As Long as We’re Healthy

I see a lot of people say some version of “I think it’s fine for people to be any size as long as they’re healthy”.  I think they usually think that they are being supportive, and are well intentioned (which we’ll deal with in a moment). First I want to explain why I find this to be faulty for a number of reasons:

First, the idea that other people should dictate to us what health means, how highly we should prioritize it, and what path we should choose to get there is deeply problematic in no small part because it quickly becomes a slippery slope.  I find that, for example, omnivores who want to police my health choices are typically much less excited to have their health choices questions by someone who believes that a vegan diet is the best for health.

Second, whether intended or not, this often has the feel of someone who sees themselves as superior and thereby empowered to dole out approval of my size and health plan.  I don’t recognize anyone else’s authority over my body and health – I have trusted advisors but I am the ultimate boss of my underpants.

Third, it makes it sound like they believe that I can be fat if I’m healthy (by whatever definition of healthy they are using) but if I start to have health problems then it’s time to get thin.  That is a trifecta of putting the ass in assumption, including:   1. fat is causing the problem 2.  becoming thin would solve the problem  3.  becoming thin is possible (It’s the third one that’s the real doozie – since there’s no proof that most fat people can maintain long-term weight loss, it doesn’t matter what becoming thin might do because we don’t know how to get it done).

So what do we do about this?  You all know that I don’t like to criticize without giving some suggestions so here are some options that I’ve personally used, just in case  it helps you.  As always it’s up to you and your mileage may vary:

This can be an opportunity to educate about Health at Every Size – “I’m not sure what path to health that person has chosen, but from my research, I see this differently.  I practice Health at Every Size which acknowledges that  health and weight are two separate things.  There are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size.  Since there’s not a single study that shows that weight loss works, regardless of my health I would still choose health interventions for health problems – rather than trying to change the size of my body.” or something like that.

If you’re not up to having a doing the whole education piece, maybe point out an option where people don’t make judgments about other people:  “I think that judging people based on their  size or their health is really pretty inappropriate.”

You can choose to disengage with an explanation “Actually, I’m not really comfortable with conversations that include body policing or healthism.  I’m happy to change the subject or to call it a night”

Or you can just go with short and sweet “You know, I don’t think someone else’s health or size is up for my approval or, really, any of my business”.

Of course you are not obligated to open a dialog at all and despite your best efforts people may not choose to question their actions, but I believe that we can’t be responsible for other people’s reactions, all we can ever do is point out the issue and offer compassion, support, and education in whatever combination we believe is right.

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12 thoughts on “As Long as We’re Healthy

  1. I am rather happy to see you address this. I thought for a while that your views might be exclusive of those of us who are fat, otherwise healthy, but have health problems.

    Fat did not crush the discs in my back and put me in a wheelchair; a rare genetic disease did. I do not have high blood pressure, cholesterol, or glucose. I am healthy except for the bone and joint disease I was born with. Now, it may have been a contributing factor to the fat because I cannot move as I would like but I have learned to live with that fact and to make choices for my well being, not others’.

    Thanks again for saying this. It means a lot coming from someone like you.

  2. One of the many things that bothers me about that statement is that it ignores the many people who gain weight because of health problems – *not* the other way around.

    I have known quite a few people who have had to take prednisone or other steroidal medications, for valid and indeed urgent health reasons and then gained a great deal of weight on it. And are criticized for, and often beat themselves up for gaining that weight…

    They “look unhealthy,” they are often told. They are not, in fact, healthy. They are also not running around the block or doing other exercise, because, well, they have asthma… or whatever else. And they need good nutrition to support recovery – good nutrition meaning *enough* protein and other nutrients.

    I was thinking about this the other day, when someone I know reported happily that she had lost weight. I’m delighted – because I know this means she’s off the prednisone, which means she is breathing better. Breathing is good. But what she was *talking* about was weight… because that’s what everyone tells her is important.

    And that doesn’t even touch the people who gain during illness, or because they are incapacitated by injury… and often then can’t lose that weight. “The knee isn’t bad because I’m fat – I’m fat because I blew my knee out. I only wish I *could* run a few miles, again, but the knee won’t let me…” We’ve all seen some variation of that. Telling them to lose weight for that knee just literally adds insult to injury.

  3. I’ve had to politely leave conversations because they’ve turned to diet/weight loss. At this point, I just can’t take it anymore–so I don’t.

    It reminds me of a friend of mine. She smokes, and is sometimes embarrassed about it. I have repeatedly told her it’s none of my freakin’ business, all I ask is that she not do it in my house because my daughter has asthma. My friend no longer is ashamed when she’s with me. In turn, she keeps any and all opinions about my body/eating habits/weight to herself. It’s a very refreshing friendship.

  4. I completely agree. I hear “It’s about healthy, not skinny” all the time in some of the body positive groups i attend. Why is it about being healthy? Why are we out to shame people with health problems (whether they possibly helped contribute to them or not?)

    Also, along with wanting to dole out personal dietary decisions as the marker for what is a healthy way to live, people saying this often have the idea that there is a certain “limit” to what’s healthy as far as weight goes. Like “it’s okay to be a little overweight as long as you’re healthy, but being XXX pounds is not healthy.” They think they’re being tolerant and open minded, but they aren’t.

    I really like your responses to these statements too.

  5. Love the line, “I am the ultimate boss of my underpants.”. I need to say that out loyd to some people n my life! Thanks for all you do!

