The inititiatives against discrimination because of aesthetic reasons are surprisingly old. One of the first ‘Fat Pride’ activists was Lew Louderback, who in 1967 published an article entitled More people should be FAT.
Louderback’s article should be read taking into account its context of occurrence. Even though some statements are now outdated, others sound incredibly fresh for its time. These are the thoughts of a regular American citizen, who happens to be obese and endures discrimination because of it. He describes his struggle with dieting, all his efforts to fit in a mould that society had pre-set for himself – efforts that failed systematically. After years of frustration and yo-yo dieting, Mr. Louderback decided to embrace what he considers ‘his natural condition’. He provides ample substantiation for this decision, and many of his arguments are still used by activists today.
In case you want to read the full article, here it is (click on the images to enlarge).
Lew Louderback was not trying to convince people to eat more, but to diet less. He claims that there are no valid reasons to lose weight: American beauty standards are wrong, and the medical corporation is wrong to think that obesity is a health hazard. His words, not mine.
The idea that society’s beauty standards are harmful and restrictive is shared by many movements today, some more extreme than others. This is a concept that lies beneath the foundations of feminism. Many corporations have read the sign of the times, and jumped on board of the body positivity ship. Unilever’s Dove was one of the first brands to base its entire corporate image on the idea of self love and acceptace.
Over the years, Dove released countless ads showing women in all shapes and sizes – all but those belonging to traditional beauty standards. The protagonists of this campaign were called ‘real women’, deeming all the rest (the super skinny, the ones with the hegemonic look) ‘unreal’.
Initiatives like this fail at understanding what feminism really is, because they point the finger at women with certain body types instead of addressing the actual problem. If all shapes and sizes are welcome, that should include all shapes and sizes. One would think this is an obvious statement, but that impression can change in a heart beat: just scroll through the comments under any skinny girl on Instagram, and you will find the classic “go eat a burger”. Funny thing that nobody would say that to a skinny man…but that is a conversation for another day.
The Dove advertisements look even less honest when you consider Unilever’s other market strategies. Axe, the male deodorant brand, has released zillions of commercials that objectify women in the most brutal way.
This girl would certainly not get a part in a Dove commercial…
Skinny and traditionally beautiful women (and men) do certainly have more visibility in media, and a higher status in society. That does not mean they are less ‘real’, or should be bullied or body shamed. To assume that every skinny body is a product of an eating disorder or systematic dieting is a gross misconception.
The Body Positivity cause has been taken by companies as another opportunity to sell its products. However, there are things that just do not make sense. Why on earth would you sell Fat Pride t-shirts in small sizes?!
Another point that Louderback makes in his article is about the hegemonic medical model. According to the author, and most ‘fativists’, there are not scientific grounds to claim that obesity is bad for you. Louderback goes as far as stating that obese people have proven to be even healthier than average weight individuals, at least in some fields (“…fat people have an unusually good record for not committing suicide”).
But to focus the debate on who’s healthier, the skinny or the fat…that’s just beating around the bush.
First thing they teach you when you go to Med School (or any health related career, for that matter): there is no such a thing as absolute health. Between death and an ideal state of wellness, there are a lot of gradients.
Moreover, the human body is a system. Countless variables interact inside a living organism, and the result of those interactions is a certain state of health. On top of those biological variables, there are risk factors associated with the individual’s lifestyle. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. Extreme malnutrition may result in heart failure. Sedentarism causes a progressive decrease in skeletal muscle mass.
Eating habits have an enormous impact on health, regardless a person’s weight. Science has proven that obesity increases the risk of suffering a number of conditions (diabetes, heart failure, colon cancer, etc.). Hardcore ‘fativists’ claim that these are myths, and an obese person can be perfectly healthy – or at least as healthy as a slim person.
I feel like this point has turned into a question of faith, even though it is nothing of the sort. If a person does not want to believe in science, it is his or her prerogative. However, any person who has put on a significant amount of weight will agree that there their quality of life has declined: shortness of breath, joint pain, insomnia…you name it.
Why do ‘fativists’ mistrust medical adivice? Because they claim that this is another form of discrimination against fat people. Moreover, they state that the dieting industry moves millions – and it does. However, the treatment of the conditions and diseases that result from obesity are equally expensive. That is to say, the private health care system makes millions out of obesity. Obesity related diseases overburden the public system, leaving less resources for the treatment of other conditions.
Society certainly gives obese people a hard time. Bus seats are too small, movie theaters are too small, clothing sizes are too small. The world is not designed for the vast majority of people, for most people are overweight (especially in the United States and Central America). Overweight people are overlooked and discriminated at workplaces and whatnot. People should not be losing weight to fit into this ill-minded paradigm, and this is the place where Body Positivity activists must push.
So far, the fat have been forced to diet for the wrong reasons. ‘Fit or miss’, they say. But there are reasons to lose weight, nonetheless, and those should only concern the individual’s health. And it should always be the person’s choice.