One 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.
REGISTRATION IS OPEN FOR THE FAT ACTIVISM CONFERENCE!
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
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!
I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com