Would you rather be fat and healthy, or thin and unhealthy?
Well, which would you rather be?
If you hesitated a bit, that’s okay. We live in a society that has conditioned us to feel a certain way about fat bodies. The hostility directed toward people living in larger bodies has become so pervasive that a term was developed to describe it; weight stigma.
I am not going to demonize wanting to be thin. Like I said, society has made us believe that smaller bodies are better and that if we COULD choose**, we should definitely choose thin.
I won’t pretend that I myself haven’t fallen into this trap. Throughout my life, my body has experienced many weights. Currently, I am somewhere in the middle of where I’ve been size-wise. I guess you could say I’m at my “middle weight.”
Despite the fact that I am now thinner than I’ve been at other points in my life, I do not call this particular weight my healthy weight. Why? Because I’ve been healthy at all of my weights.
My weight has historically had little impact on my overall health. The physical plant I inhabit has always (thankfully) been in good working order. I am strong enough, flexible enough and I have enough stamina to complete the tasks my daily life requires. My body has been – and continues to be – the vessel that enables me to express love, enjoy movement and nourish myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. And guess what? These things have actually been true at every weight I’ve been.
So, if I’m healthy, why would I wish for my body to be smaller?
Life is easier in a smaller body. The world around me isn’t built for bigger bodies; in fact, it becomes more and more physically uncomfortable the bigger you are. I don’t need to tell anyone this – booths in restaurants, seats on airplanes, chairs in public spaces – they are not welcoming to a person of size. It is difficult, frustrating, painful and humiliating to be marginalized while simply trying to go about one’s day-to-day life.
While I am at this middle weight, or smaller, I am more or less invisible to body critics, the self-appointed “food police” and internet trolls. No one bothers me. People seem less inclined to comment on my choices – what I eat, how I exercise (or don’t) and what I wear. Additionally, clothing shopping is easier! Much more variety – and far less expensive!
When my body is smaller, I am taken more seriously. When my body is smaller I am actually allowed to take up more space in the world which is the actually the most messed up juxtaposition of the century. My existence in this world is more valued and my opinions are more widely accepted when my body is smaller. People engage with me more directly and I have many more conversations that are “idea-focused” as opposed to body -focused. Who wouldn’t want to live in a smaller body! It’s like…being treated as a multi-dimensional human!
But what about health? Is a smaller body a healthier body?
It’s convenient to think that Body Mass Index (BMI) and health correlate more than they actually do. It’s been said that “feeling fat is much more harmful than actually having fat.”
A big part of what can impact the health of a person who inhabits a bigger body is the treatment of it by others.
Research shows us social factors like poverty, discrimination, weight stigma, and inequities are much more detrimental to the health of an individual than having more fat. In fact, my own personal health markers have remained constant despite my weight fluctuations…likely due to my relative privilege.
If you want to live your healthiest life, reduce weight stigma, and support others in doing so too, you can focus on larger social issues like:
How can you support access to balanced food choices for everyone in your community?
How can you support access to quality health care for everyone in your city or town?
Are people of all sizes made to feel welcome in the public spaces you frequent? If they’re not, what can you do to change this?
What can you do to spread accurate health information?
How can you help others resist diet culture?
Getting involved in changing the way we feel about weight can be an empowering way to combat diet culture and weight stigma. After all, weight change is not the way to health; social change is.
**We actually have very little choice regarding what our bodies look like; it has its own set of regulating mechanisms, and is largely determined by genetics. Our best bet, is to focus on choosing how to act and what values we want to prioritize. For more information about this topic, check out Linda Bacon’s book, Body Respect.
For more information on this topic, please check out these blogs:
Stephanie Haines, M.Ed., CHES, is an engagement specialist for Walden Behavioral Care. Her role is to help our patients to navigate the admission process. Before becoming a member of Team Walden, Stephanie was a Senior Prevention Specialist at FCD: Prevention Works!, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation located in Newton, MA. Stephanie is a member of the National Wellness Institute and is a member of a number of training and prevention-focused committees. Stephanie earned her master’s degree from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she served as a graduate assistant to Margaret Burckes-Miller, founder and director of the university’s Eating Disorders Institute.