If you look up the definition of health, you will find that it merely means the absence of disease. However, in today’s world health is much more. For some, it means the number that pops up on the scale and how that equates to your body mass index when taken into consideration with your height. Others look at health as the way you feel about the body you live in every day and encourage you to remember that you are not your weight.
One thing almost everyone can agree upon is that being healthy is more than a stock photo of someone with all the right numbers. It incorporates the mental, emotional, and physical parts of who you are as a person. But could all the talk about loving yourself, no matter your size, be detrimental to other parts of your health and even the population as a whole? Some people say yes, while other experts feel that body positivity is precisely where we need it to be in our culture, when comparing yourself to others is as simple as opening up your Instagram feed.
Understanding Body Positivity
Throughout history, women have been ditching the idea that your body must look a certain way to be healthy and deserve love and acceptance. In the mid-1800s, women broke free of corsets that gave them the “right” shape. Then, in the 1960s the second wave of feminism embraced concepts like “fat acceptance” and “health at any size.” In 1996, a movement known as “body positivity” began, which banded men and women across the country together to fight for the right to be happy and accepted at any size.
The Body Positive, founded by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, created a community that offered freedom from “suffocating societal messages that keep people in a perpetual struggle with their bodies.” This movement doesn’t only address size but encourages acceptance of self regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, and several other factors. The movement is founded on the idea that some people base their sense of self-worth on their physical appearance — a dangerous mindset for people of any size.
Today, any image you take can be altered to make you look thinner and younger. Celebrities have fought the alteration of how they look on magazine covers. Many brands have replaced messaging that promotes being skinny or having the perfect “bikini body” to one that encourages being stronger and healthier. All of this sounds great, right? Unfortunately, some experts say there is a flip-side to body positivity that isn’t grounded in health.
Promoting an Unhealthy Culture
Obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. A Survey from 2015-2016 revealed that about 93.3 million adults in America are obese. Unfortunately, it’s not only adults who struggle. Roughly 12 million children are considered to be overweight as well.
Weight isn’t just a number revealed when you step upon the scale. It’s a predictor of other health conditions. Excess weight may increase your risk of problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and arthritis. In a world where many people have these conditions, we can sometimes become hardened and unconcerned with long-term effects. The reality is that a disease like diabetes can lead to kidney problems, diabetic retinopathy, and nerve damage, which can quickly alter your quality of life.
Furthermore, the body-positive movement may neglect certain groups of people. People who are obese aren’t the only ones who struggle with body image issues. Look at pictures of those who suffer from eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating and you’ll realize just how strong the urge to be the “right size” can be. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that around 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. and that every 62 minutes at least one person dies from the effects of an eating disorder. While body positivity encourages people of all sizes to have a voice, some feel that it’s blocking the voice of people who don’t struggle openly with body image issues.
Looking to the Future of Body Positivity
The idea of body positivity has both opposition and support. At its core, it promotes self-love and acceptance — two concepts that are needed in today’s world. However, the future of the body positive movement is aligning itself with the idea that fit bodies are no better or worse that unfit bodies.
As we continue to find balance, you can do your part by loving yourself and limiting comments and judgments about others. The next time you feel poorly about your body, think about the fantastic things your body does each day, like running, yoga, or birthing babies. When a friend tells you that your booty looks great in those new jeans, embrace it. Thank them for the compliment and don’t doubt them. Offer compliments to others not only about their bodies but about their other qualities that make them amazing.
Body positivity is a movement that most of us can get behind. Just remember that health is more than a number; it’s a way of life.