Obesity has been declared a crisis in America. At the same time, eating disorders are becoming more widespread, starting at younger ages than ever before. Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulemia, and binge eating have the highest mortality rates of any mental illness.
The causes of obesity are various, and factors such as higher stress, lower socio-economic status, and less access to wholesome foods play a part. I’m not here to talk about the origins of obesity, but how we react to it.
Eating disorders are an indicator of the values society puts on bodies and appearances. The message is that thinner is better, but the standards being set are unobtainable and are causing damage.
Why can’t we just love ourselves as we are? Body positive movements such as the Healthy At Every Size campaign have come under attack for promoting unhealthy acceptance of fatness. People who comment on another person’s weight often phrase their judgement as concern for the other person’s health.
But if you’re not a trained medical professional, it is not your place to comment on another person’s weight. And even medical professionals are not exempt from being fat-phobic (check out #diagnosisfat on twitter, but be prepared to wade through fat-shaming trolls).
A true definition of health is multifaceted, including more than physical fitness. For example, the World Health Organization defines health as “complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Presuming that overweight people are unhealthy is erroneous. Telling people to drop some pounds to become healthier encourages a climate of self-loathing. This is proven to not be an effective motivation for behaviour change, so how about we… stop? Just, don’t.
See, the thing is that overweight people are told all the time by society that they’re unhealthy, and the blame is placed on them, even though there are many factors outside their control. Fat people are judged, and the judgement is that they’re lazy or eat junk food, and don’t care enough to exercise.
There are so many negative associations with fatness: that fat people are dumber, that fat people are greedy or bad- you see this exaggerated in cartoons a lot. This pervasive culture of fat-shaming is the reason why being called a fat bitch carries more weight (no pun intended) than calling someone a skinny bitch.
At the end of the day, being thin is rewarded by society. Most every piece of media reinforces the notion that thin is sexier, more successful, more deserving of love and attention.
Our society has these inherent biases and prejudices, not just against fatness but also against other perceptible categorizations like race, age, and disability.
It takes time and effort to a) realize that something’s wrong, b) examine your beliefs and where they come from, and c) test if they’re valid. This is how we learn new things. For instance, the notion that fat is inherently bad for one’s health is being challenged by new medical studies that find a connection between women’s weight and their health outcomes in aging.
I could say more about medical studies having a history of andro-centrism, but for now I will just encourage everyone to think critically about the basis of your beliefs about health.
So the body-positive movement is coming from this context, from a toxic culture of shame and self-loathing that’s reinforced by the very structure of society. Self love is a radical defiant gesture of taking back control of how bodies are viewed, and questioning the dominant discourse of what is beautiful.
Self love is giving people the autonomy to define beauty on their own terms, from their own experiences. And that’s important because really the only person who should be concerned with your weight is yourself.
And that’s why criticizing people for their weight can be hurtful, because a) they’ve already heard it a million times before, and b) it’s passing judgment on another human being.
For an article on how body shaming and body policing affects skinny women click here.