Fat Acceptance: Acceptance of What?


illustration by Maliya Travers-Crumb

<comment>An obesity crisis of epidemic proportions has gripped our nation for decades — but many people don't see it that way. According to the CDC, over a third of American adults are clinically obese; it’s no controversy that this is a serious diagnosis. However, the growing “fat acceptance movement" contends that health can exist at any size and that the obese should accept the state of their bodies, with society naturally following suit. The basic idea of this movement is commendable; namely, that our culture’s obsession with being skinny is hurting far more than it is helping. , over a third of American adults are clinically obese; it’s no controversy that this is a serious diagnosis. However, the growing “fat acceptance movement" contends that health can exist at any size and that the obese should accept the state of their bodies, with society naturally following suit. The basic idea of this movement is commendable; namely, that our culture’s obsession with being skinny is hurting far more than it is helping. Thirty million Americans have suffered from an eating disorder at some point, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. The danger of these attitudes is self-evident. As someone who has struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of society’s criticisms about body image, so I firmly believe that our society needs a healthier way to deal with how we look. The rhetoric of the fat acceptance movement, however, is not a healthy or productive way of dealing with this societal angst.

What is considered healthy depends on the definition of health, according to RIT Health Center Nurse Cheryl Augustyn. All kinds of well-being must be considered, not just the obvious physical kind; mental, spiritual and emotional health must also be accounted for in the multifaceted concept of personal wellness. Even physically, what constitutes health is complicated. “There’s bloodwork, screening lab work, blood pressure, waist circumference; you can’t use one measure,” Augustyn said.

Although health is much more complicated than the number that shows up on the scale, there is no denying the demonstrable negative effects of obesity, according to RIT Health Center physician Dr. Sanford Mayer. “From a medical point of view, we see the major issues are hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease. We have a massive obesity epidemic in this country,” he said.

Mayer highlighted the damage that obesity does to the organs, comparing the fatty liver of someone who is obese to the liver of an alcoholic. He also described the stress that an overweight body puts on the joints. It seems that there’s no denying the evident negative effects of obesity, yet many in the fat acceptance movement insist that their weight is not detrimental to their health.

It seems that there’s no denying the demonstrable negative effects of obesity, yet many in the fat acceptance movement insist that their weight is not detrimental to their health.

What would cause someone to believe something so contrarian? “I wonder if it’s not a collective defense mechanism that they’re going through with this movement,” Mayer said.

 After reading many of these fat acceptance blogs and articles, it seemed that frustration was the underlying motivator of the movement’s zeal. According to researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, more than 80 percent of people gain back lost weight after diets; this frustration isn’t surprising. Much of it also comes from the medical establishment. “The worst thing for a healthcare clinician to be is judgmental. I think too many of us are judgmental. That’s what turns these folks off,” Mayer said.

Augustyn added that balanced eating and exercise are the only effective and healthy ways to lose weight. She encourages any student to come in to the health center and talk about his or her health, however he or she may define it.

One of the biggest problems with the fat acceptance movement is in the name: acceptance. After all of the diets, difficulty and judgment, it can be attractive to someone to just internalize their obesity and accept it as a part of his or her identity. Athough there predispositions to obesity, it is not akin to ethnicity or sexual orientation. Even though it’s not strictly a choice when considering all of the possible contributing factors to obesity, it’s not destiny either. Regardless of body shape, we all need to stop treating obesity like a punchline or a failure of moral character — but we also need to stop treating obesity as anything else than a widespread and devastating health crisis.