Is the Body Positivity Movement Good for Health?

June 13, 2018

blog_bodypositiveWhat is the first thing you do when you see a model on a magazine cover or a photo of someone’s selfie on Instagram? Let’s be honest. We judge. “That’s pretty!” or “That’s hideous!” It’s a natural filtering of our belief system and cognitive bias (yes, we all have it). Then after judging comes the comparing. It’s hard not to do that as ego-driven beings. “Where do I fall on the scale of the goodness or badness of what I’m seeing?” It’s a trap we all fall into, especially when it comes to weight and body shape.

In the last few years, we have witness momentum in the movement to broaden the spectrum of body sizes that fall into the good category. The Body Positive Movement strives to empower people, especially women, to feel comfortable in the skin they’re in, even if they don’t meet the criteria of a size 4 or below. In fact, the movement gradually arose as part of a backlash to the decades of media images portraying unattainable standards of beauty. The rampant use of Photoshop whittling waists and smoothing thigh cellulite finally pushed substantial pockets of our society to say enough. Now we see body-empowered models take center stage. In fact, we are hard-pressed to think of the names of any traditionally skinny models. The Kate Moss of the 1990s has taken a back seat to today’s Ashley Graham. Even though body shaming is alive and well, women around the world have gained new confidence with their body size and shape. In fact, the shaming has made many even more defiant. Social media is wallpapered with body-confident posts saying, I’m curvy, but that’s okay!

But is it?

Before we receive hate mail questioning the Body Positivity Movement, let’s just take a step back to ask a very important question. Is it in fact possible to suffer from obesity or be overweight and have good health? To answer that, we need to look at the data.

What we know for certain is that as body mass index (BMI) increases, the risk for multiple chronic diseases, like hypertension, heart disease and high cholesterol rise in step. It is a direct linear relationship. Men with BMIs of 30 or higher had a sevenfold higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and women with BMIs of 30 or higher had a 12-fold higher risk. Having a BMI over 30 increases the risk of stroke by 22 percent, and having one over 35 increases it by 64 percent

Some studies have suggested that exercise can moderately offset the negative health effects of carrying a few extra pounds (i.e., have a BMI between 25 and 29.9), but it still doesn’t decrease the overall risks of disease and mortality.

So while having a positive body image and self-confidence are absolutely essential to vitality and quality of life, it is risky to deny the very real health impact of carrying extra weight. This isn’t to say that the Body Positivity Movement can’t be beneficial in the fight against obesity. A 2014 San Francisco study found that people who practiced positive self-talk were more likely to lose weight and stay active than those who self-deprecated. This is good news for the body-positive movement as this increased confidence can turn into weight loss, which can lead to even more happiness, according to a 2018 University of Michigan study.

Our desire would be to have everyone feel a positive level of self-acceptance while engaging in the weight loss process. This can be particularly challenging in the early stages, where it is estimated that those suffering from obesity are 55 times more likely to suffer depression from as well. It doesn’t have to be that way though. There are so many people and resources you can tap into to feel energized and happy in every phase of the journey. This is your life, and there is no reason you shouldn’t feel both happy and healthy with each step.

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