Radicalizing body positivity politics

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Tameera Mohamed. Last year, she and some of her friends became frustrated with the narrow and limited scope of mainstream (including mainstream feminist) politics focused on the body. In response, they founded the collective Our Resilient Bodies to bring a radical, intersectional, feminist lens to bear and to expand the range of conversations and actions happening related to body positivity (broadly understood) in the Halifax community.

"Body positivity" is, if not exactly a movement, then an idea and a politics rooted in an important feminist insight but with reach far beyond. The idea that putting people down because their body doesn't meet a certain ideal resonates with a lot of different kinds of experiences, and not only is it an initial point of political engagement for many young feminists, but it has become a piece of commonsense among many otherwise apolitical people and even a theme in more than a few corporate advertising campaigns.

While in some ways this is an encouraging sign of ongoing feminist capacity to nudge the broader culture in positive directions, the problem is that both the more broadly distributed version of body positivity and indeed the most common feminist understandings of it tend to focus on a relatively narrow and privileged range of bodies and issues -- white cisgender straight women whose bodies deviate from the dominant ideal, but not too much, and solutions organized around individualized notions of self-love and self-care.

Tameera Mohamed is a 22-year-old cisgender queer woman of colour who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She and the other people in Our Resilient Bodies certainly agree that the ways that certain bodies get shamed or marginalized or denigrated or excluded can be a powerful starting point for people to engage politically with their own experiences and with the world. But they see so much more to such politics than is conventionally allowed -- they see radical, anti-racist, queer-and-trans, intersectional potential, and they're determined to act on that.

Their main path to action has been collective educational tools: They began with an intense, week-long series of workshops late last year, along with a zine. They got a great response and at that point decided to become an ongoing collective. Since then, they've put on many more events and workshops on an wide range of body-related themes. The events have included topics like decolonizing desireability, fatphobia, mainstream Pride celebrations and colonialism, menstruation, a number on various aspects of eating disorders, femme-phobia in queer communities, life drawing of marginalized bodies, a queer feminist porn screening, and lots more. They aim to create spaces where people can talk about their experiences, develop critical insights and more radical and nuanced politics, and build supportive community with those who have both similar and different experiences of marginalization. They want to ask, "How do racism, colorism, ableism, cissexism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism inform our understandings of beauty, desirability, and our lived experiences within our own bodies?" One of their major focuses in coming months will be extending their reach and doing outreach and events in various parts of rural Nova Scotia. I speak with Mohamed about Our Resilient Bodies, about their work so far, and about bringing a radical, intersectional, anti-oppressive lens to body positivity.

To learn more about Our Resilient Bodies, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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