We Don’t Have To Earn Body Love

love-your-bodyI recently blogged about a truly ridiculous article that was yet another remix of the mistaken belief that fat people have some obligation to be “healthy” by whatever definition.  I received the following comment:

You have said that people don’t take care of things they hate, so if someone doesn’t “take care of” their body in the sense of regular exercise, and eating the “right” foods, can they still love their body, logically-speaking?

I’m a wee bit confused.

Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you

This is a good question and, I think, a really important one.

To start, I do often say that people don’t take care of things that they hate, and that includes their bodies. But when I say that I’m talking about people and organizations that create negative messages about fat bodies.  Most often I’m talking about the obligation that public health has to, at the very least, not harm the people they are supposed to help – which includes not putting them in a position to see their bodies as unworthy of care.

Messages that suggest that fat bodies are somehow bad bodies, or that have a primary or even accidental effect of making fat people hate our bodies are irresponsible and the opposite of public health.  Public health should focus on creating information and access, and removing barriers to health, it should not be about making the individual’s health the public’s business.

To answer the second part of the question, each of us gets to choose what “health” means to us, each of us gets to choose how highly we prioritize health, and each of us gets to choose the path we want to get there.  It’s important to note that for many people these choices are limited due to any number of factors including illness, disability, socioeconomic status, accessibility (maybe someone feels that pilates or massage would be great for their health but they can’t afford it,) and oppression (for example, when it comes to my health I would choose to live in a world where my body isn’t constantly stigmatized including by doctors, but that’s not the current situation) to name a few.

By the same token, people get to choose what “taking care of their bodies” means to them, and how/if they want to do it. There are tons of ways that we can take care of our bodies, none of them is an obligation, and nobody will ever do every one of them. And there again those choices can be limited by circumstances outside of our control, and don’t have to have anything to do with loving our bodies.

Of course nobody is obligated to love their body, and loving your body in this culture isn’t easy even if you want to, but the idea that we have to somehow earn the right to love our bodies by meeting someone (or anyone’s) criteria for “taking care of them” is bullshit that, as usual, ends up hurting people who are already dealing with marginalization (and even more for those with multiple marginalized identities) disproportionately.

Public health has an obligation to the individual, individuals do not have an obligation to public health, or to anybody else when it comes to how we feel about our bodies, or what we do with or to them.

In this world where waking up and not hating ourselves in an act of revolution, we have every right to love our bodies without justification, without “logic,” and without limits.

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13 thoughts on “We Don’t Have To Earn Body Love

  1. Your commenter is experiencing a classic logical fallacy. One thing leading to another (or not) is not necessarily the same as another leading to the one thing. “People don’t take care of things they hate” is not the same as “People hate the things they don’t take care of.” Just as “People eat ice cream in the summer” is not the same as “Summer is when people eat ice cream.” People can both love and feel neutral toward things they don’t take care of, just the same as ice cream can be eaten in the Winter. Yeah, I suppose it’s technically possible, though far less common for people to take care of something they hate or to eat ice cream in the dead of winter. It’s also very possible that people don’t eat ice cream at all. But then getting to that level of technicality misses the point, doesn’t it?

    1. Good ol’ post hoc ergo propter hoc! Actually, fatphobia the whole relies on a giant post hoc fallacy: “I met a fat person who engages in behavior I consider immoral; therefore, behavior I consider immoral must make people fat.” Throw in the fallacy of unwarranted extrapolation (“I met a fat person who engages in behavior I consider immoral; therefore, all fat people engage in behavior I consider immoral”) and the just world fallacy (“Fat people are treated so terribly, the benevolent cosmos would not allow people to be fat if they weren’t engaging in immoral behavior that merited terrible treatment”), and it becomes one big fallacious gestalt with hellfire belching from its skeletal eye sockets.

  2. Somehow, as with so many health-“concerns”, this only applies to fat-stereotyped behaviors. Is someone who goes skiing not loving their body, because they’re engaging in something fairly likely to result in serious injury?

    Maybe I want to enjoy my body’s ability to appreciate delicious cake. Maybe I want to take care of my brain, which is part of my body, by not stressing out about sticking to some “ideal” diet and exercise plan.

    There’s this expectation that loving your body means desperately working to keep it in some unattainable perfect state, rather than appreciating what it can do and using it to do whatever your goals are within your personal limitations. And this should be able to include doing things that are maybe not quite in the human-body operating specs, since hey, you only get one body and you might as well do fun stuff with it while you have it. I’m oddly reminded of people who take hand-knit things and keep them carefully locked in cedar chests so they don’t get dirty or damaged. Trust me, I will be *so happy* if your baby manages to completely destroy the blanket I made, since that means they’re actually using it.

    1. Do you know how many knitters would say, “Yay! They got good use out of it, and now it’s time to unravel it, and reclaim as much yarn as possible to make into something new to enjoy?”

      Not that we should recycle human bodies into Soylent Green, or something, but you know, maybe we should reconsider sticking them into air-tight metal boxes, so they can’t put their nutrients back into the soil.

      If the law allowed, I’d ask my family to chop up my body, and bury me in the yard. Because my body would be AWESOME fertilizer. Granted, you want to be careful about mixing meat fertilizer and food crops, because of pathogens, but for non-food plants, such as ground-cover and shade trees, or growing cotton or flax, or something like that, it would be great.

