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Boy, this is a loaded question and one that’s sure to ruffle some feathers somewhere. I want to preface this with the fact that every coach, practitioner, or body positive advocate has their own opinions about this topic. I am simply stating how I feel about this question when I am asked.

I also want to mention that I am coming to this post with the specific focus on women, as that is who I am choosing to work with as a Mind Body Nutrition Coach, as well as the viewpoint that I share my own personal experiences. But that does not mean that men do not also face these issues and does not negate the impact that they experience as well.

Lastly, I am coming to this with a specific focus on larger bodied people, as those are the ones who are most often criticized and shunned in society and from where I draw much of my own personal experience (and the experience of many friends, family, and colleagues).

That said, when it comes to body shame and the problems surrounding it, these issues know no size. Small, big, fat, skinny, no one is immune from this and those in smaller bodies often deal with just as much shame as those in larger bodies, despite what many people think. The body positivity movement strives to help everyone cultivate a healthy, respectful relationship with body and self, regardless of your size, background, ethnicity, sex, etc. so that we can all live a better life free from the shackles that these issues bind us with.

Fat Phobia and The Havoc it Wreaks on All of Us

Before we dive into the main meat of this post, I want to say this:

  • It’s none of our business if someone is “overweight” or obese.
  • It’s none of our business what other people choose to eat.
  • If someone is “overweight” or obese, it does not give us a right to shun or ostracize them.
  • Fat phobia is a real thing, it runs rampant in our culture, and it’s destroying lives.

Side tangent: I hate the term “overweight” because it makes us believe that we know what the perfect ideal weight is for every person. The truth is, we don’t. Everyone is so biologically different that it is hard to have a fixed “healthy” weight that everyone should fall into. Also, weight fluctuates throughout our lives, so having a fixed “healthy” weight can often be dangerous because what you weighed when you were 25 is likely not what you’ll weigh at 45 or 65.

We are taught from a young age that “being fat” or carrying any amount of weight that is outside of the “ideal and perfect” woman is a bad thing and always sets us up for disease. We are taught that the only way to be healthy is to always be lean, have a certain BMI, and eat a certain way.

Being fat is not an automatic indication of being unhealthy. You can be skinny and unhealthy and you can be fat and healthy. And there are all levels in between.

{Note: If you are interested in reading more about the lies we’ve been fed about weight and health, I encourage you to follow Dr. Linda Bacon and read her book, Health at Every Size. She is the leading expert on this topic and brings extensive scientific research to the table, dispelling the myth that being thin = being healthy and that being fat = being unhealthy. If you’d like to purchase her book, I am providing my Amazon affiliate link here. If you make a purchase through my link, I may earn a small commission.}

Society grooms us with these beliefs around weight, health, and body image from the time we leave the womb, and it gets progressively worse with age depending on the beliefs of our parents and our immediate community of friends and family about fatness.

We are surrounded by pictures of the “ideal” woman in magazines, TV, movies, music, and social media. We are told from a young age that any body type that falls outside of what we see portrayed in the media is less than ideal.

Is less than perfect.

Is less worthy.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Society tells us that if we carry extra weight, are “overweight,” or are obese that we are less worthy than those who do not.

We essentially have less value as a human being.

We cannot contribute to society in a meaningful way because we are different than the cultural norm and therefore “not as good.”

Really? Is that really true?

By society’s standards, yes.

By my standards, no.

To me, it doesn’t matter what type of body you are in. Big, small, fat, skinny, short, tall, it doesn’t matter.

I choose to view a person for who they are, not what they look like. The size of their life vessel is of no consequence to me.

But this has not always been the case for myself, as I have been a victim of society’s ridiculous beauty standards since I was little. Since I was about 10, I have always felt larger than other kids. I always compared myself to other people and had this quiet little voice in the back of my head that continually urged, “If you just lost a little weight people might like you more, you’d be prettier, you’d be more popular….”

And, I am ashamed to admit that I have done my fair share of judging others for what they weigh too. When we are super critical of ourselves, it makes it even easier to be super critical of others. And, when we are bothered by the way someone else looks or behaves, it’s almost always because there is something within us that we are responding to.

It’s funny because recently I was going through old pictures of me as a baby, child, and young adult, and I was not the “fat” person that my own goggles remember me being. I was just an average, healthy kid, but the lens with which I was viewing myself was very distorted, so there’s no way I could see that there was nothing wrong with me. It makes me sad that my brain was consumed with these thoughts when I should have just been enjoying being a child and young adult…

But, I digress, so in an effort to keep this blog post more concise, I will write a separate blog post about this topic.

Does Body Positivity Promote Obesity?

Back to the topic at hand, does body positivity promote obesity?

In short, my answer is no and here’s why: When people feel good about themselves and their body, as they are right now, they feel more confident in making better choices about their health.

I think this is a good place to talk about the concept of “health.”

“Health” is also a relative term. It cannot be a generalization — it is unique and individual to all of us. We live in a world that has tried to create a standard definition of “health” without understanding that health is going to look different for each person.

We have taken the focus away from tuning in and listening to OUR bodies and OUR needs and have tried to construct a perfect ideal of what “health” looks like that will fit the masses.

We don’t need a one-size-fits-all definition of health. We need a transformational mind shift that allows us to truly understand that health looks different on every single person. And that health is all-encompassing. It’s not just what we weigh or what we eat. It’s the wellness of our mind, body, and spirit.

