The New Gospel of Body Positivity
Category : Weight Loss
“Body positivity” is a relatively new movement that seeks to change the paradigm surrounding body image and weight loss. Its promoters and adherents believe one’s health and overall well-being are best served by developing a sense of acceptance regarding their appearance, rather than developing an unhealthy obsession with altering it.
I know I’m treading into potentially dangerous territory by addressing this topic, so allow me to begin as amicably as possible and get all my disclaimers and caveats out of the way first.
Like any ideology, different people within the movement adhere to it to differing degrees. Some kinda sorta agree with the general sentiment, some are radical ideologues, and most people are somewhere in the middle. Almost no substantive statement about any ideology will ever apply equally to every member within it. Are we good with that? #NotAllBodyPositives
I’d also like to point out that I agree with some of the sentiments behind this movement. I agree that well-being and low body weight are not synonymous. I recognize that it is most certainly possible to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, exercise, and one’s own body in a misguided and unrealistic quest to look like Gisele or The Rock. I agree that well-being encompasses both mental and physical health. I believe that sacrificing one for the other is a losing prospect. Still good up to that point?
Where I take issue with this movement is with some of its more radical elements that, I believe, misuse the ideology and are prone to misrepresenting facts. There are some (#NotAll) people who push the notion that excessive body fat has no bearing on overall health. Furthermore, they would have you believe that attempting to reduce this excess body fat or merely mentioning that the concept of excess body fat exists are more damaging to one’s health than the excess body fat itself.
I would like to extend yet another olive branch and say that I understand where these people are coming from on an emotional level. I understand that being big in a world in which being big is not considered ideal must be a daily challenge. I understand that making meaningful lifestyle changes can be extremely difficult. I know that there are no shortage of fitness professionals who willfully misled people in order to take their money. However, manipulating facts to push an ego-serving ideology is not the way to rectify perceived societal oppression. In this case, it’s not just dishonest, it’s actually harmful to people’s health.
One misrepresented fact that I’ve stumble upon is the assertion that overweight people live just as long as everyone else, if not longer. Hearing this claim one might think that it means that body fat percentage has no correlation with longevity. Unfortunately this is not the case. The definition of “overweight” used to make this claim is based on one’s Body Mass Index. For those that don’t know, BMI is a simple calculation of one’s height versus their weight. BMI does not account for the most important factor: how much body fat one actually has. Because of this obviously flawed methodology, many athletically-built people will actually find themselves in the “overweight” category.
For reference, yours truly at 6’4’’, 245 pounds, despite having relatively low body fat, is still clocking in at a BMI of 29.8 which is practically the uppermost limit for the “overweight” category. If I were to weigh myself after a good meal I’d likely be in the “obese” category.
The only place BMI has in a discussion about health is in regards to those at either extreme ends of the scale. This is because there are not many healthy adults over or under a certain weight and this fact is demonstrated by every study on the topic. This is true even of the studies referenced by those who would slyly make the claim that those in the misleadingly-labeled “overweight” category are doing just fine. And yes, a lot of us are doing just fine.
It is this kind of misapplication of the ideology and the misuse of facts that I take issue with. I completely grant that the physical ideals pushed by the fitness and fashion industry are not easily attainable for most people. Even for those who can attain such physiques, the long-term maintenance is often more effort than many of them are willing to make. Whatsmore, attaining and maintaining a chiselled set of abs is not really a good marker of health. We are all in agreement about this.
On the one hand, I really do appreciate that some people are popularizing the idea that becoming obsessive about attaining unrealistic physical standards is not a good thing. They are 100% correct in this assertion. On the other hand, it is worth noting that just because we correctly identify that “X” is not good, doesn’t necessarily imply that the inverse of “X” is therefore automatically proven to be good.
This is what is known as a false dichotomy and is something that is the product of unnuanced and reactionary thinking.
Too much of anything is not good. I imagine that this is generally understood by most people. Too much exercise can be mentally and physically unhealthy. Too strict a diet can be fatal. That being said, recognizing that some people go so far in their pursuit of fitness that it actually detracts from their well-being is not somehow proof that never exercising or never dieting is therefore a healthier course of action.
Unfortunately some idealogues have begun to preach this mistaken notion as though it were the new gospel. Even more unfortunately, there is a growing base of people who actually believe them. Achieving mental stability through adopting delusional beliefs is a very temporary solution. The long term repercussions of such beliefs will ultimately betray their lack of usefulness.
Can we agree that we are all best served by applying moderation to all things, including moderation itself? Being too extreme in any direction is not an ideal path to walk.
Get some physical activity sometimes. Eat a bowl of ice cream sometimes. Don’t kill yourself with exercise. Don’t kill yourself with ice cream. (Granted the latter does sound like a much more delicious way to die)
I think that was pretty fair. Comment below whether you agree or disagree. All opinions are welcome