      Umm, sorry if that grosses people out, but that’s one practical way to love your body, even if you don’t “take care of it” and try to be immortal.

      Yes, I’m very weird.

      1. You’re not as weird as you think. Here’s a link that discusses a planned project for composting bodies in an urban setting:


        To get back to the topic of loving one’s body, people have so many different aspects beyond the body. I may do something that feeds my mental or spiritual sense of self that is not the most optimal thing for my body. The body does not always get first priority.

        To give one example, I have a disabling chronic illness. Sometimes I push my body beyond its limits in order to participate in social or family events. I pay for it with symptoms later on but it is worth the payback. If I always put my body first (take care of your health! avoid symptoms at all costs!) then I’d never do these things and I’d miss out on a lot.

        These issues are quite complex. I don’t understand why people want to make things so overly simplistic and “one size fits all.” – pun intended 🙂

    2. You are awesome, this is a wonderful explanation. I also want to enjoy my Body’s ability to eat delicious food. I’m a really picky eater, and I always tell my husband (or my mom or whoever happens to have to hear me ordering food prepared a very specific way) if I’m going to eat something, it’s going to taste very good, especially if it’s not particularly healthy food. If I’m order a chicken sandwich from McDonalds, you can bet that I will be requesting it cooked fresh, on a sesame seed bun (do they still have those?), and with only mayonnaise. Because what is the point of eating something that I don’t qualify as healthy food if I’m not going to thoroughly enjoy it because I don’t like the fancy buns, or because it has been sitting under the heat lamps for 20 minutes and dried out? Or because some doofus put lettuce on it (blech).
      It’s not like God is going to decide, when our time is up, that since person A exercised every day for 3 hours and never ate mayo or french fries, and Person B enjoyed their life, loved their body, ate scrumptious food but didn’t exercise as often as Person A, Person A gets to live forever (while eating salad – who wants that?) and Person B has to die.

  3. Loving yourself also isn’t a binary thing. It’s not “If Love = Y, Then Exercise + Veggies = Thin”.

    Self-love is a process. And it’s one that takes constant work.

    Sometimes, I love myself in the abstract, but my gender gremlins are giving me such serious body-issues wobbles that I can’t even stand to *think* about my physical appearance, let alone watch myself in a mirror to see if I’m hitting a yoga pose right.

    Sometimes, I am filled with doubt about my self-love because of something thoughtless someone said, and will spend a week not eating any actual proper meals while hoarding and secretly eating snack food in private because the only time I don’t feel nauseous at the sight of food is when I don’t have any people around to trigger feelings of being watched and judged.

    Sometimes, I am full of love for my body and want to do all kinds of fun exercise, but am simultaneously full of flu virus and find myself running completely out of energy the moment I *attempt* to do one of the fun activities that normally get my heart pumping happily.

    Sometimes I feel utterly lacking in love for myself. But find a way to do the exercise I enjoy anyway, because doing said exercise often helps to reset my brain and bring up those buried feelings of self-love.

    Sometimes self-love means bundling myself in a thick blanket, drinking a herbal tea, nibbling on a biscuit and taking a nap. Because my mental and emotional self is as worthy of love and kindness as my physical self.

  4. We are all humans, which means we are forgetful, lazy, distracted, buy etc.

    I love my cats, but honestly would forget to feed them sometimes if they didn’t yell at me.

    I enjoy having my body, but I am also lazy, so I don’t exercise, even though I know it has good effects for me.

    I’m also busy and tend not to get enough sleep, which affects my ability to exercise.

    Loving something (or someone) does not mean you will behave perfectly towards that loved entity. It just means you will do what you can when you can and how you can.

  5. My first thought when reading that question was adoption.

    A woman may very much love the baby to whom she gives birth, but for any number of reasons, be completely unable to take proper care of that child, so she may decide that the loving thing to do, in that case, is to give it to someone who CAN take care of that child. Still, there are those who are unable to care for the child, but also can’t bring themselves to give up the child, and prefer to struggle and claw their way through life with the baby, even if that means the baby will suffer, too, because at least they’ll be suffering TOGETHER, because they love that child too much to be parted.

    So, yeah, you won’t take care of something, or someone, you hate, but that doesn’t necessarily follow that you WILL take care of something, or someone, you love.

    (Well, I suppose there are a few examples of care-givers, taking care of someone they really hate, but they usually have an ulterior motive, like hoping for a big inheritance, or something like that. Once the ulterior motive is achieved, the level of care generally goes downhill, fast.)

  6. “You have said that people don’t take care of things they hate, so if someone doesn’t “take care of” their body in the sense of regular exercise, and eating the “right” foods, can they still love their body, logically-speaking?

    I’m a wee bit confused.”

    Is the commenter assuming that someone who takes care of herself (eats the right foods, exercises) would naturally lose weight? That taking care of oneself would be evident by their having a thinner body? Because, if so, there’s no scientific research that supports the idea that people lose weight when they eat healthier foods and exercise. They do get healthier as a result of these behaviors, but weight loss doesn’t necessarily occur.

    1. They do get healthier* as a result of these behaviors, but weight loss doesn’t necessarily occur.

      *Not all of the time, but much of the time

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