Thoughts on the Body Positivity Movement

For a while now I’ve seen articles and interviews surfacing discussing issues of weight and health, but not like they used to.  Back when the world made some level of sense people would talk about health and fitness in terms of a healthy diet, exercise, prayer or meditation, quitting smoking, healthy alcohol consumption and the like; but today articles are popping up online and on magazine racks that are focused on a new idea of what makes someone healthy: being fat.

This Is Nothing New

While the body positivity movement has just started getting mainstream attention, the ideas have been around for a while now.  I knew guys and girls in high school and in college who like me were obese or morbidly obese who embraced it.  Back then it was called fat pride, but it was a fringe idea.  One of my best friends in high school was a fat pride guy.  I was about 100 pounds overweight at the time, and he was about 70 pounds heavier than I was.  He acted like there was nothing wrong with his weight, and even acted superior to the skinny kids in the school.  I always assumed it was a coping mechanism to deal with the mocking and ridiculing from our classmates, but maybe it was something I just didn’t understand. 

The Weight of Reality

Now as I’ve discussed in my post How I Lost 100 Pounds last fall, I hit my heaviest at the end of 2020 and weighed in at nearly 350 pounds.  Through an organized diet plan I was able to lose 100 pounds in about 5 months and I felt great.  Now for full transparency, since ending the diet back in September, I have struggled to keep it off.  I’ve gained about 30 pounds and have fluctuated about 5 pounds here and there so overall it’s still been a net positive on that front, but it is frustrating to feel like 30 pounds of hard work are down the drain because I still struggle with self control sometimes.  I bring this up because I feel like it’s important to acknowledge my own struggles and failures despite my past successes with my weight while discussing this new social trend.  I’ve stayed pretty quiet overall as I’ve seen and heard more and more outlets pushing and giving a voice to body positivity activists, but now that it’s becoming widespread enough for fitness outlets to start picking it up I think it’s important to give my take on it.

People gain weight for different reasons, and our bodies all deal with it in their own ways but whether we gain on purpose or not there is no realistic way to see obesity as healthy.  We’ve known for decades now that too much fat in our bodies leads to a bunch of health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and chronic back/joint pain.  It can lead to sleep issues which itself adds to other health problems, and of course we can’t forget all of the covid-related health problems that come with obesity that have been talked about so much over the last two years, so why are so many of our institutions pushing for the mainstreaming of fat pride, or body positivity?

Meaningless Corporate Marketing

There is something to be said about the idea of subversion within the body positivity movement, but I think the big reason we’re seeing so many companies and organizations joining the bandwagon lately is simply, money.  It’s the same reason companies black out their logos in February or make them rainbows in July.  They see a value in marketing to those communities during those months with a proverbial sign that reads, “See?  We’re doing what people like you think we should do!  Pretty please, buy our stuff!” – and the body positivity movement is no different.  I, and many people I’ve spoken to about all of this agree, these companies don’t actually care about you or your cause; they want you to spend your money with them.

Is it a Bad Thing?

I suppose when we boil it down, the real question to consider when thinking of the body positivity movement is this: Is it a good thing, or a bad thing?  Well, I suppose that depends on who you are, but for me I think it’s pretty clear that it’s a net negative.

As a guy who has struggled with weight and obesity for decades, I can understand the push back on cultural and societal norms of what is considered beautiful.  Different strokes for different folks, and all.  For me, I tend to hold a pretty traditional/classical view on such things, but I know not everyone does.  That doesn’t mean that we should advocate for people to live a medically unhealthy life – and no matter how much we pretend it’s healthy, it won’t change their medical outlook.

Now this doesn’t mean that these people should hate their bodies or that they deserve to be mocked or ridiculed for their appearance.  I was picked on non-stop because of my weight through all of my school-age years until I got to college when people were nicer and I started getting healthier for the first time.  It was really hard, and it led to a lot of sorrow and thoughts of self-harm in my younger years, but this also doesn’t mean that we should join in with the lies of the body positive activists.  Being fat is not good.  You shouldn’t want to be fat, but if you do, that’s on you.  Don’t expect the world to change for you.  This is something I’ve felt strongly about for a long time, and it’s what compels me to work at getting my weight and my habits under control.  

The World Isn’t Built for Everyone

In addition to being overweight I’m tall with big feet, and I’m left handed.  Needless to say, there’s usually a struggle finding something that fits right, or to have enough space to walk through (especially in old buildings with low hanging lights and sub-standard height doorways), or to work properly in my left hand (looking at you scissors…).

Being overweight and tall, it’s difficult to find clothes that fit right.  The expectation from designers, it would seem, is that if you have a wide waist, then you are tall, and if you’re tall, you must be super skinny.  This, of course, means your best bet is the Big and Tall stores, but those really limit your options as far as styles.  Shoes have always been a struggle, though these days the Internet has made ordering them much easier; but for years the only hope was that I’d find a pair of size 15 New Balance sneakers on the top shelf or in the back if I wanted to get a pair that day.  Otherwise, it was going to be a 2 – 3 week wait for shipping.  And there have been several times where I’ve found it to just be easier to learn to play an instrument or a game/sport right handed rather than try to work around their design oversights and play them left handed. 

With each of those examples, I’ve experienced the frustration of living in a world that wasn’t designed for me.  I’ve had to squeeze into airline seats and get off of roller coasters that just weren’t designed for people like me, but through it all, I understood that my weight was one thing that I could do something about.  I can’t change my height, or my shoe size, or my favored hand, but I can control my weight to make living in a world designed for normal sized people a little bit easier.  

Just Be Kind and Helpful

In closing, I suppose I should mention that I get why the body positivity movement appears to be kind and helpful.  Most people (I would like to believe) don’t want to make others feel bad about themselves.  I think a lot of people also want to try and make our world more accessible to people who aren’t like the vast majority of the population.  It’s the reason we have wheelchair ramps, sign interpreters, and closed captioning.  This is good, and I think it’s important.  For example, at my workplace we are a public attraction and in the summer we get a ton of families who come to enjoy their day.  For most of them, it’s a non-issue, but for some it’s difficult for them to get into certain doors because they’re too heavy to be able to open enough for a wheelchair to get through and so we’ve discussed installing handicap pressure plates to help.  We’ve also started distributing special maps with quiet and loud areas designated for families with children who struggle with sensory issues.

In the same way, I think it’s important to approach obesity – especially childhood obesity – with a spirit of kindness and helpfulness.  People who are already overweight don’t need to be mocked or told they’re fat, odds are they already know it; but it may be helpful to encourage them to do better.  See, for me, I like food… like, a whole lot.  I know I need to eat healthier, but if I had to choose between a kale salad and a bowl of chips and salsa, I’m usually going to reach for the chips and salsa.  I know I need to exercise more on workdays, but I can do most of my job remotely so I don’t need to get up and walk to the building on the other side of the property.  Things that help me are a gentle reminder from people who care about me that I’m not being careful enough with my diet, or when my wife just makes something healthy for dinner, or when my friend at work comes by and asks me to go for a walk with him while we catch up.  All of that is beneficial, but ultimately it’s my responsibility. I need to make these choices for myself, but others can – and are – helping. 

In this post, I’m not talking about fat pride activists.  I’ve met enough of them to know that most of them have made up their mind.  They probably won’t change their minds any time soon, but for the rest of us out there, we should all be kind and helpful, while not creating a culture that normalizes serious health conditions as a good thing.

I hope this all comes across as loving and helpful, as that is how it’s intended.  I just cannot, in good conscious, not say something and in my silence affirm this dangerous new trend that is taking hold in the West.

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