Big Girl, You Are Beautiful (Within Reason)

I follow a lot of blogs and websites about different causes in which I am largely a spectator, a listener, someone only peripherally related to the issue. While some are ideologies I downright don’t agree with, others make me happy just to see they’re around–even if they may not benefit me directly. One in particular, the Fat Acceptance Movement, is something I’ve always found wholly necessary to combat our culture’s extreme, often unhealthy obsession with being thin. I’ve spoken many times, both here and elsewhere, about my disdain for the fashion industry’s relentless idolizing of all things waify. Sure, some women are naturally quite svelte and that’s wonderful, but to even briefly pretend that this is a social norm or something we should unilaterally aspire to is at best, misguided, at worst, dangerous. So movements like the FAM are both necessary and quite refreshing. Yet in following the movement, it’s almost impossible to deny that if we react too harshly to our societal love of thin, we will go in an incredibly unhealthy direction.

It is absolutely true that everyone’s “stable” weight is different, and some people will just always be bigger than others. The assertion that you can know much about a person’s health strictly by their weight is untrue, within a certain range. If someone is severely underweight, for example, we can infer that their health is suffering as a result. And it has become socially acceptable to openly mock and criticize people both in the public eye and our everyday lives for being “stick thin,” “too skinny,” or — much worse — “anorexic.” We feel quite free to toss that dangerous label around, to chastise and denigrate people who err on the extremely thin side. And it’s no secret why, of course. They are what is now considered close to the “ideal” shape. They see people like themselves in magazines, on billboards, and on television every day. They are the norm, they are inherently privileged and preferred by society. They are open for unrestrained mockery, directly to their faces. I have participated in it myself, I’ve referred to models as being “grotesquely thin,” or “looking like a twelve-year-old boy.”

And it’s true that to make these same types of assertions to people who are overweight is somehow much more cruel. It carries not just the sting of personal judgement but of societal exile. If you are ridiculed for being heavy, you are reminded not only that your mocker finds you unattractive, but that you will rarely see anyone like yourself in advertising or entertainment. You are not what is considered appealing; you are what needs to change. The open ridicule of those who are overweight is incredibly wrong, and something that society must stop constantly reinforcing.

So this is where things like FAM come in, championing a love for all body shapes and sizes, encouraging people to love themselves regardless of how beautiful Maxim magazine might rate them or the cheerleader might find them. They encourage people to show photos of themselves, wear what they like, and embrace their physical form, however it may look. This, of course, is wonderful and wholly necessary. It’s disgusting to have entire generations of people growing up thinking they are ugly simply because they are an average human size. And the FAM is right on in its assertions that being overweight doesn’t necessarily imply poor health — for the most part.

Going through blogs and websites for fat acceptance, one sees endless pictures of women and men smiling and showing off a body they’ve long been told to hide and be ashamed of. It’s a beautiful thing, and a wonderful way to feel better and more comfortable about yourself, as well. But then there are some pictures — and they’re not incredibly rare — which display people of extreme, morbidly obese size: 400, 500, 600 pounds. This is riding, of course, under the same banner as a young girl in a size-16 prom dress who is active and healthy and wants a safe place to show a picture where she looks beautiful. But the former are people who share this title, who also work for fat acceptance, and are by any and all standards putting themselves in grave medical danger.

If these people are happy with the risks they take and enjoy their weight and lifestyle, more power to them. Pack-a-day smokers are able to take those same risks and laugh smokily in the face of death if they so choose. But to imply, or associate with the implication, that a judgment of health based on appearance is unwarranted or inaccurate is downright dishonest. Just as a person who is dangerously underweight can be concisely labeled as unhealthy, so can someone who is extremely, morbidly obese. And in a country where diabetes, heart disease, obesity, limited mobility, and a laundry list of other medical problems are bearing down ominously on both our children and our medical industry, do we not have some responsibility to draw a line? Just as we should not glorify (at least without some disclaimer) being dangerously underweight, telling vulnerable children and adults looking on these sites for help that being 600 pounds is beautiful and wonderful — with no serious talk of the repercussions — seems incredibly risky. If we can succinctly say that “thinspiration” blogs are dangerous and encourage things like anorexia, how are websites which glorify super-morbid obesity not deserving of similar reproach?

It’s not hard to see the motivation for this kind of movement. We are, as a society, sick of being told we all have to look like Adriana Lima or Ryan Gosling to be attractive — and rightfully so. But in the quest to make everyone feel accepted, to take some of the stigma out of being bigger, we’ve created an enclave of equally unhealthy goals, models, and influences to encourage our already ballooning health problems as a society. There must be, for lack of a better term, some balance.

image – Shutterstock

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

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