From self-love to shaming: Is body-positivity defeating its purpose?
“There is no study that shows that people who lose weight live longer or become healthier. Prescribing weight loss for health is like prescribing learning to fly for knee pain,” body-positive activist Ragen Chastain wrote in her blog. The body-positivity movement emerged about ten years ago as a celebration of self-love and respect for all regardless of their shape or form. But the weight problem still incites violent arguments. Recently the movement appears to be leaning towards the “glamourisation” of obesity and, as a result, is neglecting weight-related health issues. In addition to that, losing weight is regarded as shameful and a betrayal of real body-positive values.
In 2010, Linda Bacon, Ph.D., published Health at Every Size — a book promoting the idea that everyone deserves respect regardless of their weight. Bacon also started a group aimed at providing people with resources to stop dieting and come to terms with the idea that fat is not necessarily unhealthy or of something to be ashamed. Her initiative laid the groundwork for the development of the body-positivity or fat-positivity movement.
The very idea of body-positivity is very noble and liberating: people who don’t fit into model standards can no longer be ostracised and blamed for laziness and lack of self-control. But, like any good initiative, this one eventually has been twisted.
When the plus-size model Ashley Graham lost weight, she received comments like “You did lose a lot of weight. I am no longer a fan of yours. You betrayed a lot of people!”. Still, loyal fans of the model were quick to react by saying they love and respect her no matter what size she is. Similarly, Nasty Gal, a fashion brand, had to remove one of its advertisements. The model in the ad was “too thin”, with the brand accused of promoting an “unhealthy lifestyle”.
At the same time, while critics of the “glamorisation” of obesity by magazines like Cosmopolitan are labelled as fatphobes, the effects of excessive weight on health are seriously underestimated.
So, is losing weight no longer something to achieve? For radical advocates of the body-positive movement, the answer is no. In 2017 Everyday Feminism wrote, “Let’s make something clear: Having a goal for intentional fat loss is not body positive.”
When Cancer Research UK launched a campaign to raise awareness of obesity as a factor leading to cancer, Danish comedian Sofie Hagen accused the charity of “fat-shaming”. Cancer Research was trying to warn the public obesity is the second leading cause of lifestyle-related cancers.
While radical body-positivity advocates rebuff such awareness campaigns, the British National Health Service signals a sharp rise in the number of overweight people and, consequently, in obesity-related health conditions. In 2018 weight-related hospital admissions rose by almost a fifth (18%), with 26% of British adults considered obese.
Kelly deVos, a writer and a mother, who considers herself a member of the body-positive movement wrote in The New York Times, “Many people in the body-positivity movement believe that the desire to lose weight is never legitimate because it is an expression of the psychological toll of fat-shaming. So any public discussion of personal health or body size constitutes fat-shaming.”
Ms. deVos used to think that despite being overweight, she was pretty healthy until she was diagnosed with diabetes.
Another study showed that overweight people who exercise regularly and think of themselves as “fat but fit” were 28% more likely to develop heart disease than a person with an average body mass index. Among other risks are diabetes, osteoarthritis, gout, breathing problems, high blood pressure and other conditions.
However, like any good but very complicated and multifaceted idea, body-positivity is bound to have radical followers with extreme views that become the apple of discord. But it’s essential to keep in mind the movement’s original purpose, that is, doing what’s best for your own body to keep it healthy and happy.