In response to my blogs about Tess Holliday and the importance of fat role models, and a 16 year old’s body positive art, I’m getting a lot of people who say some version of “It’s ok to be fat as long as you’re happy with your body” or “It’s ok to be fat as long as you’re healthy.” The idea being that if a fat person is not happy with their body, or not healthy (by whatever definition we’re using) then it’s time to try to lose weight.
While of course we are each allowed to make choices for our bodies (Underpants Rule!), I think that this line of “reasoning” deserves a closer look.
First of all, we know that being unhappy with our bodies and having health issues are not exclusive to fat people – there are people of all sizes who hate their bodies, and people of all sizes with health issues, which means that being thin can neither be a sure preventative, nor a sure cure. The idea that if a thin person is unhappy with their body or is not “healthy” then they should focus on things that would make them happier and/or healthier, but that a fat person in the same situation should focus on being thin is sketchy at best.
And that doesn’t even take into account that the most common outcome of intentional weight loss attempts is weight gain, and thus even if someone thinks that being fat is the problem, recommending intentional weight loss is statistically the worst possible advice.
We live in a world where many National governments (including in the US, my home country) suggest that fat people should be singled out, stereotyped, stigmatized, and blamed for everything from global warming to health care costs (actual evidence be damned.) Under those circumstances someone being fat and not liking their body isn’t exactly shocking.
The problem, to me, occurs when people (often the same people perpetuating fat hate and stigma) suggest that fat people should try to solve social stigma and oppression by changing our bodies, rather than by working to end stigma and oppression. This is tantamount to telling a kid to give the bullies their lunch money and hope that they stop beating her up (when we know damn well that the bullies will always find another reason to pick a fight after school, and find more and more that they can take. )
As far as health goes, health is an amorphous concept, it is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness. Nobody, of any size, owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behaviors” by any definition, Health is also never guaranteed and never entirely within our control. Genetics and the effects of past behaviors (like repeated dieting attempts!) can affect our health. Access plays a major part – that includes many things including the ability to get and afford things like evidence-based healthcare, the food we want to eat, and any types of movement that we would like to do (in ways that are both physically and psychologically safe). Finally, the link between weight and health (yes, including our knees) is more complicated than what is often suggested by the media and even healthcare practitioners, and the idea that becoming thin is the same thing as becoming healthy, and weight loss behaviors are the same thing as healthy behaviors is simply not what the evidence suggests.
It’s ok to be fat, full stop. It doesn’t matter how you currently feel about your body, or your current health status, it’s still ok to be fat and to not try to become thin. If we don’t like our fat bodies, we have the option of working on loving them as they are. If we are having health issues, we can research the options for dealing with those issues (including asking our doctors the magic question – “what do you do for thin people with this issue?”)
Each of us gets to make choices for our bodies, and if we want to do something regarding other people’s bodies or health we can work on creating a world without appearance-based stigma, shame, and oppression, and we can work to make sure that everyone has the food, movement, and healthcare choices that they want available to them. And then we can mind our own business, because public health should be about making information and options available to the public, and not about making the individual’s health the public’s business. Nobody has any right to create qualifications for when it is ok for fat people to exist.
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