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weighing in on the weight debate

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This is an article that I have been wanting to write for a long time, but have never known how to go about it. It was originally sparked by the fat acceptance movement – a movement designed to encourage acceptance of ALL body shapes. It is, for obvious reasons, a movement that I am strongly behind.

However I have always found myself conflicted by the idea of how to combine the wonderful idea behind the movement, and the health implications of obesity.

Now here’s territory that no self-respecting left-wing feminist wants to enter, and for good reason. It is freaking tough in here.  Because how does one promote the health message while at the same time not vilifying those who happen to fall into the obesity category, nor promoting the idea that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ body shapes?

Now before I continue, I do realise that a person can be both obese and healthy. But numerous studies have shown that obesity does often lead to health complications. Heart problems, high cholesterol, liver damage, pregnancy complications (miscarriage and birth defects), a higher risk of arthritis, and Type 2 diabetes to name a few. And I for one don’t think that the government is desperately trying discourage obesity because they want everyone to fit the Hollywood stereotype of what beauty is.

So you might disagree, but I am coming from a place where I truly believe that obesity is not healthy. But I’m also coming from a place where I truly believe that everyone is beautiful exactly as they are. And there is my problem – how to get behind the health campaign but at the same time not fall into the trap of making people feel unhappy about their body shape.

However despite my confusion there is one thing I do know: the current method of scare campaigns and shaming is not working. Yes, while a similar campaign may have had an impact on smoking, you aren’t just shaming a habit. You are shaming someone’s appearance, which is a devastating thing and likely to lead to self-esteem issues. Self-esteem issues which I believe may sometimes be the cause of obesity in the first place.

After all, Binge Eating Disorder is a big issue in Australia, with one of the symptoms of the disorder being obesity. And from personal experience, eating disorders can stem from unhappiness with yourself.

To be honest, I can’t help but think that the ‘educational campaigns’ about healthy eating and exercise are a big waste of time. We all know what foods are healthy and which are not. We all know how much exercise we should be getting to maintain optimum health, and I know very few people who even come close to meeting the minimum requirements (myself included). We all know that many health complications come from obesity. Replaying the same message over and over again has done nothing, and I don’t see that changing in the future.

When I had an eating disorder I knew it wasn’t healthy. I knew I was damaging my body. But shaming me about it and throwing all of the health consequences in my face only made everything worse – because my answer when I felt bad was to skip another meal, just as another’s answer might be to binge.

I think a new campaign is in order. One that promotes self-esteem; that carries the message that everyone is beautiful. One that encourages exercise and healthy eating through the idea of love for yourself and care for your body, not by pointing fingers and saying that you are the cause of rising health costs.

We don’t have to pretend that obesity is healthy. But we don’t have to insult, belittle or degrade people and fool ourselves into thinking that this is the way to make a difference.

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