If you have been on any social media platform in the past 5 years, you’ve probably heard the term body positivity, you may also have some opinions about it. Body positivity is a highly complex topic and oftentimes controversial. The movement without a doubt has made strides to foster a more inclusive society, one in which beauty is seen as a social construct. Further, allowing individuals to feel empowered by their unique bodies, regardless of shape or size. However, despite the positive aspects of the movement, there have been plenty of negative as well. Many argue the movement has only glamorized and glorified obesity. This begs the question, has the body-positive movement impacted society in a more negative and harmful way than we think?
The answer isn’t exactly a simple one, although there are plenty of sources claiming the inaccuracies depicted in the media regarding the body positivity movement. While this term/ movement may seem relatively new, it in fact dates back to the late 1960s, with the fat acceptance movement. In 1967, over 500 people rallied in NYC, to protest against fat shaming, demanding equal rights, the same as their thinner counterparts. Through this, The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, or NAAFA was conceptualized and continues to fight for larger-bodied individuals today. Inherently the message is a positive one, everyone deserves basic human rights regardless of weight, race, religion, gender, etc. However, this isn’t the problem many have with the movement. The problem is based on the idea that many fat activists claim obesity doesn’t put an individual’s health at risk.
Health At Every Size is an ideology that largely coincides with the body-positive movement. HAES is defined as “ an approach to public health that seeks to downplay weight loss as a health goal, and reduce stigma towards people who are overweight or obese”. This message is an important one, due to the fact that health isn’t a physical attribute, meaning we are unable to determine someone else’s health merely by looking at them. However, this approach has led to extremist beliefs with claims that have no evidence to support them. The health at every size movement has in some ways turned into “healthy at every size”, which is a false narrative to be feeding people. Tess Holiday, a famous plus-size model, is an example of this behavior, claiming to her audience she is healthy despite fitting the textbook definition of “morbidly obese”. Unfortunately, fatphobia exists and overweight people shouldn’t be criticized for simply existing. However, promoting the normalization of obesity without acknowledging the severity of the disease is a problem. Research shows obesity puts someone at risk for 200 more illnesses and diseases. The World Health Organization reports that four million people die every year as a direct result of obesity. Plus size models have positively impacted the media through the representation of a variety of body types, however, it’s important to recognize the lies certain individuals portray.
Virgie Tovar a famous author and fat activist has been a very controversial figure in the movement as well. She has made several statements alluding to the hatred of overweight people whilst emphasizing the HEAS approach. She claims that losing weight or even the desire to lose weight is rooted in fatphobia. In an Instagram caption posted by Tovar, it reads, “I don’t believe there’s such a thing as overeating. We don’t need more control in our relationship with food. We need less. Eat what you want. Eat when you want. Eat where you want. Eat as much as you want.” This not only promotes disordered eating but perpetuates the idea in which food has no correlation to one’s health. While excess weight can negatively affect an individual’s physical health, food can impact one’s mental health both positively and negatively. Research shows good nutrition, or a well-balanced diet has helped in treating individuals that suffer from depression and anxiety. Further, allowing individuals to live a happier, more fulfilling life. Tovar, like many other activists, most likely has good intentions, however, shaming people due to their personal desire to lose weight and potentially live a healthy life based in longevity is problematic.
At its core, the movement has allowed a new generation of women and men to feel confident and empowered. The media have fed society with an “ideal” body type, one which is unrealistic for most to achieve. Through body positivity, we have seen more representation than ever before which is ultimately a step in the right direction. The conversation of personal health is a complex and multifaceted topic because it’s very subjective. What one person may deem as healthy another will argue it’s unhealthy. Humans all have different needs and suffer from different illnesses, health doesn’t look one certain way. There will never be advice that is all-encompassing in regard to health due to our unique needs. It’s crucial we do our part in educating ourselves about health while not placing judgment on others. With the influx of information regarding diet, health, wellness, and exercise the sources can be contradictory. Individual health both physically and mentally is a personal ongoing journey. It’s best to do what you feel is right or by consulting a doctor or nutritionist for your specific needs.