I’ve wanted to write about this for a while but I’ve also wanted to be sensitive about the issue. So in the meantime I’ve done a lot of research, note taking and lots and lots of thinking. Then I asked myself “do I REALLY want to write about this?” Then I repeated that process several times. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I’m prepared if I do. The vitriol around the movie fatopia and a few you-tubers I follow got me thinking about this originally. I did watch the movie which wasn’t the one-sided fat-biased garbage it was purported to be. It wasn’t a totally amazing film either. Perhaps fleetingly insensitive but that’s about it. I wanted to write about the problems with the body positive and fat positive realm because they are serious, numerous and varied.
Let me get out my bias straight off the bat. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that people should feel great about their bodies at any size. I denounce treating people poorly for any reason including their weight and I don’t think it’s at all fair to discriminate against people because of their size. I get it 100% that saying ‘its something you can control’ isn’t helpful and probably isn’t true at this stage. I think that we’re all living in an incredibly obesogenic environment at the moment and it’s damn near impossible not to get caught up in it. I’d venture that no one out there wants to be obese and since about half of adults are now overweight or obese there are much bigger factors at play than personal choice. This half of the population does deserve a positive space to celebrate their bodies just the way they are right now and really so does everyone else!
Unfortunately it IS usually unhealthy to carry extra weight
Can you be healthy and classed as overweight? Absolutely even if you are a bit into the obese classification. But at a certain point… well we will get into that. It’s very possible to eat a reasonable diet, exercise and be healthy overall while still hearing from the doctor that you need to shed weight. Here’s the thing though it’s pretty rare. Actually I would venture to say most people out there regardless of weight don’t eat a reasonably great diet and meet minimum exercise requirements so there is that too. Most people out there that are overweight ARE at increased risk for certain health conditions compared to their normal weighted exact counterparts. While it’s true that studies that correlate BMI with health risks are population based studies and really don’t speak to the odd exception they are very, very valid for the population as a whole and that does include you.
My problem with the fat positive movement isn’t really that they glaze over the health concerns associated with being overweight, I’m pretty sure that’s not what the root of the message is all about. I see these spaces as separate from the concerns that might be raised in a doctor’s office, it’s just a separate thing! The problem lies in how the movement lashes out at anyone that points this out often spreading dangerous untruths about the very real health risks of obesity and benefits of positive lifestyle changes. Should someone hop on a post and point out these sorts of things the community lashes out calls the person names and in some cases makes attempts to ruin the person’s real life. It might be appropriate to simply say this isn’t the right spot for that comment or just delete it members of the community instead go for the jugular.
Here’s the thing though these sorts of comments are not only true but often come from a good place of concern or at least wanting to counter misinformation that no matter what weight you are you are and will always be healthy. That’s just not true. Carrying a dramatic excess of body fat does stack the deck against you. It leads to people thinking that just because they are healthy now they always will be. At a certain weight I don’t care how much you workout or what you’re eating you are at an increased risk of a whole host of health issues that are serious but also include sudden death. Class 3 obesity with a BMI over 40 is also called high risk obesity and carries with it an immediate risk of death. Don’t forget the classes below this aren’t risk free either! Maybe a lot positive posts just aren’t the right place to point this out but the movement as a whole can’t just keep sticking their heads in the sand!
Decrying other’s positive changes
People generally should strive to do better at least on the big stuff right or at the very least meet their obligations. Anyone who has ever loved someone with lifestyle related health issues wants the best for that person too. It could be food, drugs, alcohol, exercise or gambling but if you have a person who is struggling in your life you want nothing more than for them to make healthy changes. Long before body positivity was a thing I spent my whole childhood just wishing my just barely obese dad would make some and stay with us, but he didn’t. Lots of people do make some big changes and get to a healthy place and weight and it’s a hard thing to do, really hard. It’s also a very positive thing to do for that person! So calling their transformation posts hostile and violent isn’t the right choice. There is no reason what so ever to report them to instagram and try to have them taken down in the name of body positivity.
I also get that as much as these transformations and images of fit people inspire and motivate many it can make others feel poorly about themselves. When I was drinking more then I knew I should be a story about problem drinking on the radio make me feel terrible and about an inch tall. I’d usually switch the channel and then feel guilty about that too. But guess what that was a ‘me’ problem not a ‘them’ problem. Followers of fat positivity fail to get that these posts are not actually something threatening that is happening to them. If you can share your body positive post that surely that person who worked hard can share their body positive post too!
