The ‘Healthy At Every Size’ Movement Is Hurting The Women It Claims To Help

Our culture is obsessed with losing weight, there’s no denying it. But is denying the health risks of obesity any better?

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
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Shutterstock/Jacob Lund

From borderline unhealthy dieting and exercise “tips” across social media to the rise in popular trends like Whole30 and intermittent fasting, it looks like we as a society are so consumed with wanting to be skinny (read: not necessarily healthy) that we’ll do pretty much anything to accomplish that end.

Surprisingly, though, in the world of the health vs. weight debate, there’s an...interesting subset of followers, known as HAES, or the “healthy at every size” movement. 

This movement claims to stand for body acceptance and empowerment — but it does so at an extremely high cost.

What Is HAES?

Like many communities that originated from the depths of the internet, we’re not exactly sure where HAES came from or how long it’s been around. But one YouTuber, Kiana Docherty, took it upon herself to discuss the similarities between HAES and what we recognize today as the “fat acceptance” movement (spoiler alert: they’re one and the same.)

HAES’s official website touts the tenets of “compassionate self-care,” “body diversity,” and even “challenging scientific and cultural assumptions.” But in their quest to challenge “scientific” assumptions, it looks like they’re promoting the denial of science altogether.

HAES knowingly and intentionally asserts that obesity is not the problem, but rather “fatphobia.”

Among other things, HAES followers criticize the quote-unquote “war on obesity” happening currently, as well as the fallout obese people are suffering from due to being “collateral damage.” 

According to the movement, it’s not the side effects of weight gain and lack of exercise that negatively impact overweight people — it’s the social stigma surrounding being overweight that heavily influences the consequences of such a lifestyle. 

Notable Figures

HAES might have gone relatively unnoticed, were it not for a couple of key voices within the movement bringing its rhetoric to attention.

One of them is the backbone of the narrative’s supposedly scientific approach to looking at weight, Dr. Lindo Bacon. 

Dr. Bacon, an academic and published researcher, has a Ph.D. in physiology and aims to foster “a more just world where all bodies are valued and respected.” According to Dr. Bacon, “The assumption, of course, is that weight defines health, that fat people are unhealthy, that health is a moral virtue and fatness is therefore offensive. Since the belief system also contains the idea that health is under individual control, the fat person is a failure.” 

Woah there. So, according to the movement’s foremost “scientific” voice, a person’s health is not under their control (as it relates to weight), health and weight have nothing to do with one another, and overweight people are neither unhealthy nor at risk for the myriad of issues related to being overweight, even though decades of esteemed research would say otherwise. 

Dr. Bacon isn’t the only source avid HAES followers have latched onto. You might remember Tess Holliday, the self-described fat acceptance movement leader once featured on the cover of Cosmo UK.

While Bacon appeals to the (admittedly sketchy) academic aspect of the movement’s rhetoric, Holliday is responsible for its mobilizing influence on social media. 

Holliday isn’t apologetic about her weight or the narratives the movement perpetuates. She stated, “The reality is I don't owe you sh*t and I don't have to prove that I'm healthy or not.” Holliday is quick to assert that her weight and her size are “no one’s business,” when she’s built her entire career as a model and influencer on those exact labels. 

HAES’s Dangerous Rhetoric 

It would be one thing if HAES were a community of heavier or plus-sized people celebrating their strengths and working towards common goals together through a context of positivity.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. For one thing, HAES is not only an echo chamber for its own followers, but also a harmful source of misinformation and one that asserts that there are no physical consequences in choosing to be overweight, or even in morbid obesity. 

HAES is the prime, definitive example of a self-love and self-acceptance movement gone too far.

HAES is perhaps the prime, definitive example of a self-love and self-acceptance movement gone too far. It’s one thing to acknowledge that all of us are flawed in some way and have things we can improve on, especially when it comes to eating well and taking care of our bodies. But HAES knowingly and intentionally asserts that obesity is not the problem, but rather “fatphobia”; that health is not determinable by weight; that losing weight for the purposes of being healthy is aesthetic-based and a consequence of diet culture. 

Closing Thoughts 

Some have praised HAES as a movement created in response to the harmful promotions of body type and so-called health we see on social media.

That rhetoric is harmful, but relying on HAES as the perfect solution to it is just as dangerous. 

While toxic diet culture and the narratives surrounding eating disorders encourages us to work too hard for the “perfect body,” HAES offers no encouragement or encourages no work at all. 

The key to our health lies in our balance of it, not in choosing to overwork or not work at all. HAES looks like the perfect self-acceptance movement, but in reality, it’s just as toxic as the culture it’s tried to destroy.