3 Scientific Reasons Why Body Positivity Does NOT Promote Overweight or Obesity

BOPO and Overweight : Obesity .jpg

Anger. Vitriol. Rage. This is what happened to the Twittersphere two weeks ago when Gillette Venus used a plus size model to promote their new marketing campaign.   

Here are just a few angry tweets:

"Wow, this is so unhealthy! Obesity causes cardiovascular diseases, type 2 Diabetes, sleep apnea, depression & certain types of cancer and death. Why would you show younger girls a picture like this? Another reason not to purchase your products! @lovinbeauty

"Please stop. Promoting this is dangerous. Being unhealthy is not a good thing," @BrennaSpencer

"There's no reason to be rude or unkind to someone who is obese and there is no reason @GilletteVenus should be encouraging life threatening obesity. This would also be true if they used an anorexic model. I wish the model they used well but Gillette should know better," @robbystarbuck

Gillette actually is not alone. Cosmopolitan Magazine, Dove, and Nike are just a few major companies that have come under fire by the general public for displaying and/or utilizing plus size bodies in their campaigns.

The primary argument: These companies are promoting obesity. Over and over and over again. The same exact argument.

Is it though? By simply displaying plus size bodies--a population of people who make up 67% of the american population--are these companies really telling the world that obesity is okay? Furthermore, is the entire body positivity movement that has been on the rise in the past years doing irreparable damage to an already overweight country that is under an obesity crisis?

I can answer that now: No. I mean, if you want to keep reading, feel free. But as a person with a PhD and over twenty years in the health, fitness, and wellness industry, you can take me at my word when I say: no. It absolutely does not.

In fact, there are about a thousand extraordinarily decent social arguments I can make here to explain why the above arguments against body positivity are sexist, ableist, elitist, anti-feminist, dated, antiquated, unfounded, and morally bankrupt. I’m confident you can find those blogs with just a cursory Google search.

But a logical, sound and scientific response I feel is the best course of action here. As the entire world feels that they have science and medicine on their side of right, I feel body positivity needs the same big guns. So here it is. A scientific response. For anyone who thinks body positivity is the causation and promotion of obesity, go ahead and send them this article with my regards.

First and Foremost: What is Body Positivity?

When Googled, this is the answer that comes up.

Body Positivity is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, in doing so it challenges the ways in which society presents and views the physical body. The movement advocates the acceptance of all bodies no matter the form, size, or appearance.

I personally like the 4 Principles of Body Positivity conceptualized by Body Positivity Activist and my Podcast Co-host Cathleen Meredith:

  1. ACCEPTANCE OF WHAT IS: Our bodies as is (healthy, sick, skinny, fat, missing a leg, cancer survivors, and black, white, purple, blue and everything else,) deserve respect, visibility, acceptance and have intrinsic value.

  2. REJECTION OF “BEAUTY” STANDARDS: Body-shaming of all types has been shown to yield detrimental long-term psychological effects such as negative body image, depression, anxiety, and a multitude of eating disorders. It serves no benefits, so we reject it entirely.

  3. ACCEPTANCE OF CHANGE: Changes to our bodies—sickness, ailments, aging, pregnancy, surgery, accidents/trauma, putting on weight, losing weight, ALL of it—should be accepted, and should not diminish the value, respect, visibility of our bodies.

  4. TOTAL INCLUSIVITY: Body positivity is inclusive of all bodies, not just those considered to be “fat” or obese,considering most humans are socialized to have negative perceptions of their bodies.

In short, body positivity and its principles are about acceptance, inclusivity, and respect. First aspect to notice: these are all social ideas, not medical ones. Why naysayers of body positivity consistently bring up the promotion of obesity when fat bodies are displayed is a mystery to me.

The second aspect of its definition one must notice: body positivity does not “promote” any body type. It is simply stating that all body types have intrinsic value. We certainly agree with this as a society. If you intentionally hurt someone’s body--again, regardless of the look, age, or state of that body--we consider that a crime. Body positivity simply concurs with this logic.

Lastly, body positivity by definition does not purport that evolution, change, and/or a healthy lifestyle is unacceptable. You can be body positive and be healthy. In fact, body positivity promotes taking care of yourself.

How? Let’s unpack that science I promised.  

Fact #1: Negative Body Image DOES Promote Obesity. And Anorexia. And A Lot of Other Bad Stuff.  

So if body positivity is such a threat to an already dangerous national health crisis, what is the alternative? Body negativity. Or rather, negative body image. Is there a possibility that a consistent negative body image could be the savior women need?

Highly unlikely.

Negative body image has been around for decades, and it hasn’t done a single woman any favors.

Luckily, we have a LOT of science to back this up, as 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies.  Yeah. That high. Interesting sidebar: only 20 - 40% of men have negative body image issues, though obesity runs equal in America for men and women. See why I say this is a feminist issue? But I digress.

Negative body image is extraordinarily powerful, influential, more contagious than the flu, and certainly more dangerous. Its body count is way higher than body positivity. It is linked to numerous physical and mental issues with women, girls, and teens, including obesity, anorexia, bulimia, depression, increased stress, heart issues, anxiety, and even suicide.  A recent study has also found that girls with negative body image are more likely to skip meals, avoid seeing friends and family, and even avoid seeing a doctor.

According to a study by researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital and Brown Medical School, adolescents with negative body image concerns are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal than those without intense dissatisfaction over their appearance, even when compared to adolescents with other psychiatric illnesses.

Mind blown.

So basically, If I had two teenage daughters, one mentally ill and the other with body image issues, I need to be more concerned with the one who hates her body. At least in terms of suicide.

The idea that we are teaching at a very young age is physical appearance is not only paramount. We are better off dead without it. That is a LOT of power.

So how much power does a plus-size woman in a bikini on Twitter have? Certainly not the power to destroy the lives of millions of women, like negative body image is currently doing. But maybe the power to stop a young girl from literally pulling the trigger on a really bad idea.

If body positivity is combating negative body image that is far more pervasive than this country’s obesity epidemic, than it is not  “promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.” It is quite literally saving lives.

Concerned that you may be at risk for negative body image? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you weigh yourself more than once a week?

  • Do you think about how you look more than five times a day?

  • Have you ever skipped socializing because you didn’t feel good about your body?

  • Do you feel more deserving when you are a certain weight or fit into a certain pair of pants?

  • What do you do when someone gives you a compliment on how you look? Do you usually deflect or sincerely accept?

  • Do you avoid wearing certain clothes because they make you feel fat?

  • It is difficult for you to look at your body in a full length mirror?

If you’ve answered yes to more than 4 of these you may have a body image issue. The most telling answer  is the one given to this question:

  • When you stand naked in front of the mirror are your first thoughts are…?

Read the full article on CancerSchmancer.org