The Anti-Obesity Rhetoric Is Not Helping Anyone And We Need To Start Seeing That

obese woman

I am a 26-year-old woman who wears a size 10/12/14 (this is being a woman isn’t it?! What size am I? Who knows…) on top, and a size 14/16 in bottoms. I am classed as obese. And I am sick of hearing my body being talked about negatively in the media. I am sick of hearing the “health” warnings. I am sick of the news and the debates and the discussions about my body and what I should do with it and what I should not do with it and what medical treatment I should pay for on the NHS because it’s my fault that my body is the way it is.

I am sick of it because I am a survivor of atypical anorexia. I am sick of it because I have done my research and I know that the links between obesity and “obesity-related diseases” are tenuous at best. I am sick of it because I know that it’s not because I eat “too much” that my body is the way it is. I am sick of it because I am so done with being told that my body is wrong. I am sick of it because of the implications that the word “obese” brings with it: that I am lazy, undisciplined, and gluttonous. I am sick of it because I am human.

The thing is, I know categorically that my health is good. My bloods are fine, I have low blood pressure (in the good range, not the passing out range – which always helps), my heart rate is slower than the average person’s, I am active, and I eat a varied and balanced diet. So when I am listening to other people talking about obesity as if it is intrinsically unhealthy, it really raises my hackles because I know it to be absolutely untrue. I also know that I have read incredibly detailed, large, science-based studies that show that you can be healthy at most weights, shapes, and sizes, and that weight loss in obese people causes more health problems than if they were to have stayed at their original weights. I know that weight set point theory is a thing, and that our natural, healthy weights are all individual. I also know that BMI was never meant to be used as an indicator of health, and that when the “overweight” threshold was introduced, and the “obese” threshold altered in 1998, it made a huge amount of people “overweight” overnight. Those on the board that made this decision predominantly had ties to the weight loss industry and thus stood to profit from this change. I also now know that dieting and eating disorders can cause the body’s set point (its own individual healthy weight range) to shift upwards as a response mechanism to the damage done to it via restriction. All of these things just show that my body is looking after me, and that now – thankfully – I am also looking after it too. My body and I now take care of each other, and I’ll be damned if anyone shames me for that without feeling the lash of my tongue.

On the other hand, not everyone is healthy, and whether people are healthy or not, they still deserve respect and care. Some “obese” people are unhealthy in ways that are totally unrelated to weight. Some “obese” people eat unhealthily and remain sedentary, yet we know from science-based research that although this causes internal damage, it does not often have an impact on weight, and so again, is unrelated to weight. Even if it was, what people choose to do with their bodies and their lives does not mean that they deserve to be treated as subhuman or that they deserve any less love. Someone having more fat on their bodies doesn’t make them any less human, yet society is intent on treating them that way. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to apply when it is someone who exists in a smaller body. They avoid criticism and shame when they live off pizza and crisps, smoke and drink to excess, and don’t exercise, as if they have earned the right to do so because they have a socially acceptable body size. Why is it that no one talks about restricting thinner people’s access to healthcare regardless of their eating and exercising patterns, whereas their healthier obese counterparts’ bodies are talked about like unwanted sacks of flesh that don’t warrant equal access to treatment?

Research has shown that shaming people for their weight is far more likely to lead to obesity than weight loss. It shows that dieting is one of the biggest predictors of obesity. It shows that our war on bigger bodies is only harming people’s mental and physical health, not helping them.

This is not purely a woman’s issue, but it is women who feel the burn of body-shaming the most. It is their bodies that are so frequently picked apart by every form of media. It is women who are shown and told from childhood that their bodies are the most important thing about them and that they must hone them to perfection at all costs. It is women who are made to feel that their bodies are the one thing to focus on above all else in their lives. So much value is placed on a woman’s appearance that it is impossible to escape. And whilst men feel the pressure too, you only have to look at TV and film to see that a diversity of men’s bodies are often portrayed in various roles, whereas if you are a woman, you have to be thin to be taken seriously and not be the punchline of a fat joke – and you can forget about being a love interest altogether.

In the war against weight, we should think about the messages that we give out. To men who will never feel masculine enough; to women who will waste their lives dieting; to children who will never feel good enough; to those trying to recover from deadly eating disorders who are battered back by our diet culture telling them that gaining weight, eating more, eating certain foods, and stopping exercise is BADBADBADBADBADBAD. To those who are healthy but are constantly being told that they are not; to those who are unhealthy and are told that they are less than human because of it. To everyone who feels repulsive because they cannot fit our society’s idea of “perfect”. To those that will lose their lives because their bodies cannot take the strain put on them anymore in the quest to be thin. Is our fear of fat worth the damage that it is causing to our minds and our bodies? Is it doing any good at all?

