Body positivity started as a movement that encouraged women to embrace their natural figure rather than feel ashamed that they didn't fit into the size-0 mold of women we usually see on the covers of magazines. But the movement has taken a different turn in recent years. We now see women on the cover of magazines who are celebrated for being body image icons, and yet they are women who suffer from one of the most common metabolic disorders in our culture: obesity.
Body Positivity Now Claims Obesity Is "Healthy"
This strange turn has taken the focus away from self-confidence and beauty, and turned it into a conversation about health. The best example of this shift in the body positivity world is the cover of Cosmopolitan's February 2021 issue. It featured a yoga teacher in a yoga pose with the headline "This is healthy!" There was an alternative cover with the same exact headline of a woman wearing athleisure. Both covers featured women who were clinically obese.
It's unfortunate that this even needs to be said, but this conversation has nothing to do with these women's worth or beauty. Your worth and beauty are not defined at all by your weight or even your current health. However, Cosmopolitan was making a definitive, clear statement: "This is healthy!"
The articles in this particular issue focused on the racism and bigotry of the medical field and insisted that many of the measures used to determine someone's health are not only outdated but also harmful to women. The writer of one of the articles claimed that a personal trainer was fatphobic because he merely inquired whether she understood what a calorie was.
Your worth and beauty are not defined at all by your weight or even your current health.
Cosmopolitan's cover and articles made it apparent that their message is about redefining what health is, meaning the conversation about body positivity was no longer focused on self-acceptance. It was now about health, hence the immensely popular phrase and hashtag "health at every size."
Tess Holliday is a body positive influencer who has claimed many times that she is healthy, despite being clinically obese, insisting that it's nobody's business to inquire about her size and its relation to her health. Singer and body positive icon Lizzo has also made various claims about how she is healthy and doesn't need to change anything about her lifestyle, despite suffering from the metabolic disorder of obesity.
This is incredibly dangerous because obesity is the number one contributor to the leading causes of death in the U.S., including heart disease, stroke, many cancers, and type 2 diabetes. It's a metabolic disorder that harms millions of Americans around the country, disproportionately affecting minorities and people from lower socioeconomic statuses. It's irresponsible at best to tell women that being obese is a form of health.
If you take a step back and look at this message, you'll see that it's only reserved for women. You'll never see a men's magazine promoting an obese man on the cover and claiming that he is an example of health.
"Health at Every Size" Is Only Packaged and Sold to Women
Why is it that men are never told that being obese is healthy? Why have we never seen a visibly overweight man donning the cover of GQ or Men's Health? Is this an intentional difference or coincidental?
I used to work as an editor in digital media companies that directly compete with the likes of Cosmopolitan, and I can tell you from personal experience that the "health at every size" message is specifically packaged for women and women only. There is not an equivalent that is sold to men. This is one of the reasons why I left the industry. I could no longer work there in good conscience, especially considering the fact that these digital magazines claimed to empower women and help them achieve healthy, happy lives.
Why have we never seen a visibly overweight man donning the cover of GQ?
It got me thinking about why this message is only given to women. As a weight-loss and health coach, I've worked with hundreds of women who are interested in improving their health and losing weight, if needed. Many of these women tell me that they were duped by the body positivity message for a long time. They desire an approach that is rooted in truth and compassion, two things that are actually inseparable. True compassion doesn't involve lying to women just to make them feel better.
I've been in the world of fitness for a decade now. I've trained both men and women. I've collaborated with trainers who are both male and female. I've noticed something that everyone on planet earth used to acknowledge and understand before we were presented with the modern idea of a genderless society: Men and women have inherent differences. Physically and physiologically, we're build different, and we have general personality differences. This has been proven through decades of research.
For example, men are more interested in working with inanimate objects, which is why they tend to gravitate toward jobs such as engineering and computer science. Women tend to have a higher emotional intelligence and prefer working with people, which is why they dominate fields such as early childhood education, psychology, and nursing. No matter how much our society tries to deny that these differences exist, they exist, and the more we try to deny them, the more likely we are to fail women when they need help the most.
Men and women have inherent differences.
One of the biggest differences I've noticed from working with men and women when it comes to health is that women are much, much more likely to harbor insecurities and emotions regarding their weight, diet, and health in general. We tend to attach our self-worth to the number on the scale, and it can be incredibly difficult for us to separate emotions from eating.
This is why it's so easy to package "health at every size" to women. It's a phrase that is guaranteed to speak to women because it's much harder for us to separate beauty from health, so instead of potentially offending women by stating the simple fact that obesity is unhealthy, magazines feed into women's insecurity about health. They know this will garner way more clicks and views, which is exactly how they make their money.
The promotion of "health at every size" leaves women in a vicious cycle: Women feel insecure about their weight, physique, and diet. They turn to the internet and social media for validation. Media outlets tell them they are both beautiful and healthy at every size, which makes them feel temporarily vindicated and even relieved. They don't need to change anything about themselves or their health—it's society that needs to change its standards, not them. But then this leaves them feeling even more insecure and emotional. So they turn to the internet and social media yet again, starting the vicious cycle over from the beginning.
This is not a cycle that men will easily fall into because they simply have different emotional responses to things related to their physique and health. But it is certainly a cycle that sucks in women and keeps them there, and that's precisely how these media companies make so much money off women. They garner millions of clicks and views by selling a complete lie to women.
Women Deserve Better Than the Lie of "Health at Every Size"
Again, a woman's worth is not determined by her size. But her health oftentimes is, and if we really care about women—rather than simply caring about virtue signaling or garnering more clicks and views—we would stop lying to them and instead help them improve their health and lose weight if necessary.
I've worked with so many women who express disappointment and even anger at how often they've been lied to about health. They long for someone to tell them the truth with love. That doesn't mean we have to be unkind or rude or call them names, but we do need to come from a place of love and be willing to help women escape the most common metabolic disorder in our society.
Women deserve better than "health at every size." They deserve to be presented with truth, information, and help to achieve the healthiest, happiest life they're able to create for themselves.
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