photo credit: Daisy Hollands
It comes up time and time again: the age old argument between body positivity and health. Those oh-so-concerned people who are only trying to look out for my health. The apologists, who say that it’s okay to be fat, as long as I am healthy. Of course, the next issue becomes the ‘message I am sending’. Won’t somebody please think of the children?!
First thing’s first: the health narrative is ableist, patronising and insulting. You do not care about the state of my health, you care about the state of my face. And my bum. And my boobs. And my arms. And my stomach. And my legs. You care about what visuals you are taking in, as if my appearance were only there to satisfy your gaze.
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In reality, you’re not telling me that you’re worried about me being unhealthy, you’re telling me that you’ve found a valid reason to make me feel guilty about my body. My size causes you no pain, no damage, you just find it unpleasant to look at – and yet you comment. You tell me to change, because you feel that you can.
The health narrative is ableist because you are assuming that everybody is on a level playing field. You assume that because you are able to ‘eat less, move more’, that others will be too. You assume that because you do not struggle, there is no reason that others should. You assume that because you coped with your own struggles, others will be able to cope with the same. Remember that not all bodies were created equally: some of them have fewer capabilities than yours has. Some of them are built in different shapes than yours. Some of them have fewer limbs, or less power, or they hurt, or they can’t feel anything. And though not all bodies should be treated equally, because every single body has its own set of specific needs, every single body on this earth deserves to be given equal respect and love. Do not impose your limitations upon my body and assume that I need to work within your parameters.
The health narrative is patronising because you seem to think that what you are telling me is brand new information. That I haven’t had a lifetime of hearing statistics about the correlation between obesity and poor health. That I haven’t examined myself repeatedly and felt that very same loathing that is burning inside of you. It is very rare for a fat person to have been born with body positivity instilled within them. The journey is arduous, sometimes repetitive, and filled with many tears. It takes a lot of time to ‘train’ yourself not to feel like you have an obligation to restrict yourself after Christmas, and not to wear special underwear when you can see the outline of your own stomach through your clothing. But finally fat people are able and allowed to feel positive, and even proud, of themselves. You bring nothing to the table when you comment on a stranger’s instagram photo and try and undo years of magnificent progress. They have told themselves everything you could possibly say, and they have learned how to cope and counter. Do not waste your breath.
photo credit: Sophie Griffiths
Finally, the health narrative is insulting because you are being rude and unnecessary. Fat is unique: it would never be considered socially acceptable for you to approach (or shout at) a stranger with the sole purpose of telling them that you hate the way any other part of them looks, and that they should change it. When did I become your property to alter? Why do you believe that your lower weight makes your opinion more valid than mine? Why is it so hard for you to believe that some people like to look this way? Ultimately, you are entitled to look however you want. You do not need an ‘excuse’ for your weight, any more than you need an excuse for your elbows. You do not need to be an example for anybody else, and if anybody tells you that your weight, and your health, is impacting any other person they are using a guilt tactic to lie to you.
If you are a fat person reading this, please disregard any and all comments from other people about your health. Your health is your responsibility and nobody else’s, and you are entirely within your rights to do whatever you like. It has nothing to do with anybody else.
If you are a thin person who believes that fat people are damaging their health and they need to lose weight, you need to take some time to really ask yourself what the true motive is for your opinions. And then ask yourself who the hell asked you for your opinion anyway, and move on with your day.