One of the most pervasive myths about Size Acceptance is that it is about fat people “justifying our fatness.” Not only is this untrue, it derails a conversation that I think should be happening about why Size Acceptance is important for everyone.
First, let’s address the idea that Size Acceptance is about justifying fatness. The truth is that it’s about just the opposite. Size Acceptance is a civil rights movement – it’s about the fact that nobody, of any size, needs to justify their body to anyone ever. Size Acceptance practitioners and activists aren’t seeking anyone’s approval – we are demanding our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which include the right to live in the bodies we have without shame, stigma or oppression. We are saying “I stand for myself and others” not “I kneel for your approval”. (Anyone who wants to make a “but my tax dollars pay for blah blah blah argument is welcome to head over here and find out why that argument doesn’t hold water.)
So to understand why Size Acceptance is for people of all sizes, let’s examine the current situation. Currently we are told hundreds of thousands of times a year that fat bodies wrong (often by industries like the diet industry which makes money to the tune of sixty billion dollars a year peddling this message.) As a society, we are encouraged not only to stereotype fat people based on how we look, but to attempt to calculate our “cost” on society and then try to blame things on us, all because we share a physical characteristic. Unbelievably, we haven’t figured out through our history that this is an astronomically bad idea. The truth is that the only thing you can tell from looking at someone’s body size is what size they are and what your personal prejudices about that size are.
This obviously harms fat people. Living in a constant barrage of shame, stigma, and oppression is not great for you and it turns out that if you bombard people with the message that they should hate their bodies, they will often do exactly that. People don’t take good care of things that they hate and that includes their bodies so attempting to shame and hate people healthy defies all logic and, as we’ll see in a moment, research.
But it’s not just fat people who are affected. It is estimated that the current beauty ideal is attainable by only 1-5% of women, and studies have shown that up to eight out of ten women are dissatisfied with their bodies (and again, body hatred is not the path to happiness and health.) Those who don’t spend their lives hating their bodies can end up spending them obsessed with not getting fat. Women start dieting earlier (4 years old!) and stop later (or never). Some develop disordered eating. Some develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise. Some lose their lives on the operating table getting fat sucked out of them for nothing more than a nearly unattainable cultural stereotype of beauty.
Not only does logic tell us that a world full of body judgment and shaming is a mistake, the research tells us as well. Peter Muennig of Columbia found that satisfaction with body weight was a better predictor of health than actual body size. Even those people who think (incorrectly) that other people’s health is their business are out of touch with the research when they choose actions that make people feel shamed and stigmatized- Rebecca Puhl’s research out of Yale found that:
People feel much more motivated and empowered to make healthy lifestyle changes when campaign messages are supportive and encourage specific health behaviors. But when campaign messages communicate shame or blame or stigma, people report much less motivation, and lower intentions to improve their health behaviors.
A mountain of research shows us that there are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people and that habits and not body size are the best determinants of health.
Health, including prioritization and path, is a very personal decision and it is not a personal, societal, or moral obligation. So if someone truly wants to support public health then I would suggest that they support things that make health accessible and then respect other people’s decisions as they want their decisions to be respected. Working for access includes access to the foods that people would choose to eat, safe movement options that people enjoy (including physical and psychological safety), and access to affordable evidence -based health care.
It also includes ending body shame, stigma, and judgment to give people the opportunity to like their bodies and consider them worthy of care which is what Size Acceptance is all about.
Ending all the body shaming and stigma isn’t just about making fat people’s lives better (although that alone is absolutely a worthy goal), it’s about making everyone’s lives better. Imagine a world where we could all approach our relationships with our bodies purely from a place of love and appreciation. A world where we don’t waste time and energy hating ourselves, where we celebrate the diversity of body sizes. A world where people can make choices about their health and happiness rather than making choices based on the terror of facing massive social stigma.
We all deserve to live in that world. And we can all do things, right this minute to get us there. For example:
1. Stop body snarking. All of it. Right now. There is just no reason in the world for you to comment negatively on someone else’s body. Get your self-esteem elsewhere (how about intrinsically?)
2. Interrupt body snarking and fat stigma whenever you hear and see them – whether it’s in your own mind or in public about your body or someone else’s.
3. Consider approaching your own body from a place of love and appreciation.
4. Understand that almost everyone in our society is hurting because of unceasing body shame and stigma. Even that person who you might think has “everything” – the perfect body, the perfect face – may be living his or her life in terror of losing that. Look for ways to support other people and lift them up. It can absolutely be little things: at the bank I saw a woman with beautiful long, curly silver hair (exactly the kind of hair I plan to have someday). I told her that I thought her hair was awesome and she started crying. CRYING. At. The. Bank. She hugged me and told me that her friends said that you can’t have long gray hair and that she should cut it.
We can do better. Let’s.
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