We need to start thinking about what the evidence really shows. We need to start thinking about each other. We need to start thinking of ourselves. We need to stop listening to those who are selling us misery. We need to say no to the diet and weight loss industry. We need to stop listening to the fear-mongering about health, and we need to stop listening to the idea that we have to look a certain way in order to be happy. Let’s project positivity into the world, not negativity. Let’s lift each other up rather than knock each other down. That’s the world I want to see.

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8 thoughts on “The Anti-Obesity Rhetoric Is Not Helping Anyone And We Need To Start Seeing That

  1. Ahhh! A sublimely comprehensive essay! As a fat boy growing up in the long-ago 1960s I was an embarrassment to my mother, whose other children were “normal”. In that time I failed to meet the standards of the President’s Council On Youth Fitness. I was put on my first diet at age 11. It wasn’t until age 21 that I finally said ENOUGH to that deprivational horror. But being judged against by thin people went on for decades. Anti- fat bigotry, unfortunately, is more pernicious and pervasive than ever. But I have the feeling that Change is coming.

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  2. Agree with everything you have said, except that a) a “healthy” diet is different for different people, and not easily defined; b) “Exercise” may be more or less accessible for different people, too. Otherwise, a great essay.

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    1. You’re totally right but I don’t think I defined anywhere what a healthy, balanced, varied diet is specifically because as you say, it is different for everyone. And you’re right: exercise is not accessible for everyone. However, I do think that it is part of being healthy to find some kind of movement that you do enjoy, if you can.

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  3. Great stuff, well said.
    But forgive my asking how are you obese if you’re only a size 14? What is your BMI? I’m 5’4” and at BMI 30 am a size 18/20, at 25 14/16 at 22 size 12. Just curious if you’re only 4’10” or something?

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  4. You say this but lets be real, you’re not massive. You say you’re obese but you’re obese class I not class II or III.

    I am obese class III. I have 0.3 BMI points to go until I am only obese class II. My knees hurt when I carry my kids upstairs. I feel tired and lethargic a lot. When I walk or run a lot (1hr+ for continuous walking 30min+ for running) I get plantar fasciitis. I can’t buy clothes in normal shops I have to go to special fat shops with ugly clothes made of poor quality materials (guess that’s the only way to save since they can’t exactly use *less* material can they?) I snore and it wakes up my kids and my husband even when I move to another room, I might even have sleep apnea. I went through 2 pregnancies with BMIs of 40 and 43 respectively and they were horrible, I was so tired, in so much pain.

    It’s easy enough for you to accept your significantly smaller body, but you shouldn’t tell people who might be much larger and in much more pain that they shouldn’t lose weight. I lost 5kg this month and it’s been awesome, I already have more energy (knees still hurt though!) – I am looking forward to 2 years or so into the future when I will hopefully finally be a normal weight for the first time in my adult life and be able to enjoy movement without pain and sleep without disruption.

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    1. Sophia,

      Yes, I say I am obese because I am obese. You are right, I am in the class I of obesity.

      If your weight is directly affecting the way that you live your life then it might be that that is not your natural and healthy weight and for some reason you have gone above your set point.

      However, there are lots of people with your BMI who are part of the Health At Every Size movement, and who do not experience health issues linked to their weight. These people want to fight against the notion that we have to be a certain size to be healthy. I completely agree with and support the HAES movement, and am part of it.

      I am not telling anyone not to lose weight, but I AM promoting – with evidence – the HAES movement and weight set point theory. I do not support weightloss is 99% of cases (I agree, there are exceptions). I’d urge you to check out my resources section and have a look at the Health At Every Size and Weight Set Point Theory sections!

      The fact that fat people have to go to specific shops with poor quality clothing in limited styles just to be able to buy clothes is outrageous. This isn’t about those people having bodies that are wrong but the fashion industry NOT providing the range of sizes that it should. Clothing should be inclusive for EVERYONE. This is exactly what the body positivity movement is fighting for – another incredible movement for marginalised bodies (although unfortunately it is getting a bit overrun with thin people using the platform right now…). On that note, I totally accept that I have much more thin privilege than someone like you. I know that I can go to regular shops and buy clothes. I know that I can comfortably fit into plane and cinema seats, whereas others who are larger cannot. I completely accept that I have more thin privilege than those people. However, I do have less than some too, because I am obese, and my body is looked down upon. It is not envied. It is a “before” photo in lots of people’s heads. I do not have anywhere close to the “ideal” body.

      It has not at all been “easy enough” to accept my body. I suffered from anorexia nervosa and have been through hell in order to finally accept my body. Please don’t make presumptions about how easy or hard people find things – especially those who have (for the most part) made peace with their bodies.

      I hope that you find peace with yours, whatever your journey ends up looking like.

      Liked by 1 person

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