Are the ‘body concerners’ actually concerned with the health and wellbeing of the obese?

“How is your health at the moment?”
“Have you had a Diabetes check recently?”
“I think you would really benefit from [insert food/activity/opinion here]”
“I just found out that [insert food] is so bad for our health. I just thought I should share it with you.”

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In our current world, there stands two strong viewpoints surrounding the media representation of ‘fat’ people. There are the fat shamers, that hold the opinion that people who are overweight or obese do not deserve to be represented as they are seen to be unsightly or promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.

I see what they were doing, but that still sounds like body shaming…
I see what they were doing, but that still sounds like fat shaming…

On the other hand, we have the fat-positive and body positive movements who believe that all bodies are beautiful and worthy of our respect, and should be visible in all aspects of our society.

I hope it wasn’t too cold standing outside in their underwear!
I hope it wasn’t too cold standing outside in their underwear!

In between these strong opinions lie individuals who do not have a problem with the promotion of more than one body size, but express concerns for the health of those at the extremes of the weight scale. Often obese individuals who have had health concerns expressed to them by a friend, partner or relative consider their comments as a ‘nicer way’ to shame them into changing their body and not as a genuine opinion. Their response, either directly or to the public is that their health is their own concern and no one else’s, such as this YouTube blogger expresses.


I have had a chance to read and listen to a lot of people talk about being fat positive and to the most part I agree with them. Bullying people for the differences in their bodies is abhorrible, and the efforts of the body positive movement in the 21st century have started to influence changes in many different industries such as visual media and size inclusive fashion. My research did make me wonder about the body concerners in my life and in other’s lives, and whether their statements are genuine and productive or whether there are problems with their reasoning.

As there are many articles that highlight the importance of preventing and correcting obesity, I will not take that stance here this time. I have compiled three common statements given to ‘fat people’ to illustrate how body concerner’s and their reasoning may be flawed.

1. ‘The doctor said my BMI was in the healthy range. As a shorter person, you need to pay attention to your BMI.’


The Body Mass Index (BMI) scale, as described by mathematician Adolphe Quetelet, was a measure originally used to quickly ascertain the degree of obesity in populations. Medical professionals have been quick to use this as their yardstick for assessing whether someone is overweight or obese.

Interesting, apparently healthy people look like they have a 'thigh gap'. Not this again...
Interesting, apparently healthy people look like they have a ‘thigh gap’. Not this again…

But there are acknowledged limitations to this tool, such as large variations in fat mass between individuals with the same BMI, or the ratio between Fat Mass and Fat Free Mass (such as muscle mass) being difficult to separate with this scale. Why are we using only one questionable method to determine the overall health of a patient?

2. ‘Obese people are a massive drain on our health system. If they just ate well and exercised the public would save so much money.’


There is no doubt that the Australian health care system does spend a lot of money treating individuals who are overweight or obese. The problem with this statement is that it looks at the issue very simply. You could use the same statement and apply it to drug users, alcoholics, those who smoke cigarettes, people with an active lifestyle and sustain injuries, the elderly, worried parents, or hypochondriacs. If only humans were not susceptible to addiction, physical injuries, ongoing conditions, mental health issues or contracting illnesses… think of all the money we would save!

Queensland Health recently released a public health campaign to educate on what is and is not an emergency matter for in an emergency room. They have now created a hotline for the public to contact if they are unsure of what to do with a health issue. Would this not constitute a drain on the health care system? Treating people who do not need emergency treatment at the hospital?

 

It is unfair to place the large blame on people with weight issues as opposed to everyone else who benefits from our national healthcare institutions.

3.‘Once you have lost weight you will feel so much happier. A healthy lifestyle is nature’s natural anti-depressant!’


Weight loss may make you feel physically lighter, but does not guarantee a fix to feelings of depression. For many people struggling with their weight, other people’s focus on their body (whether fat or skinny) may contribute to their unhappiness rather than their actual body.

More like 'lose weight, be thin and miserable regardless because I am still unhappy'.
More like ‘lose weight, be thin and miserable regardless because I am still unhappy’.

As well, mental health issues are complicated and simply stating that a ‘healthy lifestyle’ will fix these issues without professional intervention is highly ignorant of the multiple causes and treatments of mental health problems.

After conducting this research and seeing the topic from different angles, I have gained a much deeper understanding around body positivity. The best thing a body concerner, or really anyone, can do is to ensure that they are emotionally supportive of the people in their lives when they need it. Weight related or not. Just be there for them.

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