Is The Body Positivity Movement Encouraging Women To Cheer On Their Unhealthy Friends For All The Wrong Reasons?

Every women's magazine promotes body positivity today and some even have an entire section dedicated to it. While there's nothing wrong with encouraging women to feel comfortable in their own skin and learn how to love themselves, the modern body positivity movement has taken things much further: it's teaching women to celebrate and glamorize obesity. Sometimes you can't help but think that women are cheering on obesity for all the wrong reasons.

By Gina Florio4 min read
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There's a well-known scene in Mean Girls when Regina George (played by Rachel McAdams) pauses her conversation with protagonist Cady Heron (played by Lindsay Lohan) to compliment a girl who walks by in the hallway of their school. Well, at least it seems like it's a compliment.

"Oh my god, I love your skirt. Where did you get it?" Regina says with a big grin.

"Uh, it was my mom's in the 80s," the girl replies, half shocked and half pleased that queen bee Regina would pay her such a compliment.

"Vintage, so adorable," Regina responds with a nod and a smile.

"Thanks!" the girl says. She walks away visibly thrilled.

Then Regina turns to Cady, rolls her eyes, and says in disgust, "That's the ugliest effing skirt I've ever seen."

Mean Girls wasn't just funny because of the clever script and convincing performances. It quickly became a cult classic because it highlighted many female interactions and experiences that were downright true. Every single high school has a popular clique of girls who are revered and slightly feared by the rest of the school. Every single girl since the dawn of time has dealt with jealous, conniving friends. Women couldn't get enough of this comedy because they were able to laugh at scenes that were deeply familiar to them. In other words, the movie was funny because it was true.

Out of the many general personality differences between men and women, women tend to struggle with jealousy more often. It's biologically how we're wired. We only have a finite number of eggs and a certain number of fertile years in which we can use those eggs. In fact, it's estimated that only 300-400 eggs will be ovulated during a woman's reproductive lifetime. Men, on the other hand, can produce between 40 million and 1800 million sperm cells in total, and each ejaculation contains roughly 80 to 300 million sperm. As much as our society tries to deny it, many of our subconscious decisions are driven by our reproductive abilities and hormonal fluctuations. Women must be more selective when it comes to mating. We're biologically driven to choose a man who will not only provide high-quality sperm, but will also protect and provide for us and our children. But men, with their hundreds of millions of sperm cells, they don't have a physiological drive to be selective, especially considering the fact that they don't carry children. They're able to spread their seed without a 9-month physical process that comes with giving birth, leaving them with a much lower sense of competition when it comes to selecting mates.

Because women must choose carefully, they are much more likely to be jealous and find sneaky ways to secure a high-quality mate before the other women get to him. Even though we now live in the modern world where finding a person to love and cherish forever is the primary driver rather than simply trying to find a mate to continue our bloodline, we can't deny our biology. It informs the way we function in the world and interact with each other. It may also be a major reason why so many women support the modern body positivity movement.

Modern Body Positivity Encourages Women to Embrace and Celebrate Obesity

When the term body positivity first came onto the scene, it was during a time when the models on the cover of magazines were a size 0 and impossibly thin. The movement encouraged women to embrace their natural figures rather than attempt to fit into this unhealthy mold. Women were told not to be embarrassed about having stretch marks, harboring a scar from a C-section, or being a size 6 or 8. The message was clear: you don't have to be a size 00 in order to be considered beautiful. Every woman has her own natural figure, her own imperfect features that actually make her unique and beautiful.

That's not the message of body positivity today. The movement has taken a strange turn to where women are told that obesity is a beautiful, virtuous thing. But it doesn't even end there. They've taken it a step further and started telling women that obesity is actually healthy. For example, the February 2021 cover of Cosmopolitan featured two morbidly obese women with the headline, "This is healthy!"

The women were wearing activewear and under the headline it read, "11 women on why wellness doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all." This is a stark departure from the early body positive days when women were encouraged to embrace their natural curves. We're now seeing women's media explicitly promote obesity, which is the number one contributor to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and many types of cancer. Nearly half of all Americans are obese and six out every 10 Americans have a chronic disease. It's not funny or cute to celebrate the most devastating metabolic disorder in our society today.

Sadly, that Cosmopolitan cover was just one example of how often women's media promotes obesity. Disney just unveiled its first obese protagonist in a short film. Self issued a cover featuring an obese woman with the title "The Future of Fitness." But if you take a look around the internet, it's clear to see that only women are being sold the body positive message. We've never seen (and probably never will see) an obese man on the cover of GQ, Men's Health, or Esquire. So why is this movement carefully crafted for women and women alone?

I worked in digital media for years at companies that were direct competitors with Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, and Self. I edited and produced content about women's health and body positivity, and in all my years of working in the editorial room, I never saw any obese women writing articles about fat acceptance. All the editors, writers, directors, and executives that were involved in creating body positive content were thin, healthy women who ate salads for lunch and went to Barry's Bootcamp a few times a week. They would never let themselves be overweight let alone obese. Why are these women advocating for their readers to live their life so differently?

Are Women Supporting Body Positivity and Their Overweight Friends for All the Wrong Reasons?

You can't answer these questions without revisiting the biological differences between men and women. Whether women realize it or not, they're in constant competition with each other, and that can lead them to do and say things that will keep other women down in order for them to get ahead. Is that what's happening with the body positive movement? Are women subconsciously cheering on obese women because they know deep down that much of the competition is eliminated if a high number of girls are unhealthy and even less attractive?

If a man is fit, healthy, and enjoys working out and he has a friend who is overweight and never exercises, chances are he'll tell him one day that he should lose some weight and go to the gym with him in order to improve his life. And if he does broach the topic, his friend will likely agree and most certainly not be offended. But you'll rarely ever find a woman who tells her obese friend that she should clean up her diet and workout more. That's partly because women are less confrontational and more agreeable than men are, but you can also make the argument that it's because women are more competitive with the women around them, especially when it comes to preparing yourself as a potential mate for a man.

Comedian Bill Burr has a bit where he shares the same theory, but of course his delivery is much different. He says women vehemently support the fat acceptance movement because an obese woman is no longer a threat to them.

"That's one of the saddest things I've ever seen," he says. "'Oh my god, you're a goddess. You're gorgeous. You look great in that bikini... I would kill myself if I looked like that. Keep eating. Keep eating!'"

He compares the situation to seeing an alcoholic on the ground passed out. You wouldn't go up to them and say, "You're a hero. You're a god. Keep doing what you're doing!" And yet many women are all too quick to lie to their overweight friends and tell them they're beautiful, perfect, and brave when they're actually suffering from poor health and their chances of having a heart attack or developing diabetes are incredibly high.

His standup bit is hilariously over the top but it forces us to ask the question: are women subconsciously supporting the fat acceptance movement because it eliminates much of the competition for them?

Women are generally more compassionate than their male counterparts. It's one of the traits that makes them excellent nurturers and mothers. But that compassion can sometimes do more harm than good. Women who are struggling with a metabolic disorder don't need lies wrapped up in a pretty bow of faux compassion. They need help and support to adopt a healthier lifestyle that will promote longevity. Unless of course, other women would prefer them to remain unhealthy and unattractive in order to shrink the competition and increase their chances of finding a high-quality mate.