The bullying behavior
Not all but some, hopefully a small but vocal minority, are straight out bullies in the community and that is not cool and pretty f-ing hypocritical. It seems like the body positive and fat positive movements claim to be inclusive, welcoming and kind. To my mind it’s really just a sub-niche of the wider anti-bullying movement right? Calling people names, reminding them of some sort of privilege they have but you don’t especially without knowing their life is just nasty. A lot of that seems to be the norm in this community. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the central tenant of body positivity that all bodies are beautiful and deserve all the space they are in. It seems like there should be space for cis generated females, eating disorder sufferers, white upper class men and even boring old accountants and their bodies in the body positivity movement too. Thy hypocrisy comes in because the sales pitch is something a lot like this:
The reality though is a whole lot different. There is an undeniable group of body positive warriors out there that are nothing more than just mean trolls. These trolls don’t know the story of the poster they are attacking real life. Very possibly because they just don’t want to share all of it. It’s a bit of a cliche that you have to love yourself first but that’s probably true for the most part. It certainly true that it helps when you’re doing something hard to change your life to value yourself enough to go through the process. What if that person posting about weight loss, something demonized in the community really did get some bad news from the doctor recently and wants to live longer to spend more time with their kids? Does that person not deserve a space to love their body right now AND take care of it for the future? Even if someone posts in a space that isn’t really appropriate just point that out if you must and move on with your life. Commenters are mean but also belittling and one seems to jump on where the other left off. If a seemingly valid point is made then all the reasons ‘they don’t get it’ are trotted out to minimize that voice. People will point out that since someone is not trans-gender, a minority, LBGTQ+, disabled or is privileged, white, or anything else, so they couldn’t possibly ‘get it’. Instead of a very specific positive space full of support dissenting voices are treated a lot like this:
The poor messages
The final thing I take issue with issue with is the ‘creative’ use of facts. You’ll hear things like “over 80% of diets fail so there’s no point in even trying.” The thing is those statistics are a lot like those for smoking. How many ex smokers do you know? Losing weight permanently isn’t something that’s terribly likely to happen on any given try but who has ever gone on just one diet either? Another popular post is something along the lines of I just got tested and I have thy physiology of a 25 year old. That can be true of anyone making unhealthy choices in the moment and for a pretty long time. Basic biology means we can slide for a while but it’s foolish to claim you can know that will be true forever. You’ll also see a lot of posts touting all the advantages of being bigger but like anything else of course there are plusses and minuses. I’m pretty athletic and thin and yeah that’s totally great but I’m also often cold and it can hurt to sit on certain things, plus other stuff people say to you. Every single situation and condition (almost) has pros and cons. Some things about being overweight DO suck and rock but why can’t we all just admit that? Plus there are real life threatening possible outcomes for being overweight or underweight for that matter. Read that last sentence again and come at me, I can take it. Ultimately fat positivity’s dubious health information is not all that different from the science denying anit-vaxers. Both are putting lives at risk and some people just aren’t making it trough the other side.
Screaming something way louder than dissenting voices doesn’t make what you’re screaming true. Lots of these people have absolutely huge followings. When you have that sort of platform I think you have a responsibility to be mindful of the dangers of what you post. What could be more important than someone’s health? Posting false health information isn’t just morally wrong in some jurisdictions it’s actually illegal even if it’s rarely prosecuted. Body positivity is a great, great thing let’s just agree that it’s not a medical thing.
My takeaway, I think that the fat/body positivity that is promised in that first graphic is a great thing and long over due. I also want to make it crystal clear that I believe that specifically fat positive spaces are needed, valid and it’s a positive thing that they exist. Some that decry the movement really do fail to understand that that is a space that is a needed development in our world. People do experience discrimination, bullying, medical bias and lots of other negative emotions based on the size of their bodies. Whether you can change it or not is virtually immaterial in the need for these movements. In Western countries we’re quickly approaching a situation where 50% of the population is overweight or obese. No matter if you think that is healthy or not that HALF of the population deserves a place to celebrate their bodies too!
Second to that I do think that fat positive spaces DO actually exist within the greater umbrella of body positivity. If someone does want to make changes, post a concerning study or celebrate a body that isn’t as typical of the body positive movement that needs to be okay too. Both movements have the word ‘positive’ right in there and more than a few people need to be reminded of that. It’s 2020 now and if you create a space specific to the love of poodles wearing bows once it grows to a certain size you will attract ‘haters and trolls’ too. Virtually every social platform has a ‘delete’ and a ‘block’ option. Using those to deal with unwanted comments would go a long way to keeping these spaces positive and curated just the way the creators like rather than lashing out. Attacking transformation posts posted on their personal pages and reporting them as violent is just beyond nuts. Pointing out how clueless, calling nasty names and definitely coming after someone in real life is uncalled for and more than a little uncouth.
Where do you sit on this issue? Does anyone who is of normal weight automatically just not get it? What about people who were obese and now aren’t? Are they not the most qualified to comment on this? Is the movement dangerous overall?
I am a dietitian and I was once morbidly obese. Firstly – it is no-one’s business why you anyone is overweight. You do not need to explain yourself to anyone. Secondly – diets fail almost all of the time. Why? People are taught how to lose the weight but not how to keep it off. Repeat dieting raises your weight in the long run. Thirdly – if you feel the need to bully someone due to their size, that says more about you than the person you are bullying. Each one of us is human, living different lives. You have no idea why that person is overweight. I gained weight because of medication. Nearly a hundred pounds I put on my hardly averaged sized frame due to epilepsy medication and birth control – not because I ate poorly. I did not have a car (I could not drive due to having seizures) so I walked everywhere. Does someone on the internet know that? Nope. Did I get called fat and lazy anyway? Yup. Do you know what someone’s blood work looks like? Do you know why they eat the way that they do? Do you know how much money they have to eat on each week? Do you know their mobility issues? Be kinder and more understanding. I hope when you have struggles you are respected without being judged.
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