It all started in 2010, when Linda Bacon, Ph.D., published the now-cult book titled Health at Every Size. On the surface, it might seem like the general message is empowering – showing respect to everyone regardless of their size, that is. And of course, no one is arguing with that, and every decent person on this planet deserves to be treated well, celebrated and loved, no matter the looks.
However, the positive message, that pretty much kickstarted the modern body positivity movement, has also brought some baggage along which is much trickier to deal with. We are talking about the concept of health at every size, or the idea that excess weight is an overemphasized variable in the equation of overall health and physical fitness.
Is that so, or are we giving ourselves a little bit too much love that kills us slowly? Today, we’re going to look at the body confidence mantra closely and expose some pretty serious flaws.
Loving Ourselves to Death
We won’t get tired of repeating that overall, at its core, a mindset of body positivity is great, and self-acceptance is a very important trait that everyone should strive for.
However, respecting and appreciating your body shouldn’t always mean stopping there. Sometimes, it’s also important to acknowledge that for optimal health outcomes, something must change – whilst still loving yourself at every part of the life journey.
Now, this is not easy. And if you think about how the situation changed for overweight individuals since body positivity became a staple, it has possibly become more complicated than ever with the mixed messages.
Now people on the bigger side are both judged harshly by fashion and beauty police and constantly bombarded with radical messages of simply being who they are, for striving for weight loss is apparently a shallow, artificial goal. And the latter isn’t necessarily helpful, as for someone who’s been struggling with body image for quite some time, it’s not realistic to suddenly start practising unconditional self-love.
Misleading media messages aren’t very helpful either. A while ago, the idea of the “obesity paradox” emerged, interpreting some research in a way suggesting obese people have a better chance of surviving the chronic diseases that are supposed to be caused by obesity.
However, the so-called “paradox” has been long debunked by several groups of scientists, demonstrating that such results have been received due to serious bias in study designs. Not only obesity isn’t protective of heart conditions, it has been directly linked to those in thousands of quality investigations – and until those are contradicted with quality research, it remains overly ambitious to call a layer of extra fat “protective”.
Follow the Money…
…and you will find that body positivity is often pushed and exploited for the sake of clever marketing.
Again, overall, there is nothing wrong with showing diverse body shapes in marketing – in fact, this is a great move. However, far too often it becomes a coldly calculated move implemented to sell more undies or soap bars, and it’s difficult to find something less empowering than that.
These days, it’s too easy to simply release a seemingly body positive campaign without taking responsibility or promoting a strong message. And as campaigns with genuine intentions remain scarce, everyone jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it can take full credit and experience skyrocketing sales, tricking those considering themselves conscious consumers.
And all this approach “gifts” to overweight individuals is feeling guilty for being unhappy about some aspects of their bodies to start with. It’s “embrace yourself or nothing” – so for most people, it will inevitably be the latter.
Discrimination in the Job Market?
Seemingly outrageous messages about obesity discrimination appear somewhere in the press every single day.
How about this one: a guy denies three positions offered to him by the security company, as he claims he won’t be able to walk for more than a couple minutes per hour due to his weight; demands an alternative position, doesn’t take “no” as an answer and starts a media storm.
The catch? In fact, the company is not wrong.
Yes, obesity is a recognized disability, and where possible, an alternative position has to be provided to a person who has experienced loss of functioning to some extent. However, this doesn’t apply to cases where the inherent requirements of the job are concerned, which was sure the case for those security positions requiring a reasonable – pretty basic, actually – level of fitness.
And this is just one example.
Appearance-related workplace discrimination is a terrible issue – however, when it comes to obesity, it’s clearly beyond the looks. Pink hair or visible tattoos don’t prevent someone from walking 10 consecutive steps, but obesity might, and unlike permanent paralysis, excess weight can be reversed, so is it really fair for the employer to put up with the latter if they don’t have to?
Saving Our Future Selves
Future generations depend hugely on our choices – so it pays off to teach the little ones good habits, such as recycling plastic, saying “please” and “thank you” …and staying reasonably lean.
Childhood obesity is an emerging problem, the impact of which is often underestimated. Kids are more likely to develop obesity in families where adults are also obese, as well as in areas where obesity rates are particularly high. And just like in adults, childhood obesity is linked to a variety of dangerous conditions, including but not limited to early atherosclerosis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease and premature death.
By choosing to eat healthy and exercise, which is usually enough to stay in a healthy weight bracket, we can quite literally save our future selves, however dramatic that may seem.
Choose to Be Healthy
Don’t get us wrong, we’ll say it again – loving and respecting yourself is great.
However, even something seemingly empowering such as body positivity movement has its dark corners, and it’s important to critically analyse every bit of incoming information to make right choices.
Of course, it’s shallow and counterproductive to focus exclusively on appearance-oriented goals – life is way too short for that! However, by choosing to lead a healthy lifestyle, move around more and consuming a variety of nutritious foods in moderate amounts, most people will naturally find a nurturing relationship with their body – and even if losing extra kilos wasn’t a goal, they will likely melt away as a “side effect”. What not to love?