BEAUTY IN DIVERSITY

The Last Acceptable Prejudice?

A few months ago, I watched an interview of Farizah Ahmad by Maryam Lee ironically titled “Perempuan Sihat” which translates to “healthy woman”. It is also colloquially used to refer to an overweight woman. In that interview, she was talking about her experience with fat shaming, with the underlying message that fat shaming is not acceptable.

She also mentioned how prejudice towards those who are overweight is the last acceptable prejudice, as opposed to any other form of bigotry. People openly make comments regarding weight and criticize those who are overweight, often times making negative assumptions about their character or health status because of their weight.

At one point, she said that she actually had an “all clear” from her doctor, on some medical tests. Many people took this to mean that she was endorsing being overweight/obese. I think that misses the point that she was trying to make, which was more of, respect for individuals, regardless of their size and calling out those who think that fat shaming is acceptable.

This brings me to my topic, which is about body acceptance and being body positive. For the purpose of brevity and this article, I will be talking about body positivity with regards to weight, although the term applies to a positive attitude about the body, in general. To me, body positivity means simply being comfortable in the skin that you’re in, regardless of your shape, size, skin tone etc. It also means that you are free to decide to change your appearance, if you choose.

Weight Isn’t An Indicator Of Health

The Body Positive Movement is a movement that encourages people to adopt more forgiving and affirming attitudes towards their bodies, with the goal of improving overall health and well being. Wanting to lose weight does not negate your right to be body positive at your current size. However, weight loss isn’t always the answer as being body positive is ultimately about self love.

Body positivity is not the same as condoning being overweight/obese. It is a fine balance of self-acceptance, healthy lifestyle choices, self-improvement and engagement with life. Body positivity does not mean that you do not strive to improve yourself.

Weight isn’t always the best indicator of health. There definitely are certain health conditions that are related to being overweight/obese. More importantly, fat distribution is what has a greater degree of influence on health. For example, an outwardly slim person with a lot of visceral fat is less healthy than an overweight person whose fat distribution is concentrated at their hips and thighs (not visceral in nature). “Central obesity is the number one factor associated with diabetes, hypertension, and infertility, in their respective orders.” (Aditi G. Jha, M.D.)

Some people in the Body Positive Movement go as far as to say that in order to be body positive, you should not change anything about your body. That is akin to cutting off your nose in order to spite your face. In order to prove a point, someone who follows this type of viewpoint might engage in self-sabotaging and destructive behaviours that eventually lead to disease or a decreased quality of life.

There are two separate issues to address. Firstly, respect for all persons, regardless of their appearance and secondly being body positive about the current body you are in. A body positive attitude encompasses both these issues. You respect others only in so far as you respect yourself.

Body Positivity Is Relevant To Everyone

Being body positive does not mean that you are in denial about the health issues that are associated with being overweight/obese. It means that you do not allow your appearance to dictate your level of engagement with life.Your self-worth and personhood is so much more than just your appearance.

On the flip side, how many times have we heard the phrase “Real women have curves” or “Strong is the new thin”? While they may attempt to sound body positive, they aren’t really, as they operate on the onus that the women who don’t fit these criteria are somehow less of a woman. These don’t sound positive at all.

Critics of the body positive movement think that the concept of “body positivity” still bases a woman’s worth on her appearance. However, body positivity is relevant to everyone and in a world where the definition of attractive/acceptable is very narrow, it is important to reiterate the message that there is beauty in diversity.

Dr. Reshma Stanislaus is a medical doctor/general practitioner, an alumni of AIMST University and holds degrees in Psychology and English from the University of Manitoba. Her interests are preventive and functional medicine, nutrition i.e.; the role of diet in disease prevention/cure, psychology and parenting related topics. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry and more recently, practising yoga. She works part-time and spends the rest of the time caring for her two children; Nikhil (age 7) and Mishka (age 5). She can be contacted at mogoat@yahoo.com