Are we normalizing obesity?
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
I love confident people. I want everyone to feel comfortable with themselves and their bodies.
I wish this world had more people who taught or spread confidence and self-worth. But, I feel we're sending mixed messages. We're spreading confidence at the expense of health. On the one hand, culture is telling us to stay healthy and remain within the healthy BMI range.
"The annual cost attributable to obesity among full-time U.S. employees is estimated at $70 billion. Obesity is associated with serious health problems including heart disease, diabetes, heart attack, prostate enlargement, reduced female fertilization rates, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and cancer. Obesity can both stress a person’s joints and degrade a person’s cartilage."
But on the other hand, I feel like we're starting to see a trend of normalizing obesity and accepting unhealthy behaviors as having no consequences. Enter model Tess Holliday. She's pretty, she's a successful model, she's a role model for confidence and body image acceptance, she's also obese. She claims you can be healthy and overweight at the same time. There comes a point when the line between teaching confidence and accepting obesity as normal or as healthy becomes muddled. Teaching someone self-confidence is a good thing. But teaching a kid it's OK to be obese without teaching them the associated health consequences is irresponsible.
"The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity." (source)
Young adults think they're 'invincible' and the consequences of their health choices are probably not realized. But as they grow older, their poor health choices will start to catch up to them. They'll be fat and live a life of sickness, disease, suffering and premature death if they're told that there are no consequences to obesity.
The culture that we live in is rife with bullying, fat shaming and judging someone's character based on their waist size. And that's not what this is about. This is about respecting others as fellow human beings, no matter what. And this is also about evidence and education. Human's weren't meant to have a BMI of 44 and a body fat percentage of over 50. That's not healthy, although it is now becoming the new 'normal'.
People who are overweight or obese are beautiful and can absolutely be viewed as role models. Role models of confidence, role models of work ethic, role models of passions for a cause; just not role models of health. In many ways, these people are right when they say "It's none of your business what I do with my body". In the case of Tess Holliday, it's great that she's seen such success with her modeling career. But, just stick to modeling. That's your business. It suddenly becomes our business when your message of "Be Big, Be Confident" is mixed with "It's Healthy, too". Not possible.
We're starting to see a trend in disallowing models to work if they are below a certain BMI threshold. Why? Because those behaviors were seen as harmful. Women strive to look like these abnormally thin models and it leads to eating disorders, or worse. And now we're starting to see infiltration at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. Now we're seeing models who are morbidly obese. Yes, our culture is getting bigger and I understand the reasons why modeling agencies and companies are moving in the direction of using more plus sized models. They want to reflect what's happening and what people are seeing in the current culture. But, these aren't health campaigns. They're campaigns and commercials and ads to sell more clothes and sell the idea that "plus sized" is the new normal.
"research also shows that "fat-shaming" or stigmatizing such bodies, fails to improve motivation to lose weight.'"
I totally agree with the quote above. What we need to do is spread information that is evidence-based. We need to encourage people who have 'tried every diet and failed', or who 'have always been the fat kid' to try changing what you eat, not how much you eat. Address the hunger with foods that provide satiation and nutrition. Try living a plant-based lifestyle and eating more of the foods that will heal and nourish your body rather than harm your body. And if you're saying "I could never do that" or "it's so boring", you've obviously never tried it. In the case of models or average people who are stigmatized based on their weight, there's more to a book than its cover. There's also more to 'getting healthier' than calorie restriction or crash diets. You have to change the composition of your food, not just eat less of everything.
Being fat doesn't make you a bad person. There should be no stigma. But sending a message that it doesn't have health consequences is irresponsible and demands constructive criticism and public discourse. Models and those normalizing obesity and 'a curvy figure' still need to call upon their moral compass and cannot let their personal desires for fame and recognition encourage the spread of harmful information.
"It suddenly becomes our business when your message of "Be Big, Be Confident" is mixed with "It's Healthy, too". Not possible."