Book Review: Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe

Body positivity: it’s powerful. For Megan Jayne Crabbe — a.k.a. @bodyposipanda — it literally saved her life.

Megan embarked on her first diet in elementary school, only to develop severe anorexia nervosa that threatened to take her life. Flash forward years later, and Megan discovered the body positivity movement on Instagram. Using body positivity to fuel the flames, she became a staunch advocate for self-love, fat positivity and all-around feminism.

As someone who has struggled with diet culture all her life, I discovered body positivity in much the same way. In fact, when I found body positivity on Instagram, @bodyposipanda was one of the first accounts I discovered.

Megan quickly became a role model for me — and for the first time, instead of looking at my heroes wondering “Why can’t I look like that?” I thought “I want to be that happy in my own skin.” While I’m still working on it, I’m lightyears away from where I began, as an underweight teenager running five miles a day in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts.

Megan continues to inspire my journey to body positivity — which is why, when I discovered her book Body Positive Power in my local library, I knew I had to read it. Like, now. So, naturally, I devoured the book in a week or so….and took to my blog to give you my review like the fangirl I am.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Megan’s journey, body positivity and Body Positive Power.

Megan’s Story

Megan started her first diet in elementary school. As a “chubby” kid, she always felt different — and she thought achieving the body she saw on magazine covers just might change that.

So, Megan tried everything, from diet pills to starving herself to obsessive workout regimens — until, as a teenager in pursuit of the “perfect weight,” she developed anorexia nervosa.

Some of Megan’s stories about hospitalization for her anorexia nervosa are truly horrifying: think cold, indifferent hospital staff who only cared about shoving food down her throat. This part of Megan’s story highlights the subtle, yet important difference between “weight restored” and “recovered.”

Megan’s eating disorder nearly killed her, until one day (after a lot of therapy), she discovered the body positivity movement on Instagram. At first, she felt judgy — “Who could ever love themselves when they look like that?” — and even afraid. Terrified to let go of her long-standing beliefs about weight and self-worth, she wondered if she could ever achieve a semblance of the happiness that those plus-size girls had on Instagram.

And eventually? She did. Today, Megan’s body positive, health at every size (HAES) Instagram account, @bodyposipanda, has 1.2 million followers. Her audience admires her fearlessness and confidence, as she poses in bathing suits, crop tops and underwear in her beautiful, worthy body.

My Thoughts

On Diet Culture & Eating Disorders

Megan’s chapters on diet culture are among the most powerful sections of her book. Her goal is to enrage the reader — which certainly worked for me. As I closed each chapter about the multi-billion dollar diet industry, I walked away feeling furious (and ready to relay everything I’d learned to my poor, unsuspecting boyfriend!).

Some reviewers have written that Megan doesn’t take as nuanced an approach to discussing the causes of eating disorders as might be warranted. However, to defend her, I think it’s difficult not to feel angry with societal forces like diet culture when you’ve had so much of your life taken away from you. As someone who’s struggled with an eating disorder myself, believe me — I would know.

Megan may let her anger color some of her opinions, but at least she backs everything up with facts. Some people accuse her of “cherry-picking” her science, but when you consider (as Megan surely has) how many obesity studies were sponsored by the diet industry, you’ll understand why it’s so difficult to come across unbiased results that don’t blame fat people for their own fatness.

On Health at Every Size

That being said, the most controversial aspect of Megan’s book is her health at every size approach. If you’ve read my post on weight-loss myths, then you know that I also support the HAES approach — so, granted, I’m a little biased. Still, I think it’s important to mention a few of the many, many reasons why I think this approach to health is important (besides simply preventing the onset of eating disorders).

First, studies vilifying obesity aren’t as accurate as they claim to be. In fact, a bit of overweight may even help you live longer! So, why aren’t we approaching underweight models and encouraging them to gain weight until they fit into a size 10 or 12? Because the so-called “obesity epidemic” gives the health and fitness industries (not to mention, the increasingly wealthy drug companies) an excuse to rake in more cash.

Every time you buy an appetite suppressing protein bar, weight loss supplement or “fat-burning” workout DVD, you’re fueling a multi-billion dollar industry that controls much of our society’s messaging about health and wellness. Whenever a doctor encourages a patient to pursue weight loss, that patient needs somewhere to turn — hence why so many fitness companies have sprung up to fill the increasing demand for fast, effective (but rarely safe or sustainable) weight loss.

HAES, alternatively, asks doctors to look at other indicators of a patient’s overall health and well-being, such as blood pressure and blood glucose levels. It takes the focus of the conversation off dress sizes and numbers on the scale, off instilling fear of cakes, cookies and chocolate, and brings it back to taking care of your body and mind. Because health really should be that simple.

On Shortcomings

If I have any complaints about Megan’s book, it’s that this book explains the reasoning behind the body positive movement, but shares very little of its wisdom. Granted, it’s a smart marketing strategy for Megan: “If you want to learn how I became body positive, follow me on Instagram @bodyposipanda!” But at times, Megan over-simplifies the process of beginning to love yourself, as if following a bunch of body-positive influencers will suddenly cure you of years of diet messaging and disordered eating.

Body Positive Power comes with a helpful section on loving yourself, but could have spent much more time dwelling in this space. Instead of being a helpful guide for the reader, the book comes across as more of an angry feminist manifesto sharing facts and stats about diet culture as an industry….

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a time and a place for that, too. But given Megan’s particular story and expertise, I would have loved to hear more about what she did after she found body positivity — and less of the blind worship of body-posi Instagram culture that sometimes came across.

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