The body positivity movement’s goal is “to end the harmful consequences of negative body image,” according to The Body Positive, one of the movement’s main leaders.
It has made great progress through the message that your worth doesn’t come from your weight. However, the body positivity movement undoes this progress when it claims any weight is acceptable and even healthy. By avoiding the issue of obesity, in particular, the body positivity movement allows for its physical and mental consequences to continue hurting people.
What the Body Positivity Movement Gets Right
Eating disorders plague our culture. People, especially teen girls, are inundated with the “ideal” body in advertisements, on social media, and on TV. Some develop eating disorders in response to this pressure. People with eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, restrict their diet to appease their skinny obsession, sometimes even going so far as to put their lives at risk. The body positivity movement discourages this behavior with the message that weight doesn’t define a person. And it’s right. Being fat doesn’t make you less valuable as a person; being skinny doesn’t make you more valuable as a person.
There’s no one perfect body type.
Another idea the body positivity movement correctly understands is that there’s no one perfect body type. Todd Koch, a counselor at Hillsdale College’s health center, agrees. He criticizes the idea that only one body type is healthy, illustrating his point with an example in the context of the military. He says, “So, in the military, if you’re a 150 lb runner that’s 6’ or 6’ 2”, you’re considered healthy, but if you’re 290 lb weightlifter, they’re like ‘you’re obese,’ just based on height and weight, and that’s just not the case for some people.”
A variety of different body types exist, so it’s unreasonable to create a single standard for everyone to conform to. But does this mean no standard should exist at all?
Lie #1 – If the Body Wants It, Then It Must Be Good
The body positivity movement tries to get rid of any kind of standard for health by expanding the word’s definition. Cosmopolitan embraced this strategy from the movement it claimed the overweight women on its cover were healthy, noted by Tristan Justice in his article, “Cosmopolitan Magazine Pitches Obesity To Women Despite Heightened COVID Risk.” Calling obesity healthy is a lie. Obesity poses serious health risks and denying these problems harms people rather than helps them
Koch similarly criticizes the body positivity movement for not discouraging obesity as it does other unhealthy habits like eating disorders. He says, “You got a girl who, or even a guy, because I’ve had both, that are anorexic or bulimic, and they’re 90 lb and not healthy at all, but they think they are. So it’s interesting, right? Because if we think about anorexia and bulimia, we’re like ‘ok that’s not healthy,’ but the flip side to that, if we see somebody that’s really overweight, we know that’s not healthy, but we’re a little bit of afraid to talk about that.”
Health has to have an objective standard, otherwise, anything could be considered healthy. The body positivity movement recognizes this when it comes to eating disorders but contradicts itself when it comes to obesity. How does the movement resolve this contradiction? Through the assumption that every desire the body has, such as the desire for food, should be fulfilled. This way, the movement is able to call obesity healthy, since it fulfills bodily desires, without making the same claim about eating disorders.
Elizabeth Scott from The Body Positive says, “Listening to our own intuition, the wisdom of our bellies and our bones, is the path to freedom and to boldly living our precious lives.”
But the truth is the body often wants what’s bad for it.
Lie #2 – If I Don’t Feel Like Exercising, Then I Shouldn’t
These ideas hurt people since obesity doesn’t just affect your physical health but also your mental health. The article "Obesity and Mental Health: Is There a Link?" from the Obesity Action Coalition mentions that obese people have a 55% increased chance of developing depression. The body positivity movement wants to ignore these stats though. In fact, it promotes a lack of self-discipline and normalizes subpar health, which increases obesity.
Connie Sobczak, also from The Body Positive, says, “I… honor the days when I don’t have the energy to move, and do so without guilt. I allow myself to naturally put on winter weight without feeling anxious.”
Obese people have a 55% increased chance of developing depression.
Sobczak encourages laziness even though it increases mental illness rather than alleviating it. Exercise causes the brain to release endorphins which help fight depression and anxiety. By skipping exercise, you miss out on these necessary chemicals.
A study from the American Journal of Public Health also shows Sobczack to be wrong. It showed a connection between an unhealthy diet and worse mental health as well as a connection between a healthy diet and better mental health.
Lie #3 – Any Pressure To Improve My Health Is Bad
Sobczak insists that any kind of pressure to be healthy is bad. She says, “Let’s not make life harder by criticizing our bodies and beating ourselves up for indulging in the flavors and sensations of the season. Let’s remember that spring always does follow winter, and our desire to move more and eat a lighter fare will naturally return…Our moods will lift as the light and warmth return to our part of the planet, and our ability to function in all parts of our lives will improve as our energy returns.”
There is some truth in what Sobczak is saying. Relaxing is sometimes necessary. But taking breaks too frequently and allowing yourself to play a passive role in your own life can turn into an unhealthy habit. Sobczak claims that as the seasons change, energy will return. But does spring really provide this guarantee? Or will the habit have become too solidified to be reversed with just a change in weather?
The body positivity movement tries to solve our culture’s skinny obsession through the opposite extreme. A better solution is to take the middle ground: to love your body at whatever weight but at the same time work towards being healthier.
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