Fat acceptance and fat pride movement: Are we glorifying obesity in the name of body positivity? | fitness

If there is a line that can best encapsulate the fat pride movement around the world then it is, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple,” by 18th century Irish poet Oscar Wilde. The movement started in the 60’s but now it’s on top of the Twitter trending charts. And there lies the question: How did this turn from a movement into a matchstick that ignites debates and polarizes people? Every opinion needs a platform for expression. That platform is often the media.

Take for example Lizzie Cernik’s column in The Guardian, in early August this year. Titled “It’s not fine to be fat. Celebrating obesity is irresponsible,” it criticized the fat movement for glorifying obesity. Cernik, a features writer for the paper, argued while no one should be bullied for their weight or food choices but fat pride celebrates obesity. Here’s an excerpt from her article:

But as we move away from the skinny goals of the mid-2000s and embrace different shapes and sizes, one group of campaigners has taken things a step too far. Fronted by plus-sized models and social media influencers, the fat acceptance movement aims to normalise obesity, letting everyone know that it’s fine to be fat. With terms such as “straight size” and “fat pride” proliferating, some influential figures are now even likening the valid concerns of health officials to hate crimes.

In a rebuttal, Rachel Hampton, an editorial assistant at Slate, wrote a column for the magazine titled “The Fat Pride Movement Promotes Dignity, Not a ‘Lifestyle’.” Here’s Rachel’s counter-argument:

Of course, fat people aren’t trying to encourage more people to become fat; they’re trying to live a life with dignity. If you’ve never been fat, it’s hard to understand the various ways in which your body stops becoming your own once you reach a certain weight. It becomes an object for public consumption and comment or ridicule. Strangers feel obligated to tell you you’re going to die early or give diet tips or scrutinize your every meal under the guise of patronizing concern for your health. And that’s despite the fact that, contrary to Cernik’s skepticism, there’s nowhere near scientific consensus that fat always equals unhealthy.

Recently, rumours said American filmmaker and fat pride activist Kelli Jean Drinkwater, who presented a TedXSydney talk on fat phobia, in 2016, passed away, but it’s not known if they were true.

British journalist Piers Morgan added to the debate in a column in Daily Mail, lambasting Cosmopolitan’s October cover star Tess Holliday, an American plus-size model. Excerpts:

As such, you are someone suffering from morbid obesity. That’s not me being a ‘fat-shaming douchebag’, as your legion of fans will doubtless immediately scream. That’s just a fact. The medical establishment gives that definition to anyone who is more than 100lbs overweight or has a BMI (Body Mass Index – the ratio of an individual’s height to his or her weight) of 40 or more. That’s YOU. Morbid obesity, as its name suggests, is a very serious health condition. Those who are diagnosed with it are at greater risk for illnesses including diabetes, high blood pressure, gallstones, osteoarthritis, heart disease and cancer. In other words, it can kill you. Yet Cosmopolitan sat you in a throne and declared you’re ‘a role model for others who’ve been excluded this way’, you’re ‘downright honest’ and you’re ‘everything the fashion industry needs right now’ because you ‘don’t conform to the narrow standard of beauty that’s been set by society.’What a load of absolute nonsense.

Caitlin Finley, a 22-year-old model, guzzles up to 10,000 calories in one sitting, in order to become a webcam star and make money.

Morgan followed up with another column in Daily Mail, where he offered to go on a diet, together with Tess.

Needless to say, a pattern of endless back and forth of extreme opinions has emerged. Even a mild discussion about fat acceptance is like navigating through a landmine. This polarization of the debate has left us no choice but to rely on the opinion of health experts, most of whom approve neither of the bullying or glorification of obesity. The conversation, they feel, should be around health, not looks, as the latter will make people defensive.

Here’s what the experts have to say

“Unless you have a medical condition such as thyroid; the only way you can become obese is through a sustained period of overeating. This is a fact. In my opinion, no one should glorify or celebrate obesity; at the same time obese people should not be bullied about it. However, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be criticized. I believe criticism is healthy and it will only push them to lose weight”.

Dr. Mohsin Wali, Cardiologist and former Physician to the President of India

”This is a facts vs feelings debate. The reason for polarization of this debate is that fat people tend to think others criticize their looks, they question their existence. Over the years, the portrayal of fat people in the media and beauty industry is that they should be ashamed of themselves. The conversation should be regarding their health, how it’s extremely unhealthy to be obese, not about their looks. One should try to refrain from name-calling obese people. That just makes them defensive”.

Pulkit Sharma, Psychologist

“Obesity is a growing problem, especially among children. If you’re obese, you will face problems like fatty liver, high blood pressure, diabetes and of course heart disease. Parents need to educate kids on obesity. People need to understand that each body comes in different shapes and sizes. That doesn’t mean you opt for a body type on the extreme end of the spectrum— anorexic or obese. Eat healthy and in moderation, exercise daily”.

Dr. Anupam Sibal, Senior Paediatric Gastroenterologist

“Being big or large in body shape invites a lot of unspoken, unexpressed criticism. It is wrong. Such discrimination brings depression and affects the mental drive to lose weight in obese people. However, at the same time, you can’t ignore the facts. And the fact is that being obese is unhealthy. There are no two ways about it. Being overweight makes you susceptible to heart problems and diseases like diabetes etc”.

Dr. Biswanath Gouda, Consultant Laparoscopic and Bariatric Surgeon


First Published: Oct 04, 2018 11:56 IST

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