The Body Stigma That's Ignored by the Body Positive Movement

September 16th 2016

Almie Rose

The body positive movement has made a lot of people (mainly women) feel that it's OK to possess and even show cellulite, that there is no "bikini body," that makeup is not needed unless you want to wear it, and that pubic hair doesn't have to be shaved or waxed off.

But there's one area where the body positive movement has been quiet: sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.

"STI stigma is still not recognized"

Ella Dawson, a 24-year-old writer and activist, has been receiving praise and recognition (even from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton) for speaking openly and honestly about what it's like to live with genital herpes.

Dawson wrote in Medium in August about being harassed for publicly speaking about her STI:

"I work at the margins of body-positive feminism: STI stigma is still not recognized as a credible feminist issue by much of the community."

Dawson has been targeted because she is a trailblazer on this one issue about which the body positive movement has been largely silent.

So why don't we tell people not to be ashamed for having STIs?

20 million.

Dawson is not alone in having an STI: About 20 million new cases are reported in the United States each year, nearly half of which occur among people 15 to 24 years old, according to the American Sexual Health Association.

"More than half of all people will have an STD/STI at some point in their lifetime," the association added.

"STI stigma is a form of marginalization."

In The Establishment's "Feminist Roundtable on Herpes and STIs," Dawson and fellow writers Britni de la Cretaz and Sarit Luban "wax poetic" about body acceptance and STIs, further exploring the idea that STIs are the last hurdle in the movement.

"STI stigma is a form of marginalization," Luban said. "It is silencing and creates a body hierarchy, and it is so closely tied to slut-shaming, to misogyny, to ideas of what is a valid body, what is valid sex."

woman topless on bed

"While body acceptance predominantly focuses on sizeism and sometimes (though not enough) on ableism, STI positive people are not included in that movement or conversation, maybe because, like mentioned above, our condition is mostly invisible," de la Cretaz said.

De la Cretaz offered another theory:

"But also, maybe because of the slut-shaming and victim-blaming and stigma around our condition, it makes it less likely to be addressed or included in the movement, too. It's sort of seen as something we brought on ourselves."

For STIs to be normalized and accepted the way other things have been made body positive, we're probably going to need more people like Dawson who aren't shy about speaking up and speaking out.