The Problem with Body Positivity: A Rebuttal

My client sent me a certain NYTimes opinion piece article that I wanted to respond to right away because it was driving me crazy.  The original article is called "The Problem with Body Positivity" and the article is indeed causing a problem with it's mis-information, damaging healthism, contradictory points and lack of understanding of what a true Health at Every Size® and body positive approach even means. So let me clarify a few things if I may. 

First, I don't understand why this article is not called "The Problem with Diet Culture". The author has actually raised many points that show how harmful diet culture is, but somehow body positivity is getting blamed?

(I'm not surprised and it's not the author's fault. Fat phobia and weight stigma and bias, as well as scare tactics about the health of people in bigger bodies, is the norm in diet culture. So of course let's keep blaming fat people.  Typical.)

Did anyone else notice when the author's daughter first wanted to go on a diet? When all the girls had to line up in gym class to have their weight and body mass index measured. Please note, it took all the constraint I had not to put that last sentence in all caps with a bunch of swear words.

This is diet culture in action,  indoctrinating us all early by having us compare our bodies to each other and for suggesting that any one body type is better or worse than another (which is implied because why else would they need to get measured?)

I'm curious as to when the author started hating her body and what she did about it? Did the author mention how often she weight cycled and how many pounds she has lost and gained? I am going out on a limb to guess that if she was a fat teenager, who has taken years to accept herself, that she has done some dieting in her day.  Has anyone considered how this has impacted her health?

So tell me again, how is it,  that the author is blaming the body positive movement for a body that is likely the product of diet culture? And for feeling shame about her body that was definitely the product of diet culture? 

In addition, why does body positivity get blamed for her doctor being unprofessional? Who tells someone they will die in 10 years? Does he have a crystal ball? Is he God? How is this helpful and what does he expect his patient to do? This part of the article puts undue fear on the plates of people everywhere. Fear that is unfounded and unnecessary and plays right into the hands of diet culture.

Thin people never get diseases and die either?

Health at Every Size does not mean everyone will be healthy. No one can promise that no matter what size you are. If you are thin you could still get type 2 diabetes too.  According to Harriet Brown's Body of Truth, "In one 2014 study of nearly ten thousand people, those who were unhappy about their weight- whether they were thin, overweight, or obese- were more likely to go on to develop type 2 diabetes, especially if their dissatisfaction went on for years."

Weight stigma and shame can do a number on health (but again, let's blame body positivity??)

The author is correct in that the body positivity movement has been co-opted and watered down and is now often seen as a commercial self-esteem movement. It was originally started by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott of The Body Positive and Deb Burgard, a psychologist and founder of the original Body Positive website and one of the co-founders of the Heath at Every Size® model.  As stated on The Body Positive website, the movement was intended to "offer(s) freedom from suffocating societal messages that keep people in a perpetual struggle with their bodies."  The movement grew out of fat activism and social justice work and was not about thin white straight women learning to love themselves. 

According to the author, watered down body positivity followers believe that the desire to lose weight is never legitimate - but those of us who actually work with women in this arena know that the desire to lose weight is always legitimate and totally understandable. And I'm sorry but the author proved it herself that this desire does indeed come from fat shaming and stigma - her daughter didn't want to lose weight until she was lined up and measured and the author herself was shamed by her doctor. 

The desire to lose weight also comes from a culture that constantly tells us there is something wrong with us that weight loss can fix. We start to believe that weight loss can fix everything and guarantees perfect health.

It's absolutely ok to want to lose weight - but let's be honest about where that desire comes from. No fat child decides they want to lose some weight until someone points out that their weight is a "problem". I'd love to know when the author first became aware that her weight was a "problem"?

Let's also be clear that until a guaranteed method of proven and sustainable weight loss is discovered that does not require disordered eating or surgery, than prescribing weight loss is downright unethical

I'd also like to point out to the author that the watered down version of body positivity might refuse to acknowledge that no one approach is right for every scenario but again all of us who work from an Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size® and Body Trust® lens know that no one approach is right for every scenario. That is why we encourage everyone to redefine what health and success mean to them based on their history and based on what they value, not what diet culture values.

The only people making broad and sweeping pronouncements about health are the Dr.'s who tell everyone to lose weight.

Yes, every body is different. Health looks different for people. It's absolutely true that one teenager might be healthy at one weight and another might end up in the hospital. This is always going to be true and there is nothing we can do about that ever. There is no magic weight that will ever be able to save teens or anyone else from that truth. (And I understand that that uncertainty sucks.) But how many teens end up in a hospital due to an eating disorder vs teens who have type two diabetes?

There can be serious health consequences to fatness, and thinness, and everything in between.

No one - fat or thin - is ever going to have every problem solved. It's part of the human condition. So it's a rather global and sweeping assessment to imply that learning to love yourself is misguided or harmful (which I assume is what the author is suggesting, it was never entirely clear what her point was). Not learning to love yourself is what is misguided and harmful.

Surprise! I do agree with the actions that the author decided to take with her daughter but I wonder how they go against body positivity? How is it not body positive to talk about eating enough, having a wide variety of foods, finding movement you love and learning more about self love?

I'd also agree that loving yourself and wanting to change should be able to peacefully co-exist. And yes - that is an uncomfortable place to be sometimes but life can be uncomfortable and there will never be perfect solutions to anything.

What life should not be, however, is taken over by a dieting mind and the fear that fat leads to death. This type of healthism is harmful and misleading.

I'm curious, what is the author going to do next? I mean if she is fat and has diabetes - I bet her doctor has some great advice for her that is guaranteed to be successful and will cure her diabetes? Oh right - yeah that doesn't exist, for people in big bodies or smaller bodies.

So tell me again what is wrong with loving ourselves and taking care of ourselves to the best of our ability even if our weight doesn't change? What is wrong with respecting and not pathologizing diverse body shapes, personal practices that improve well being, respectful care, eating for wellbeing and life enhancing movement? That is what Health at Every Size is actually all about.  You are right - it sounds terrible doesn't it? 

If the author is looking for some guidance, I would highly recommend a Body Trust Provider or a Health at Every Size® informed therapist or dietician. She could also check out the following resources that offer compassionate and sustainable ways to live with diabetes for people in bodies of all sizes.  

In the meantime, if you could lay off continuing to scare people with the fears that diet culture hopes everyone will believe (they have a $61 billion dollar industry to support you know) I'd really appreciate it. Thank you.

© Can Stock Photo / Tigatelu