Everywhere you look, there’s an advertisement to help you lose weight — especially this time of year! Celebrities talk about fasting for days before an awards show and commenting on how “AMAZING their body looks after losing all of that baby weight!!”. As if that is the most important thing in the world. Why is everyone so afraid of fat? We are conditioned to believe that the thinner we are, the happier, the more successful, the richer, and the more popular we will be. We will have it all. But what about already having “it all” — no matter how we look? This perspective is revolutionary in mainstream Westernized culture, and quite controversial at times, pushing against such rigidity about what we “should” look like and “should” do. Tell me this: does thinness REALLY cause happiness?
I was curious about this question so I asked a few of my acquaintances who are affected by this social pressure. After thinking for a moment, my subject said: “well, yes, it will make me happier because it will give me more self-confidence.” I asked another colleague the same question and she said: “no, thinness will not make me happier because my body is balanced at its natural set point; no matter how much I could starve myself or workout, my body will always look this way. If I decided that I needed to be thin to be happy, and my body was not where I wanted it to be, I would be choosing to make myself miserable.” In both of these perspectives, I gleamed a similar theme: confidence in our selves could influence happiness. Many of us look for happiness by changing the way we look, feeling as if that is something we can control. And we can, to a certain degree. But if we are choosing to control how we look and doing so in a way that is not focusing on health and wellness of our bodies as well as our minds, this can lead down a dangerous path to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
I am a huge fan of the philosophy of the Health at Every Size organization (HAES), whose mission “is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:
- Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
- Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
- Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.”
Already over 3600 people have signed the HAES pledge to honor and respect their bodies. Imagine what our world could be like if we chose to love and accept our bodies instead of abuse and control them?
We cannot talk about the fat stigma in the US without discussing the growing problem of obesity in our country. Statistics show that nearly one third of adults in the US (33.8%) are obese. The same HAES principles can be applied to those who are obese as can be applied to any other person: if we choose health and wellness, meaning giving our bodies nutritious and delicious foods and eating in a manner that is mindful and pleasurable, exercising so that our muscles can be strong and active, and finding joy in the beauty of our bodies, then we might have healthier connections to our bodies. What about embracing terms like health and wellness instead of fat or skinny?
A post from the “Dances with Fat” blog written in response to Paula Deen’s recent admission that she has type two Diabetes and those who are criticizing her states:
“Public health does not mean public thinness. It also doesn’t mean being a judgmental busybody who shames or stigmatizes people who don’t look or act like you think they should. Being for public health means that you are for people having access to the foods that they choose to eat, safe movement options that they enjoy, and affordable evidence-based medical care.”
There is a movement that has formed to push against the our society’s fear of fat. We each have our own experiences and opinions about this topic, as it is very close to our hearts and our daily lives. I invite you to leave a comment, raise your voice, as we need more dialogue to shut out the noise of unhealthy eating and mindsets about food!