Health at Every Size
67% of women would rather be mean or stupid than be fat, according to Delta Delta Delta, the sorority responsible for enormously successfully Fat Talk Free Week. Yes, you read that right: two-thirds of our daughters, sisters, and female friends would rather others perceive them as nasty and unintelligent rather than shop in the Women’s Department (and the ridiculousness of the label “Women’s Department” is a whole other feminist rant post, don’t worry…). Further, 56% of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat!
These statistics tell an incredibly heartbreaking story, one that encapsulates our current cultural attack against people who are overweight. To say that the majority of women in our society would rather be maimed, killed, or considered unworthy of association than be overweight is quite telling of just how entrenched the thin ideal has become.
While many of us would be hard-pressed to admit that we’d rather be permanently disabled than carry extra pounds, others are more open in their weight-bias and will veil their sentiments in statements like, “Being fat is unhealthy, and my health is very important to me.”
Linda Bacon, PhD, a nutrition professor and body image expert, turns such an assumption, and others like it, on their proverbial ear. Bacon, a leader in the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement, uses empirical research to support her claims that fat does not equal a lack of health and that the current anti-fat zeitgeist serves only to harm our society.
Bacon’s enthusiasm for a new perspective is backed by studies like that conducted by Paul Campos and his colleagues that address the so-called obesity crisis. Campos et al. incorporated factors like fitness, activity, and nutrient intake – factors that many other studies that address the dangers of being fat leave out – and reported that overweight individuals are not at increased risk of disease.
This does not mean that laying on the couch eating potato chips is a healthy way of life, at least not all the time. It simply means that being fat alone does not mean we are unhealthy. Campos’ study, along with others, asserts that most health indicators, such as blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, can be improved through changing
health behaviors, even if no weight is lost.
This flies in the face of many recent anti-obesity initiatives that warn of an early death following a lifetime of donuts and internet-surfing. In fact, HAES proponents are quick to point to studies, over 26 of them, that indicate overweight people actually live longer than those of normal weight.
If you’re shocked, that might be because our diet- and weight-loss obsessed world has drilled the “fat is bad” mantra into our heads from the time we were young children. How else do explain why 81% of 10-year-old girls have already dieted at least once? Or why employers continue to reward very thin women while paying overweight women significantly less?
While you may find yourself struggling to accept the HAES movement – many people do – at least consider how our current diet-centric perspective and sentiment behind a “war” on obesity can be ultimately destructive to our self-esteem and overall health. As I have talked about on this site, shaming overweight people does not work as an effective health intervention.
We need to take a step back from all that we have been taught and socialized to believe and consider how we can encourage healthy lifestyles. I will leave you with a message from the Surgeon General, who is taking a more body-positive stance on improving the nation’s health.
Do you believe you can be healthy at every size? How has our diet-culture impacted you?
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