  6. Thanks for another great article. I was moved to add that shaming people for being unhealthy is outrageous. I had a birth countrol pill stroke 20 years ago and was given a whole book written on that premise. It said that my stroke was the result of being afraid of change.??? Let’s act up! Thanks for the come backs.

  7. Very good points. It is nobody’s business whether or not we are healthy. The truth is that almost no one is 100% healthy 100% of the time, that indeed health issues or meds for those issues do indeed sometimes cause weight gain, & that fat itself really doesn’t cause health issues. One can indeed be fat & be healthy & fit, but we should not have to be in order to deserve to have full ownership of our lives & bodies & have the nannies butt out of our business. We ultimately have far less control over our health & longevity than most people want to believe, including many people who are part of fat acceptance, who seem to feel the need to constantly PROVE how healthy they are & what a perfect lifestyle they lead, etc. Everyone dies eventually, most of us have health issues of some sort at some time, & we all know people who are thin &/or have done all the ‘right’ things who dropped dead at 40 or so, often while jogging. The reaction is always something like, “I can’t believe he died, he did everything right”, while with us, even if we live into our 80’s & beyond, we must have done something wrong to shorten our lives. It is like the woman years ago on an FA blog who, when I commented that my fat grandmother had eaten lots of sugar, seldom exercised, ate whatever she liked & for years cooked with lard & lived to be 90, wrote back to tell me that if my grandmother had cooked with olive oil, she would have lived to be 110.

    Most of the people in my family are or have been fat & most have been quite long-lived, including my mother & grandmother. I am 62 & have enjoyed remarkably good health for the most part so far & have avoided doctors & hospitals like the plague except when I had no choice, such as bearing children, getting my left ear stitched up when it was nearly cut off in a fall, & a smashed kneecap. I was born with cerebral palsy, which is a birth defect & not fat-related. I have increasing arthritis, in my hands more than anywhere else, have always had balance issues which are indeed increasing with age, & have always been active, try to remain active as much as I can as long as I can. But how I live & how healthy I am is no one’s business but mine & my worth as a human being should not be measured by my body size, age, disability, or healthy. And, yes, it IS possible to be disabled, yet enjoy overall very good health.

  8. On the smoking thing, I admit to hating smoking, but I have learned that, as long as you do not smoke in my home or blow your smoke in my face, it is none of my business. I live in Maine, which may have the highest percentage of smokers for our population (only about 1.4 million people) of any state in the country. I lost the older sister who was like a mother to me to lung cancer, but in fairness, I have to admit that she smoked 3 packs per day for over 50 years before she died. She was also fat & had to wait until she was dying of cancer to find a doctor, her oncologist, who told her that her fat was a good thing & that she had almost certainly lived at least 5 years longer because she was fat than she would have had she been thin.

  9. I love what patsy said! “but we should not have to be (healthy and fit) in order to deserve to have full ownership of our lives & bodies” YES. And I love how the curse used against fat people is “but you’re going to die!!!” like thin people aren’t? so yeah, great options on how to navigate those kinds of conversations 🙂

  10. I think an important thing here is to have conversations about the definition of health. When people say that weight is ok as long as someone is healthy, they probably just mean eats “healthy” food (whatever the hell that is) and exercises. And then ignores all other aspects of health. It would be good if we can get people thinking about what health actually means and broaden their understanding and acceptance. We have a habit of oversimplifying complex concepts.

  11. Thank you for posting about this. I am losing mobility due to arthritis and hip dysplasia (congenital), and worry that when I need a hip replacement, I won’t be able to find a doctor willing to do that surgery on a fat person. My friends and family have not shamed me about my weight, but doctors have told me to lose weight. I fight insidious thoughts that if I had not gotten this fat, I would be able to walk longer, faster, further, and without a crutch. In my fat-shamed mind, being fat and having a disabilty looks like I just got too fat to walk. It’s true that I avoid walking– it hurts. I’ve never liked exercise, having associated it with pain and embarassment.

    Recently, however, I started taking a swimming class at a local pool. It’s hard, both because I’ve forgotten what I learned in swimming classes thirty years ago, and because my hip won’t allow me to kick strongly. Also, the class is in Korean (I teach English here in Korea). Coming to the pool is not only an opportunity to exercise but also practice in body acceptance. At the pool, I have to undress in a locker room and shower with other people. (I’d never before gotten naked in front of strangers.) Now I do it with far less embarrassment, even though I’m the only foreigner in the room and twice the size of the average Korean. (This blog and Marilyn Wann’s I Stand campaign helped me get the nerve to undress at the pool.)

    I hope that swimming will strengthen my leg muscles, upper body, heart and lungs. I hope it will keep me mobile enough to work.

    I hope that my employers continue to see my teaching skills as more important than the way I move. At the contract renewal interview, they asked about my health and I made a point of mentioning both the arthrtis– since they could see the stick– and the fact that I’ve taken no sick days in three years. There’s a lot of size prejudice here, even more than in the U.S., and I think I’m the only foreign teacher in my city with a visible disabilty. I hope that I can show students– and administrators– that people with different kinds of bodies can teach.

  12. I am immediately reminded of expecting parents who say “we don’t care what it is, as long as it is healthy”. Which never struck me as an incredibly ableist comment until my own daughter was stillborn and I loved her just as much as (though differently than) if she had been alive. Now when I hear that phrase I think “really? if your child is healthy you will care about it more than if it is sick?”

    I think that part of the societal policing of people’s health comes from devaluing people with disabilities, that you are somehow worth less if you’re not abled or at least capable of “overcoming” your disability for the convenience of others. It’s nice to be healthy but I don’t kid myself that much of it is just luck.

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