The “Healthiest Possible Body” Myth

Bad DoctorOne of the ways that those who wish to promote fatphobia argue against Size Acceptance is to say that it doesn’t “promote health”, suggesting the only way Size Acceptance could be legitimate is if it was shown to “promote health”.  This is very messed up in many ways.

I’m thinking about this today because I was quoted (along with the always fabulous Jeanette DePatie in a piece on Healthline called “Does the Body Positive Movement Promote Health” I think that parts of the piece are very good, and the writer was a joy to work with.  I was, however, disturbed by the section in which Leslie Heinberg, Ph.D, a woman who makes her living promoting the (highly profitable) mutilation of fat people through surgery, said the following:

Part of loving yourself is taking the best care of your body. That should be part of that same goal, versus ‘I love myself just the way I am.’

Body acceptance is really about accepting the body you likely have but still striving to have the healthiest body you could potentially have.

No, body acceptance is really not about that.  And someone who makes her living promoting dangerous weight loss methods doesn’t have any business defining “body acceptance” for anyone but herself. First of all, even if I believed that what she said was true, I do not believe that the types of organ amputation that she promotes and profits from come anywhere close to the “best care” I could take of myself.  But it’s more than that.

A massive multi-billion dollar industry depends on us believing this crap – first that as fat people we aren’t allowed to like ourselves until we are thin, or unless we are constantly “striving” to have our “healthiest body,” making that our top priority, and second, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, that their bullshit weight loss products and surgeries are actually a good way to do that. So I understand why Leslie is so keen to repeat this message, but it’s still firmly rooted in fatphobia and is totally bullshit.

Nobody is obligated to “strive for their healthiest body.” In fact, in our culture we often celebrate those who don’t:

People paint everything from their faces to their homes in celebration of their favorite professional football players – who very often suffer grave injuries and health problems during and after their careers.

We cheer for rock stars and celebrities with their incredibly demanding schedules that lead them to end up in hospitals suffering from exhaustion.

We cheer for daredevils who jump motorcycles over school buses, or jump out of helicopters to ski dangerous slopes, or participate in the X games, or are cast members of Jackass.

People are allowed to do all of these things, but none of them promote the healthiest body they could potentially have.

Nobody is obligated to (and I’d venture to say that very few people of any size actually do) prioritize “striving to have the healthiest body you could potentially have.”  What an incredible mindfuck the concept of “healthiest body you could potentially have” is.

First of all, “healthiest” is pretty difficult to define. Second, this kind of striving would lead to some serious stressing pretty quickly – I only have 8 hours until I have to get ready for work – should I follow the recommendation to get 8 hours of sleep, or short the sleep and follow the recommendation to do 30 minutes of activity a day? Various people say that raw foods vegan, paleo, low carb, high carb, low fat and high fat diets are the healthiest – how am I going to choose?  Does this mean that I can never have another piece of birthday cake?  If I’m really hungry and the only food available doesn’t fit my idea of “healthiest possible food” should I deprive my body of food or eat something that I consider sub-optimal? What is the exact precise amount of water to drink for optimal health?

Someone who is a PhD and still says something this ridiculous should probably not be in the field of health at all. I’m left to wonder if she didn’t even consider these complexities because she is deluded into believing that “healthiest potential body” simply means “thinnest potential body.”

Not to mention our tendency as a society to participate in the oppressive behavior of suggesting that health should serve as a barometer of worthiness, further acting as if “promoting health” and “promoting weight loss” are the same thing and that health is entirely within our control.

It’s time to be honest  – if we really wanted to “promote health” (and not just sell weight loss) we would be talking about things like ending oppression – racism, classism, ableism homophobia, transphobia, sizeism and healthism among others have seriously detrimental effects of health at every level.

We would be discussing how to make sure that everyone has access to excellent healthcare that they can actually afford (instead of suggesting that some people deserve good healthcare and some don’t), make sure that people earn enough money to afford the food they want to eat, get enough sleep, and build the strong social and community bonds that are so important to good health and well being.  We would be crystal clear that health is about mental and physical health and that bullying and stigmatizing people is unacceptable.  We would be making sure that people have access to safe (physically and psychologically safe) movement options that they enjoy (if every person doesn’t have the ability to show up at the gym in workout gear, or the pool in a swimsuit, and know that they won’t be harassed, then we aren’t doing enough.)

We would realize that public health isn’t about making fat people’s health the public’s business, but about giving people of all sizes access, options, and good unbiased information and then recognizing and respecting that people get to choose their own priorities and path when it comes to their own bodies, even if those choices are different than the choices that we would make.

So let’s break it down:

You have every right (but no obligation) to love your body as it is right this minute.

You have every right to make decisions about your priorities, including what health means to you, how highly you want to prioritize it, and what path you want to choose to get there.  Realize that your choices may be limited by outside forces including lack of accessibility, oppression etc. and that those things are not your fault even if they become your problem.

