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New “study” says body positivity is bad for you

May 12, 2009

From jezebel:

“The study asked 81 women to choose their current and ideal body size from a series of silhouettes. Two thirds of the women said their current body size was their ideal. And 20% of obese women chose as their ideal an overweight or obese silhouette. The study didn’t measure the women’s cholesterol or blood pressure, but, in a confusing leap, says the results show that “an extremely good body image can also take its toll on a woman’s health.” One of the study authors says, “So the question for doctors then becomes, ‘How can we effectively treat our overweight and obese patients, when they don’t feel they’re in harm’s way?'”

This is exactly the type of thing that made me, and probably makes a lot of women, feel guilty about body positivity. I think this attitude needs to stop, and we can help with that! What can we do to better inform people that being “overweight” is not a health problem?

(For those who still believe that being “overweight” or “obese” is decidedly unhealthy: see this post.)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Emily permalink
    May 12, 2009 7:24 PM

    OK, I agree that doctors need to find a way to get through to those patients whose health is poor or deteriorating. But you’re right, Sara, that the problem with this study is that it automatically classifies people who are in the “overweight” or “obese” range as unhealthy. Yes, large amounts of body fat, unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to increased risk for many health conditions, but the fact remains that overweight people are not inherently unhealthy. The fact that even doctors are taking this shortcut and assuming that all patients with a certain BMI are unhealthy is disheartening.

    We should never feel guilty for loving our bodies! I know that when I’m feeling great about my body, I’m more likely to treat it well. We just need to work to convince people that you can be overweight and healthy, just as you can be thin and unhealthy. A silhouette or a number can’t define health or happiness. It’s all about living in a way that recognizes that your body is a part of your whole self, that it deserves to be fed well, moved in a fulfilling way and appreciated for all it can do.

  2. Jill permalink
    May 12, 2009 8:04 PM

    Another thing that’s really pernicious about doctors having a fat = unhealthy attitude is that they can tend to nag, and really dissuade overweight people from seeking a variety of kinds of health care when they really do need it (whether or not it’s related to their weight). There are a lot of overweight women who avoid gynecological care, for example, because their doctors make a big to do about their weight–something that they hear all the time anyway. Feeling marginalized from vital screenings like Pap smears and STI testing, and other medical information about (physically and emotionally) safe sex, birth control, and pregnancy can create health problems.

  3. Ashley permalink
    May 13, 2009 4:56 PM

    Wow, this is pretty sad. I mean…I feel like a statement like two thirds of a group of women saw their own body shape as ideal should be celebrated. And I mean, this whole fat=unhealthy thing is something that I’ve talked and written and gotten into arguments about so many times in the past. It pisses me off so much, the entire pretense makes me angry because I haven’t met very many people who are concerned for my healthy but they say they are. And why is the healthy of fat people suddenly everybody’s fucking business? Because people can quite obviously see when a person is fat; they can’t see a heart attack about to happen, or AIDS or most other diseases but they can see when a person is fat and just make that jump to oh, well, they must be unhealthy. I’m glad that the doctors I’ve been to have never had this attitude; I’ve been lucky enough to have doctor’s who don’t make a big deal about it. They simply recommend that I get some daily activities and exercise and watch what I eat, just like every other person should. The fat=unhealthy mentality is one that angers and frustrates me to no end and one that people are very unwilling to let go of.

  4. cellardoor10 permalink
    May 13, 2009 8:20 PM

    I once had a friend, in trying to skirt actually saying that I was fat and it concerned her, that she was worried about my cholesterol. We were juniors in high school. Really? I frowned, said something about how I exercised regularly and tried to ignore it. I always resented that comment.

  5. Laura permalink
    May 16, 2009 3:17 AM

    I don’t know, I see both sides of this argument. On one hand, I’m glad that there are people who are comfortable with their size, despite the pressure to conform to social norms. However, if their health is truly at stake, then they should take action. Losing weight may not be what they need to do. Maybe their diet needs to be a little healthier, or they should engage in more physical activity. The problem is that the resolving of these health issues is promoted by means of improving physical attractiveness. If someone is heavier and has high cholesterol, then they should eat foods with fewer saturated fats. Whether or not weight loss occurs isn’t necessarily important, but the lower cholesterol levels need to be reached. Body image and health should be separate, but they’re often considered to be linked. Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum. Someone is too skinny, has low blood pressure, and needs to put on weight. However, this person has great body image. In this case, weight gain needs to happen.
    I have absurdly high cholestrol, but my weight is normal. No matter how badly I want that cheeseburger, I can’t have it nearly as often as the person next to me. Not because I’m denying the fact that I want it, and not because I’ll get fat if I do, but because my heart will get really pissed off in the long run if I have a cheeseburger every other day. We need to respect what our bodies need, and find a way to reconcile our emotional needs with the physical realities.

  6. May 17, 2009 9:30 AM

    Over the past decade, I’ve noticed a big surge in what you’re calling ‘body positivity’ – especially among teenagers. This is a good thing, although I can’t help but think back to when I was a teenager (many centuries ago) when exposing your big jiggly muffin-top belly bulging out between your sprayed-on slinky camisole and your low-rise jeans exposing that ratty thong beneath would have been unthinkable to us girls at Mt. Mary Immaculate Academy… 😉

    I had knee surgery a couple years ago, and I lost 30 pounds during the months prior to surgery. I’d been losing and gaining the same 30 pounds for decades, but I knew that the simple medical reality was: this knee is NOT going to heal properly with all this extra weight pounding on it every step I take. I asked my orthopedic surgeon afterwards during my post-op appointment why he didn’t insist that his obese patients lose weight before undergoing major surgery like this to improve their recuperation abilities. He shrugged: “Losing battle!”

    He did, however, add that in some medical jurisdictions (mostly in the U.K.) physicians are now refusing or delaying some procedures if their patients do not lose weight/quit smoking/quit drinking beforehand. These decisions are based entirely on the poor outcomes of costly and dangerous medical procedures when patients do not take responsibility for their own health.

    For example: patients on liver transplant waiting lists are taken off the list if they do not quit drinking for at least six months pre-op. This makes sense – why would you happily give a liver to a person who’s going to be right back in hospital soon with this brand new donated liver shot to hell, when there are desperate patients dying on waiting lists who could live long and productive lives with that same liver?

    Very controversial – I suspect we’re still going to be debating this a decade from now.

    I am a heart attack survivor and a 2008 graduate of the Mayo Clinic Science & Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease in Rochester, Minnesota. In our Mayo group of 45 women – all heart attack survivors – we had every size, shape and colour of women you could imagine, from lean triathletes to morbidly obese women, and everybody in between. Heart disease does not discriminate – but all clinical research confirms that obesity is indeed a major risk factor in women’s heart disease. The internal fat around vital organs is even more dangerous for women than the sub-cutaneous fat found jiggling above those low-rise jeans…


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