If you look through our history, there is no question that the ideal body and body diversity for both women and men has changed dramatically over the years. Evolving with cultural influences, fashion trends, and more, the ideal body type has inadvertently created stigmas and stereotypes about body size in general.
When you take a look at where we are today, it is easy to identify the overall fear toward “fat,” or being overweight and obese. Learning to challenge these fears and looking beyond body size are critical to challenging these stereotypes and paving a way toward body diversity.
Understanding the Obesity Epidemic
In Western cultures, in particular, there has been a steady rise in overall fear of obesity. This may be largely due to the “Obesity Epidemic” that has been labeled and addressed in everything from public health programs, health care policy, public school systems and more.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third (36.5%) of adults in the United States have obesity, which is medically defined as having a body mass index (BMI) that is more than 30 . The associated health-related conditions with obesity include increased risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, certain types of cancer and more .
Presenting this type of information to the general public in combination with the plethora of misinformation available on the Internet and elsewhere has sadly led to much confusion and fear about being overweight and obese.
The truth is that there are many other factors that contribute to body size, and health is not determined alone by one’s weight and/or BMI. Many researchers have argued that BMI is not necessarily an accurate way to measure body weight, as this calculation cannot distinguish between muscle and fat.
For example, a person may fall into the overweight status based on their BMI calculation due to overall muscle mass, even if fat levels are low. Recent research has also recognized the ineffectiveness of BMI in identifying people who may truly be at risk for adverse health issues.
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that nearly half of participants who were labeled as overweight based on their BMI were actually healthy, with fifteen percent of those classified as obese also considered healthy .
However, with BMI being used as a standard health measurement, countless individuals are mistakenly labeled as “unhealthy” according to their body size.
BMI is sometimes a critical factor in evaluating the severity of an eating disorder and the appropriate level of eating disorder treatment. But, even in this case, other health and psychological factors are considered.
Fighting the Stigmas and Stereotypes
In addition to the health scare created by the obesity epidemic, there are also many negative associations with being overweight or obese. With the normalization of body-shaming on social media, with celebrities, etc., there is an underlying fear of not just being “fat,” but of what being fat might mean: unloved, unwanted, unsuccessful, and more.
For far too long, thinness has been glamorized to mean being loved and successful while “fatness” being stigmatized to mean failure by our society’s standard. This is exacerbated by the mainstream media, advertisements, social media and cultural messages that are shared in how we communicate daily and receive information.
Challenging these messages is the heart of what it means to celebrate body diversity and to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to our shape, health, and overall wellness. Sadly, many diet trends are influenced by this overall fear of being fat, which has led many individuals to years of chronic dieting, low-self esteem, body dysmorphia or even more severe eating disorders, like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
Celebrating Body Diversity
Changing our disposition and perspectives on what is means to be healthy can begin to challenge body stigma, breaking away from the fear that is too often associated with obesity or being overweight.
Learning that health is truly achieved at any body size or weight is an important foundation to disputing the mainstream messages that are being sent. Health and wellness are a cumulation of many different factors, including more than weight or BMI, and it is essential to move beyond the scale and the numbers to experience a healthy relationship with both food and body.
Breaking away from the body size mold that our society has deemed as acceptable is also crucial to moving toward body acceptance and diversity of different shapes and sizes, all of which will help change the landscape of what we have known to be “health.”
About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal’s passion is to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.
As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her nutrition private practice.
References:: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Overweight and Obesity – Adult Obesity Facts”, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html Accessed 20 April 2017
: National Institutes of Health, “Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults: The Evidence Report”, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-pro/guidelines/archive/clinical-guidelines-obesity-adults-evidence-report Accessed 20 April 2017
: Tomiyama AJ, Hunger JM, Nguyen-Cuu J, and Wells C. Misclassification of cardiometabolic health when using body mass index categories in NHANES 2005-2012. International Journal of Obesity. 2016.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on May 1, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 2, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com