You have a right to make choices for your body – you can choose to practice Health at Every Size, you can choose to practice intuitive eating (and yes, you can choose to try to manipulate your body size,)  you can choose not to follow or align yourself with any particular health philosophy.

Let me just say this one more time:  You do not have to let Leslie or any other weight loss peddler define Body Acceptance for you – you have every right to love your body as it is right this minute, period.


This year we have a kick ass line up of speakers. This is a virtual conference so you can listen by phone or computer wherever you are, and you’ll receive recordings and transcripts of each talk so that you can listen/read on your own schedule. The Conference will be held September 23-25, 2016

Click Here to Register!

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.


15 thoughts on “The “Healthiest Possible Body” Myth

  1. Don’t these people get it? Body Acceptance IS promoting health: MENTAL HEALTH.

    Apparently, they think mental health is worthless, despite the myriad ways in which mental health directly affects the physical health. The physical stress and psychosomatic disorders associated with mental health problems are quite serious, and can be deadly (suicide, anyone?).

    But who cares about any of THAT? We want you to have the healthiest POTENTIAL body… Potential? What the heck? So, even thin and healthy people still aren’t allowed to be happy with the body they have right now, because they still have the POTENTIAL to improve?

    This is just so messed up.

    Ragen, your essay should be required reading for everyone in the medical field, even if they’re just phlebotomists. Because people in the medical field talk, and patients listen, and these fools need to stop saying all this hurtful malarky.

    1. Apparently, they think mental health is worthless…

      Well, some of them put a lot of worth in mental health. Poor mental health, that is, since people who are happy and satisfied with themselves and their lives are less likely to buy things they don’t need. 😦

  2. Ragen, thank you for this. Leslie and I have debated several times at the Academy for Eating Disorders conferences and on its listserv and she indeed has said that body acceptance is good if you are fighting an eating disorder but not if you are a higher-weight person because that would keep you from trying to lose weight. And in one plenary this was after a whole slide set where half of her slides showed the futility of maintaining weight loss. Plus apparently there is no intersection of higher weight people and people with restricting eating disorders(?) Hard to make sense.

    Someone else in that organization once told me he used to think I was nuts but he has come around to a size-accepting way of thinking and when I asked him, “what kept you from it before?” he said, “I am a sheep. I tend to just go with the dominant thought.” I don’t think that is completely true because after all he did think critically about this eventually but someday I think it would be cool to understand what combination of factors – especially making your living outside the dominant weight paradigm – allows people to get unstuck.

    1. Apparently, she doesn’t believe it’s a restricting eating disorder if you’re fat. Then, it’s just a diet, a positive change, a striving to reach your healthiest possible body, regardless of the damage it does to that healthiest possible body along the way.

      See, it’s OK to starve your body of vital nutrients, as long as you’re fat. Once you reach an acceptable weight, THEN the starvation becomes a problem, and your body actually starts NEEDING those nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, that everyone knows fat bodies just don’t need. And that’s why body acceptance is only necessary for thin people, because they need to accept that they shouldn’t starve themselves of vital nutrients.

      The cognitive dissonance is strong with this one.

      1. [sarcasm]Well, obviously fat people (defined, of course, by my own personal standards of what I think people should look like and judged accordingly) don’t need the nutrients because their bodies can and will just consume their fat without any negative mental or physical side effects! I mean, that’s how the science of the body works, amirite?[/sarcasm]

  3. Reblogged this on Adventures of a Part Time Wheeler and commented:
    I’d like to add that a lot of these conversations about having the “healthiest bodies possible” completely erase people that are disabled or have chronic illnesses (which adds more layers to the classism inherent in these ideas…if I didn’t have to work & could actually devote the amount of time that I’m medically supposed to devote to the care of my various impairments, I would definitely be healthier!)

    1. They sure do! The whole, “It’s OK to accept your body, as it is, as long as it’s healthy,” means that anyone who has any illness, whatsoever, must suddenly give up body acceptance.

      There are so many health issues that so many people deal with, that all this focus on the morality of being healthy just makes me SICK! And I mean that both ways.

  4. Every year we have to do the detestable health survey in order to get money off our benefits. For years, my health “score” was in the 90’s, until they added BMI in 2012. Then, my score plummeted to the 70’s. In 2013, I was diagnosed with cancer. Yes, they did ask about that on the survey. My score didn’t change. So, if they truly were attempting to determine how “healthy” I am, then why didn’t a cancer diagnosis change that? In reality, they’re trying to browbeat people into weight loss, smoking cessation, and blood sugar and cholesterol dietary changes. This year they’ve added a waist measurement. It’s total BS.

    1. It’s the belief that you can control your body weight/BMI. You can’t really blame people for getting cancer, unless they are smokers, and there is probably already a punishment for smokers.

      I’m sorry your workplace benefits does that. It sucks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.