Why Your “Health Concerns” About the Body Positivity Movement Don’t Hold Up

This is a response to this article:https://www.theodysseyonline.com/body-confidence-is-skipping-out-on-health

To start with, we need to recognize that obesity was an epidemic problem in America long before the body positivity movement/fat acceptance movement (BPM). I have yet to see any evidence suggesting that the BPM has made it any worse (feel free to show me some) despite the author’s claims that the movement is “normalizing obesity.” The author claims to “ have seen children in my church struggle to stand while begging for food.” How exactly are these supposed fat kids the result of the BPM? This is a movement largely consisting of millennial-aged liberal feminist women. Women in the BPM are 1. Unlikely to be the parents of these children and 2. Unlikely to be reaching them with their message. Let’s think about this for a second. Where is obesity a huge problem in America? Oh yeah, the rural, often poor, South. These states are also the most conservative. I highly doubt they’re reading or showing their children social justice body positive blogs or Buzzfeed articles about how Ashley Graham is revolutionizing modeling.

We have yet to see anyone in the BPM even imply that weight related health problems aren’t important. The ONE example the author gives is a tweet from Tessa Holiday: “If you want someone to preach health over self-love, I’m not your girl.” The author misconstrues this to mean that Tessa Holiday is saying that you don’t have to care about your health. What I think Holiday is actually addressing is articles like this where someone tries to detract from the BPM by pretending their concern is that the movement is negatively affecting everyone’s health. Holiday is calling out the people who aren’t comfortable with the message that it’s acceptable to love yourself even if you aren’t healthy or fitting society’s body standards. That’s not “normalizing obesity,” it’s just telling people who are overweight that they don’t have to hate themselves for it.

In fact, I think if the BPM were “normalizing obesity” you wouldn’t see so many articles like this that time and time again cry “the body positivity movement is good and all but what about health?!” You would see actual obese people in mainstream media- movies, books, shows- who are portrayed as attractive. But no, still, in most movies, the fat person is the comic relief character and/or sidekick. Even fatter actors and actresses rarely get to play lead roles until they’ve slimmed down a bit. Examples: Chris Pratt, Jonah Hill, Melissa McCarthy.

Another telling part of this article is when she shirks off the health problems of being too skinny: “Overweight and obese people are at a higher risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Yes, skinny people can be unhealthy, but their risk is dramatically lower.” While it is, of course, true that obesity is a huge health risk factor, being underweight is also dangerous and often viewed by onlookers as healthy. Victims of eating disorders have started calling out how messed up it is that they get more compliments when they are at their least healthy. This is more evidence that the true concern here isn’t actually health.

Probably the most egregious part of the article is when the author pretends to understand the kind of body issues that fat people go through because she’s athletic and has been called fat. The fact of the matter is, unless you’re obese, you don’t get it. I only have an inkling of how fat people are treated because I can see it in everyday life. I know from what I’ve seen that even if she was called fat a couple times, an athletic body type is not gonna get her disgusted looks everywhere she goes. She’s not going to have people move away from her on public transit and avoid sitting or being near her. She’s not going to have people feel they have the right to comment on how she lives her life. She’s not going to have people dismiss the possibility that she can be seen as attractive. Honestly those are just examples from my head, but the articles I linked to go into so much more detail and are eye-opening.

This article is rife with false acceptance. The underlying message here is still: I won’t support this movement unless it tells people they need to change their lifestyle to be more like mine, and through that, their bodies. Ironically, she begins with claiming that the BPM “promotes a sedentary lifestyle” and then later suggests that we should “leave it to the doctors and medical professionals to criticize. Our bodies are complex, some people cannot lose or gain weight.” The author has contradictory passages like this throughout the article. On one hand she thinks that someone’s weight and health is their own business and that we can’t judge, and on the other, she is ready to comment on the health and fitness of not only her family but random kids in her church based on just the way they look and behave in front of her.

While it’s great that health nuts like the author focus on health and fitness, they have long derived a false sense of superiority from being lauded for it. Our culture values health and fitness. There are tons of products and entire industries- diets, gyms, fitness magazines, personal trainers, “superfoods”- that sell themselves because we want to be healthy and fit. People who engage with or consume these things are seen positively for doing so (this is another reason the idea that obesity is somehow being normalized is absolutely ludicrous). Health nuts don’t like that there’s a movement that challenges that superiority; a movement that isn’t commenting negatively or positively on lifestyle or health or telling anyone what to do with their bodies, but is telling people that they aren’t worth less if they aren’t achieving health and fitness goals. That challenges the values of these health nuts, and they react by coming out with completely unsupported concerns about the BPM encouraging people to be unhealthy.

If we’re actually honest about this issue, we’ll admit that you literally cannot tell how healthy someone is from the way they look, their weight, or their BMI. You just can’t. Of course certain lifestyles and degrees of being overweight are correlated with health problems, but the BPM isn’t trying to make a comment on health or change what is considered healthy. This is why it’s clear that these articles aren’t really concerned with health. The BPM isn’t changing what’s considered healthy and couldn’t if they tried. No one is unconcerned about their diabetes or heart problems because Tessa Holiday is now considered attractive by a number of people. What it is changing is society valuing people based on their weight and body type. And that’s what these people don’t like.