Ask Bodyposipanda: How Do I Respond To People Who Tell Me Body Positivity Is Promoting Obesity?
I am totally in love with body positivity, the problem is that every time I try to talk about it in real life, the people around me always say the same thing: why are you promoting obesity? And even though I know the idea of promoting obesity is ridiculous, I don't have the right words to shut them down with. How do you answer that question?
Ahhhh promoting obesity, my favourite thing. This is without a doubt the number one argument that's levelled against body positivity: that we're encouraging unhealthy lifestyles, promoting obesity, and essentially making the whole world fat. It's the go-to criticism that we hear over and over again, and 99% of the time it comes from people who know nothing about body positivity as a movement, they just know there must be something wrong with people being fat and happy.
There are so many things wrong with the idea that body positivity is promoting obesity, so let's break it down.
'Promoting' obesity implies that the aim of body positivity is to actively encourage everyone in the world to get fatter. Not happy with your body? Gain weight! Still feeling like you're not confident enough to wear a bikini? Time to pack on the pounds gurrrrl! Sick of being treated unfairly for how you look? Double your size and make them EAT IT! Uhmmm, okay then.
The thing is, that's not a message I've ever heard in all my time in this community. In fact I've never seen a single body type being 'promoted' as the only way to be happy, confident or good enough. What I have seen every day for the last four years are countless messages saying that however your body looks, you are good enough. You are worthy of respect. You are allowed to exist peacefully in that body. You don't have to spend your life forcing yourself into a different shape before you're worthy, you're already worth the world. That's it. Did you catch anything in there about needing to be fatter first? Me neither.
The real crux of the promoting obesity argument is about health (even the word 'obesity' defines fatness as a disease in and of itself, which is so harmful and inaccurate it needs a whole separate column to dismantle). It's about the culturally engrained assumption that fat equals unhealthy, therefore fat people shouldn't be allowed to be happy. There is so much wrong with that assumption, from the fact that you truly cannot tell a person's health from a picture of them on the internet, to the idea that shame and ridicule have a positive effect on someone's health – spoiler alert, they don't.
Even if you could tell someone's entire medical history from looking at them, how does dehumanising, humiliating and alienating them (which is exactly what all the 'obesity' rhetoric does to fat people), improve their health? How does teaching someone that they're worthless encourage them to better care for themselves? And if you care so damn much about fat people's health, why would you actively harm their mental health by harassing and attacking them? Oh yeah, because you don't care. You just don't like seeing fat bodies and faux health concern is a convenient and socially accepted guise for your prejudice. Cool story bro.
Unhealthy people are still worthy of respect. Yep, including unhealthy fat people. Health isn't an indicator of a person's human value any more than appearance is. And reserving respect and basic dignity for only healthy people is ableist and exclusionary. So if someone wants to exclude people from body positivity based on how healthy they are, they're the ones who need to gtfo.
Fat people are allowed to simply exist in their bodies without promoting anything. The idea that someone with a fat body wearing a cute outfit, going to the pool, or just living their damn life means that they're promoting fatness is absurd. Is a picture of a thin person with blond hair 'promoting blondness'? Is a picture of a thin person with a glass of wine in their hand 'promoting binge drinking'? Is a picture of a thin person sat on the sofa 'promoting laziness'? Because if you really believe that pictures of fat people doing literally anything are 'promoting obesity', then you better also be leaving comments under pictures of thin people doing anything questionable or unhealthy in any way, because they need to know what they're promoting too!
We currently do live in a society that promotes a certain body type as the key to beauty, happiness, respect and self love. But it sure as hell isn't fatness.
Maybe you could rightly make accusations of promoting obesity if there was a multi-billion dollar worldwide weight gain industry, selling pills, potions, teas, gadgets, diet plans and procedures promising instant fatness as the key to a happy life. Or if all media images of the ideal body were suddenly supersized, and there was never any representation of bodies below a size 20. Or if thinness was suddenly demonised everywhere and rampant thinphobia meant that thin people were denied competent healthcare, career opportunities, access to public spaces, and basic human respect.
Quite a picture isn't it? That's the exact reverse of our current culture, where thinness is promoted - yes, literally sold to us – at every turn by the diet industry as the only way to be worth something in this life. And it's going to take a whole lot more than a handful of fat babes feeling good about themselves to change that.
Honestly, that's just the tip of the promoting obesity iceberg. But in short: the only thing that body positivity is promoting, is that people of all shapes, sizes, skin colours, ages, genders, and abilities are worthy of respect, and deserve to exist peacefully in their own bodies. And yeah, think they're smokin' hot as well (and just to clarify, that's not me promoting smoking...).
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.