally cry to keep women chasing something unattainable.) In that moment, it was as if Naomi Wolf had never written The Beauty Myth, or that this famous journalist was unaware that her words were problematic on any level.
Number two, who was she to assume I was comfortable with that word—it’s practically the equivalent of the ‘n’ word in the World of Women. If you’re cool with it, reclaiming it, and shouting it to the world, it’s fantastic; but to assume such a charged word is cool to use with a complete stranger…did she seriously not know this was presumptuous? Still, the moment turned out to be the perfect segue into something I actually wanted to know her thoughts on: body shaming in the vegan community.
I braced myself for a lengthy conversation on the matter. Instead, she summarily dismissed vegan body shaming as even existing (even though, one could argue, she had just body shamed the both of us), and basically told me I was full of shit. This might not be a direct quote, but it certainly felt like the gist. On the surface, everything remained pleasant. She bought my skinny friend and me vegan ice-cream for dessert (which, instead of enjoying, I choked down awkwardly), and bid us adieu for the night. Then, the very next day…
A panelist who’d just written a book on compassion and animals and I bumped into each other while walking from a separate animal-rights meetup back to the vegan fest’s after party. I was thrilled. Not because I’m star-struck (the evening with the journalist had cured me of any trace of that disease I might have had), but because this writer and presenter was just so flippin cool, smart, kind, and funny. Not only had I loved her panel talk earlier that day, but she wore Chuck Taylors and had a totally chill vibe. Score one for friendship. We bonded over pet love (duh) and decided to hang together at the after-party concert. Once there, we ran into a couple of other people I’d met that day. One of the guys was totes down to earth, new to veganism, and wearing a shirt that said, “Eat Pussy—Not Animals.” Needless to say, I loved him immediately. The other guy had a master’s degree in kinesiology or some shit, and ran a gym.
So there we were at the vegan after party, sipping kombucha and chatting amicably, when my new writer friend excused herself to the restroom. The moment she was out of earshot (or maybe not), the gym guy—proudly wearing a ‘vegan’ t-shirt and calling himself vegan this, vegan that, vegan vegan vegan, said to me—and I quote—“She makes us all look bad.” Swear2fckingGod. “How does a brilliant writer and eloquent speaker discussing compassion for animals make us all look bad?” I inquired with irritation. If you guessed that his response was to say she ‘needed to’ lose weight, you win.
Did you hear that, famous journalist who said vegan body-shaming wasn’t a thing? It’s a thing. This example is, unfortunately, one of many. That it happened about 24 hours after I was told it didn’t exist felt a bit like spotting the Loch Ness after everyone had gone home for the day. Except of course the Loch Ness doesn’t exist (sorry), and vegan body criticism does.
When a bopo warrior proudly proclaims she eats steak, and a vegan gym rat insults the physique of another vegan, they are both doing the same thing. Each is looking at a body and deciding its value based on their own personal biases. Let that sink in for a minute. These two seemingly antipodal humans, with antithetical values, are behaving exactly the same way. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? It should. It is.
Yet it’s also the same story that’s played on repeat since the dawn of time, which says: “everyBODY except…” the old ones, the brown ones, the ‘disabled’ ones, the queer ones, the green-eyed ones, the short ones, the slow ones, and on and on and on. If you haven’t already watched Jane Elliott’s documentary, A Class Divided (also known as the Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Experiment), take an hour to watch it—and more than an hour to allow your brain to process the fact that blue eyes, brown eyes, bovine bodies, small-dicked bodies, pig bodies, human bodies, round bodies, flat-chested bodies, and the judgements for/against those bodies is all the same.
Can you imagine the power that would be unleashed if the bopos and the vegans joined forces for good? Star Warz 147: The Vegan Bopo Warriors Take Over the Universe! Imagine every bopo warrior was also vegan, and every vegan was also a bopo warrior. ‘Health’ was not part of the equation; there’s no conflating done here. This vegan dream team would eat whatever and however they wanted, pulling solely from vegan selections. You’d have the double-bacon cheese burger vegans, the kale salad vegans, and the I Love It All vegans—and they would all high five each other every day, regardless of any other variables (age, weight, shape, color, orientation, ability, and so forth) and congratulate each other on being awesome. They’d invite all the others to join. Justin Timberlake would sing the theme song, and pretty soon everyBODY would want to boogie on down to Vegan Town where there was a surplus of delicious cuisine and an utter dearth of judgement.
If the vegan movement is serious—and I believe it is—and the bopo movement is serious—and I believe it is—then each has to start taking the other more seriously. Separated, these movements will fail to gain momentum because a fractious group is too busy squabbling amongst itself to lock arms and move forward. United, these groups can make the world an exponentially better place—literally (less meat = better environment) and FIGURatively.