An honest look at the ways women are taking care of their minds and bodies in 2018.

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The impact of the body positivity movement appears to have manifested on a broad scale. According to a 2016 study from the American Psychological Association, which examined adult men and women’s satisfaction of their weight between 1981 to 2012, fewer people were dissatisfied with their bodies overall by 2012. People within the body positivity movement have also started myriad viral social media campaigns aimed at body acceptance, as well as pushed for inclusion of more body types in advertising and entertainment.

While progress is definitely underway, getting to a place of self-acceptance can be tough — and even tougher for those of us whose careers put our bodies front and center. We chatted with plus-size fit models (and National Women’s Health Week ambassadors) Laura Lee and Melinda Parrish about what body positivity means to them as women who do the work that they do, what the movement is doing (and not doing) right, and challenges they’ve faced.

What does body positivity mean to you?

Laura Lee: It means loving yourself inside and out, and not listening to the words of society and social media that tell you that you should look and be a certain way when you should just be yourself. You’re living your best life, not anybody else’s.

Melinda Parrish: Body positivity means unconditional love and appreciation for your body.

how did you find your way to body positivity?

Laura Lee: My mom is Latina — she’s from Venezuela. And when I lived over there, sometimes people would call me gordi or gorda, which means a fat girl or fat woman. It never got into my soul and bothered me that much, because I loved myself. Once I got to the States and people were posting online about their clothing and stuff, and I started doing it myself, I think that my love for myself came out even more. Because I was like, “I can wear these outfits. I look amazing.”

I want other women to feel this way, also. So I started posting outfits and giving recommendations for where women could buy their clothes, or how to style clothes. People would say, “Thank you so much for this. I’m about your size and I didn’t think I could wear this.” I think hearing those comments from women who looked like me made me want to help women even more. I want people to look in the mirror and love every inch of themselves.

Melinda Parrish: My journey to becoming a plus-size model was a huge part of it. Going through the process of having pictures taken and getting a portfolio established and getting feedback from different agents and clients definitely played into my sense of body positivity. And this happened to coincide with a time in my life where I was ready to stop wasting so much time and energy desiring to “fix” my body by dieting and doing things that were arguably harmful in the name of losing weight, to make my body more acceptable.

What are some challenges you’ve encountered?

Laura Lee: I feel like society is starting to change. Before, I received a lot of negative comments [about my appearance] on all my social media channels. There were some challenges in the beginning, [which made me ask myself], ‘how can I change people’s minds? How can I get them to see plus-size people differently?’ I know [narrow beauty standards are] still out there, but they haven’t been directed as much towards me anymore. Some comments still get to me, but I don’t let them get to me like I did when I was younger.

Melinda Parrish: I suffered from an eating disorder for about nine or 10 years. I was in the military, so there was a lot of emphasis on not just standards of fitness but also appearance. That was challenging because I’ve always been a larger woman. Because I was trying to make my body conform to certain standards, not only did I wind up with an eating disorder, but I suffered from back injuries that resulted in surgeries. Through yoga and a lot of self-care, I now have a lot of mobility, but I didn’t for several years.

Once I started sharing my story and joined the body positivity movement online, I got a lot of mixed feedback. You get a lot of trolls and hateful comments. Even in plus-size modeling, some people look down on the plus-size category and say that body positivity is just an endorsement of obesity, or say it’s only about vanity. But overall it’s created nothing but good in my life.

Is there anything missing from the body positivity movement?

Melinda Parrish: One of the tropes of the body positive community is that when somebody announces that they’re getting gastric bypass surgery, or if a body positivity influencer says they’re going to lose weight, they will get criticized. For me, body positivity also means autonomy over our bodies. Because I love my body unconditionally, if I choose to do something for my body in the name of my health or my happiness, I shouldn’t be criticized. I think we need to move away from criticizing women for the decisions they make for their bodies. We should be able to choose that freely without a stigma attached.

what is a misconception about being plus-size?

Laura Lee: People think that being plus-size means you’re unhealthy, you don’t eat right, you’re fat, you’re gross. And that’s not true. I work out four times a week. I maintain my size because my clients need me to keep my measurements. Being big does not mean that you are unhealthy. It means we’re just built differently. We’re good to go, so don’t judge a book by its cover because I could run laps around some skinny people. I’m making sure I’m living my longest and best life.

Melinda Parrish: The big one is that people think being plus-size means you can’t be healthy. I use the hashtag #HealthyAtAnySize because I’m a lifelong athlete, I’m a former military member, even now that I’ve just had a kid, I show my body love through movement every single day. Whether it’s a walk or yoga or a spin class, and that’s true for a lot of women in the plus-size community.

There are actually some pretty dire consequences to dieting and pushing your body too hard. The more we can move away from coupling skinniness with health, the better it will be for everybody. We can’t make women healthier as a society if we’re also demanding that they be thin.

What do you think? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.