Recently, pictures like this …
.. have been floating around Facebook more and more. It has people asking:
What is all this talk about size acceptance? fat acceptance? body acceptance?
Defining size/fat/body acceptance is just as difficult for me as defining feminism. Generally size/fat/body acceptance are all terms used to name the social movement to end discrimination based on body size, or weight. Body acceptance is my name of choice. Activists in the community have many different definitions, and engage in the movement in different ways. Again, it is a living breathing social justice movement, it’s pretty hard to nail down.
Why is this movement so important? Because most people are affected in one way or another by body-based discrimination. For people who are fat, body discrimination looks like not being able to find clothes in their size at mainstream stores, and not seeing people that look like them as main characters in TV and movies. Fat people are also often stereotyped as lazy, stupid, clumsy, gluttonous, and dirty. On the other hand, people who are thin are often assumed to have an eating disorder, and thin women in particular are told they are not “real women” because of their lack of feminine curves.
Therefore, body hate and discrimination impacts all people, and the body acceptance movement is for all people, not just fatties (which some people assume).
There are many intersections with body acceptance and other social justice movements. Many size acceptance activists are also involved in queer, feminist and civil rights activism. People are obviously more than just the size of their body. Therefore, there can be many other levels of oppress a person might face in addition to body-based discrimination. Nudemuse covers a lot of the issues facing fat women of color in this interview with the Root.
Even though this movement is so critical for the wellbeing of women and girls, because we specifically face so many influences every day telling us our body and therefore ourselves are not valuable, I find even among my progressive, feminist friends there is a lot of hesitation to support the movement. Their apprehension usually revolves around this question …
Does the body acceptance movement PROMOTE being fat? That seems unhealthy. What about the “obesity epidemic?”
The short answer is no, but here is the long answer, too.
Let me start this discussion with a grad school story. In graduate school I took a course called the epidemiology of obesity (say that ten times fast). One day my professor said that during all of human history there has always been a distribution of weights among people, and there always will be. Therefore, we cannot eradicate obesity, or any other size class for that matter. Even if all people engaged in healthy behaviors, there would still be people of different weights. Also, people should not feel pressured to change their weight through dieting in the name of beauty or health.
Instead of focusing on weight loss through dieting, this movement encourages that people can focus on improving their health through behaviors, which each person can prioritize the importance of in their life.
Instead of focus on dieting (which only works among 5% of people, and can actually negatively impact your health) the Healthy At Every Size model focuses on healthy behaviors regardless of the behaviors’ impact on body weight. This model sees health decisions as morally neutral. Therefore, eating a cookie doesn’t make you bad, it probably meant you were hungry for a cookie. Also HAES allows people to prioritize their own health. Every person has the right to decide how to prioritize their health. If that means I work out less than you, so be it. I am not a weak, lazy, or less valuable person, physical fitness is just not as important for my life as it might be for yours.
To learn more about the Healthy At Every Size model read the Book of the same name by Linda Bacon. She provides all the scientific evidence behind this model and provides guidance on adapting a HAES lifestyle. Talking about HAES is a blog in itself, consider this your primer.
I will end with a suggestion on how to support the body acceptance and HAES movement.
For the healthy at every size model to work, all people need access to the resources necessary to live a healthy life.
This can include a safe neighborhood so people can go out and exercise, local farmer’s markets with fresh food, and comprehensive school health education. Many of these factors can be promoted through local, state or federal policies. This is where the legislative advocacy for body acceptance kicks in.
Sadly, instead of focusing on increasing access to resources necessary for healthy behaviors many public health campaigns have furthered weight-based discrimination through shaming individuals, even children. Shaming people does not work to change behavior, and stigmatizes people in the process. If you shame fat kids for being fat, they aren’t going to lose weight. If you shame sexually active people it does not increase their likelihood to use condoms. Are we detecting a common theme here among behavior change?!
OK, so I gave you the basics, now please continue to learn more about this movement and get involved! Below are some resources on body acceptance and HAES. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments and I will happily answer.
Favorite blog post
For Fat Patients and Their Doctors, a blog from Dances with Fat with many links to research articles debunking the myth of the relationship of weight and health.