Does the body positive movement normalize obesity?


Fact Box

  • Verywell Mind defines body positivity as “the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size, and appearance.” 
  • A 2015 Meta-Analytic Review defined negative body image as often being characterized “by a dissatisfaction with appearance and engaging in behaviours such as frequent self-weighing or mirror checking, or avoidance of public situations.” Around 40% of men and 60% of women dislike their bodies.
  • A 2021 YouGov poll reports how 51% (nearly half) of surveyed Americans (60% of women and 42% of men) say they “feel pressured to have a certain body type,” and 62% of those who have ever been in a relationship reported they worried about how their partner viewed their body. 76% say the media “promotes an unattainable body image for women.”
  • The CDC reported that between 2017-2018, “obesity prevalence” was at 42.4% among US adults.

Sheryll (Yes)

The body positivity movement has its roots in advocating that everyone love themselves regardless of their weight. However, this self-love message has become tarnished over the years, evolving into a worldview that glorifies obesity. 

The community now seems only to promote positivity for overweight individuals and does not grant that same luxury to those who are underweight or physically fit. The movement is also known to direct hate towards anyone attempting to lose weight. Singer-songwriter Adele, who was once famous for embracing her plus-sized image, had recently fallen victim to this when fans ridiculed her after revealing her weight loss. 

Those who are body-positive also appear to believe being overweight is somehow healthier than maintaining a normal weight. The movement claims that 'weight loss for health is wholly unnecessary' and that 'weight-loss culture does not respect the broad diversity of body weights.' And while everyone should be encouraged to practice self-love, it must be acknowledged how this type of love gets in the way of physical health. Being told to love your body no matter what may lead to many individuals becoming less likely to break unhealthy habits that may contribute to obesity. And those who consider themselves to be body-positive may feel there is no real need for them to improve their health. 

Ultimately, people of all shapes and sizes should be allowed to feel good about themselves. But the body positivity movement's current trend of normalizing plus-size bodies seems to be leaving obese individuals in denial of their own health. 

Megan (No)

The body-positive movement doesn't normalize obesity. It endorses health, a mission that would be enhanced by greater fat acceptance.

Body positivity evolved as a platform of inclusivity as activists seek to deconstruct and challenge beauty standards that are problematically narrow and unattainable for most people to achieve. The movement's work has affected mainstream media in ways that benefit its audience and social media consumers, leading to more variety in models, less airbrushing, and greater care regarding language promoting mentally or physically unhealthy behavior.

The movement encourages self-acceptance regardless of appearance and across the changes anybody experiences throughout a lifetime. It seeks to replace shame with self-care, which includes healthy food and an active lifestyle. No one is trying to substitute one fetish for another, promoting fat over thin bodies, and no evidence ties the movement to an increase in obesity numbers. In the words of Alexis Conason, 'The idea that showing images of unapologetic fat women is somehow going to create an epidemic of fatness is…almost as absurd as the idea that teaching fat people to hate themselves will make them thin.'

But as body positivity has itself gone mainstream, it's lost its radical roots. It has narrowed, focusing on weight to the exclusion of everything else, and so have its icons, becoming thinner versions of fat. Fat people still suffer from a pervasive stigma that harms them in body and mind and actually leads to more weight gain. They even receive an inferior standard of healthcare. So, no. The body-positive movement doesn't normalize obese bodies. But it should—along with other marginalized forms.

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