Most people don’t even know how to listen to their body. They don’t hear their intuition. They don’t know what nourishes their body and what harms their body because we are so disconnected. We are a world of disembodied humans walking around like zombies.

“Health” has to start with tuning into our own innate wisdom about what WE need to be vibrant in body, mind, and spirit.

The Body Shame Spiral and How to Break Free

It may be hard for some people to understand this. I have spoken to a handful of people recently who simply cannot grasp how body shame and disordered eating is an issue for some people. They are lucky that they’ve never had to deal with issues like this, but just because they don’t understand it, doesn’t make it any less true.

When people are in a neverending spiral of body shame and body hate, making better choices is often inconceivable.

We become slaves to our compulsions. We get stuck in a loop that, in many cases, can feel impossible to break free of.

We believe that because we do not fit the cultural norm that we are a bad person. We are made to feel bad by society (the media, the medical community, our friends, our family), and then we internalize it as truth.

When we are in this cycle of self-hate, making changes in how we view ourselves and the world is ridiculously difficult. Making better choices for how we nourish our body, mind, and soul can seem like an overwhelming task, one that we simply don’t have the mindspace and energy for.

We may have habits or actions that are not serving us well, but again, we are stuck. Body image issues can literally suck the life out of you. They can become intensely suffocating, but finding help is often difficult. Doctors, family, and friends often turn to the typical: “If you just lost some weight, you’d feel better, look better, blah, blah, blah better.

This comment about their weight does nothing to help those who are struggling. In fact, it often exacerbates the problem and leads to further issues. But, that can change. Some of us will have the strength to bring about the change on our own. Others will need to seek outside help from a coach, therapist, or alternative health practitioner. (It’s OK to ask for help. You are worth it!)

IF we are truly concerned about people’s health and want them to make better choices for their health, then we have to empower, encourage, and support them. We have to LISTEN to them and put the weight issue aside.

We have to understand that humans are complex beings with a heart and soul that is often crushed by past trauma and life experiences. Humans are often influenced heavily by the media and the passive words that friends, family, or doctors may say. We have to be willing to help them open up and dig deep so they can cultivate a definition of health that truly fits their body and their needs.

Never, in human history (that I know of) has someone been able to make true, lasting, healthy change coming from a state of fear and shame.

They might feel compelled to make a short-term change (i.e. the latest fad diet), but it won’t last if the motivation is driven by those two – fear and shame. This is why New Year’s resolutions don’t work 99% of the time. The underlying motivation is typically superficial and insincere.

True lasting change comes when we address root causes (and there are often many root causes), when we learn to be OK with where we are right now, when we start to gain confidence in ourselves and our abilities that are not based on how we look or what size clothes we wear.

We can heal these patterns of self-hate and shame. It takes some exploration and some willingness to be uncomfortable at times. But, it is possible and there is a whole new world on the other side of this darkness.

As someone who has come into the light after dealing with decades of body shame and disordered eating that led to an eating disorder, I can say that healing is possible. But it takes time, patience, and a strong network of support. Changes won’t happen overnight, but with time, you can step out of the darkness and into the light.

I have written several blog posts on the topics of body image, self-care, disordered eating/eating disorders, and learning to heal from a lifetime of food and body issues. Here are a few of my favorites:

If you’ve been struggling with your relationship to food and body and are ready to find the peace and freedom you’ve truly been craving, I would love to help. Whether you’re dealing with binge eating, overeating, yo-yo dieting, body shame/hate, or a combination of the above, know that these symptoms are holding a deeper message for you.

Come join my 7-day Food & Body Freedom eCourse (it’s free!) here. This eCourse came from my passion for helping women transform their relationships to food and body. What you desire IS truly possible if you are ready, open, and willing. It is time to say goodbye to the years of control, compulsive behaviors, limiting beliefs, scarcity of joy, and actions driven from a place of fear and feelings of unworthiness, once and for all. Learn more and sign up here.

Further Reading & Watching

If you are struggling right now, I hope you know that you are not alone and there are resources out there that can help. I am doing my best to share my own stories and strategies on this site in hopes that they can inspire and help you. There are also some other great resources that I recommend:

  • The Body Image Movement – Created by Taryn Brumfitt, this movement is on a quest to end the global body-hating epidemic. They have a ton of awesome info on their site, and a fantastic team of Ambassadors (which I am honored to be a part of).
  • Health at Every Size Book – Written by Dr. Linda Bacon, this book shatters the mindset that weight is the best determinant of health and has been scientifically proven to boost health and self-esteem. The program was evaluated in a government-funded academic study, its data published in well-respected scientific journals. (This is an Amazon affiliate link, meaning if you purchase through my link, I will earn a small commission. Thank you. 🙂
  • The Health at Every Size Community – The community website to go along with Dr. Bacon’s Health at Every Size book. Proof that there can be true health at every size. She’s one of the top thought leaders in this niche.
  • Body Respect Book – Dr. Bacon’s second book, written alongside Dr. Lucy Aphramor, debunks common myths about weight, including the misconceptions that BMI can accurately measure health, that fatness necessarily leads to disease, and that dieting will improve health. They also help make sense of how poverty and oppression affect life opportunity, self-worth, and even influence metabolism. (This is an Amazon affiliate link, meaning if you purchase through my link, I will earn a small commission. Thank you. :))
  • Dr. Linda Bacon’s Website – Dr. Bacon’s personal website is also full of amazing content and resources.

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