The Body Positivity Movement has allowed women of a “certain size” to feel comfortable in their skin, to gain a sense of worth in a society that may have deemed them worthless in prior decades.
But what, exactly, is the Body Positivity Movement in terms of health? Has it guided us into a new direction of improved food choices, or lowered childhood obesity rates for children? Has this skilled marketing campaign (that utilizes fuller figures to sell everything from soap to lingerie) assisted us to feel better about how we look, but possibly maneuvered us away from healthy decisions?
Are we being steered in the wrong direction by thinking big is OK?
It’s sad, really, but the United States leads the developed world in matters of obesity, and we show no signs of giving up that title. If anything, obesity has gotten worse. Especially the category of “severely obese”, those with a BMI (body mass index) of 40 or greater. According to data published in JAMA, American adults just continue to pack on the pounds. New data from 20181 shows that 40% of Americans were obese in 2015 and 2016, a sharp increase from a decade earlier. Although we might be feeling better about our size, health indicators demonstrate a strong correlation between rising obesity and risks for developing heart disease, diabetes, and various types of cancers. Unfortunately, the true revelation about these facts is that we’re passing our poor eating habits and lack of exercise onto the next generation.
Our children may have shorter life expectancies than their parents, which is a horrible legacy to place on any generation.
So, I must ask. While we’ve worked on our self-esteem issues, have we gone a bit soft on obesity? Has the Body Positivity Movement drifted into dangerous territory? Many people who buy into the movement delude themselves into thinking they can be healthy at any size. Kelly DeVos was one woman who believed this to be true. She slowly realized her delusions kept her from having healthy conversations about body image with her daughter and taking care of herself as well. When she found herself fighting for her life, hospitalized after a spider bite, and flat on her back with a raging infection, her physician reminded her that a weight of 300 lbs., Type 2 diabetes, and flesh-eating Streptococcus are not indicators of a healthy lifestyle! They are indicators for immediate change.2 Kelly believed because she ate fruits and vegetables, and took the occasional Pilates class, that was enough. She realized that her life and her conversations with her daughter needed to change ASAP. Being a good Mom required more than feeling good at any size; it required health!
While Kelly was fighting her battle, her daughter had quietly been fighting another. Her daughter had started a diet soda lunch at school because she didn’t want to look like her mother. She hadn’t shared the information with her mother. She started the diet on her own; skipping lunch altogether to lose weight. Neither individual was on the right track. Neither had a clue about proper nutrition or healthy exercise.
But, is the United States alone in dealing with this problem? No, we may be leading the pack, but there are many developed countries that are closely following behind us. Unfortunately, in the developed world, virtually everyone has easy access to cheap, high-calorie fast food and ready meals, the perfect mix for obesity. Turkey, Malta, and the UK are high on charts of a world map of obesity, and in the United States, the south is a condensed area for higher obesity rates (West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana).3 With the ease of multi-media, poor food choices can be one click, or one drive-up window away, making good intentions and better menu selections for families even harder to maintain, especially those with limited time and/or funds for fresh produce.
So, have we gone soft on obesity? Obesity is a complex problem, one that is extremely difficult to overcome.
Maybe, to stop the bullying, and ease the pain of “not fitting in”, the Body Positivity Movement and similar organizations focused too much on allowing women of all sizes to feel better about themselves, when they could have also been emphasizing the importance of healthy choices and healthy decision-making to families. Their message seems to have been misconstrued that women could be healthy at any size, as Kelly thought, which is unfortunate. They can’t. Yes, we want them to feel awesome in their beautifully cleansed skin, and fabulous clothes, but we want them to live long, healthy, productive lives as well. We want them making excellent decisions for their families and for generations to follow.
Now that’s a Body Positivity Movement we can relate to!
- American Adults Just Keep Getting Fatter, Richtel, M.& Jacobs, A, March 2018, New York Times.
- The Problem with Body Positivity, DeVos, K., May 2018, The New York Times.
- Obesity in America vs Europe: 2 Maps Explain It All, Jacobs, F., March 2018, bigthink.com.