On “Body Shaming,” “Dear Fat People,” “Love Your Body,” and the Obesity Epidemic
Recently, as many of you have likely noticed, the topic of body shaming has once again hit the limelight, spurred on by a viral video by YouTube vlogger Nicole Arbour entitled “Dear Fat People” (watch at your own risk – it's highly offensive). Now, I'm not going to come out in support of Nicole, because I think the way she went about spreading her message was – as I said – offensive, inhumane, misinformed, and needlessly cruel. But I do think there's something there worth exploring.
Nicole's video comes at a time when a lot of companies and advertisers are encouraging us to “love the skin we're in.” And while the cynic in me feels obligated to note that the ad agencies producing some of these ads are the very same ad agencies representing Coca Cola and Nestlé, two of the companies most responsible for making us fat in the first place, as well as Pfizer, who makes billions selling pills to cure the resulting ailments, I still believe that the core message is wonderful. As human beings, we come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, and because of that, we should love the cards we are dealt.
But nobody is simply “dealt” a BMI of 35.
Nobody is born morbidly obese.
Something else is at play here. But we'll get to that.
First, I want to note that even in these ads, such as the one pictured below from Dove, it's clear that each of these women is reasonably healthy, despite different genetic builds. And that is beautiful.
There's a big difference between learning to love ourselves and our bodies completely “as is” and having the love and compassion to invest in our health.
Let me be clear – before your defenses go way up, or you point out that it's very easy for a man to underestimate the incredible pressure put on women and their bodies – and state that it is not my intention to encourage body shaming, bullying, eating disorders, or any other form of insecurity about one's body, male or female. These are all horrible things that I've witnessed first-hand, and nobody should have to endure them.
There's a big difference, however, between departing from the unrealistic standards set by starved and photoshopped lingerie models – which I'm all for – and the notion that we should be fat and happy about it.
There's also a big difference between learning to love ourselves and our bodies completely “as is” without questioning our choices or decisions, and having the love and compassion for ourselves to invest in our health.
Perhaps it's just me, but I don't know if the blanket statement “love your body” should apply to someone suffering from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome. No, I would argue that as with any form of love, love for your body should come from a deep appreciation, respect, and the investment of time and energy to build the relationship into a healthy and prosperous one. Only once all of this has been fulfilled can you truly love what you've built. Sure, we can't all be athletes or fitness models. Nor should we aspire to be! But we can aspire to be the healthiest, happiest, fittest version of ourselves possible. So while I agree that shaming people about their bodies is dangerous, cruel, and inhumane, I think it's fair to acknowledge the underlying problem: somehow, we as a society have agreed that maladies such as obesity and heart disease are normal and expected. They're not.
As I recently discovered in Robb Wolf's incredible book, The Paleo Solution, the notion that our ancestors were malnourished or suffered brutish, short lives is patently wrong. In fact, any archaeologist or anthropologist will be able to tell you that they were not only healthier, stronger, taller, and fitter than we are, they actually resembled modern day Olympians more than today's general population. And if you refine the statistics to eliminate infant mortality, violent deaths, and the fact that a simple bone break or infection used to resulted death, they lived just as long as we do today – but with fewer health problems.
So, there's that.
Who, then, should we be angry at? The offensive YouTuber who had the guts to declare (albeit in the worse possible way) that “something isn't ok here,” or the government(s) and corporations that have kept us fat, misinformed, and miserable for the last 4 decades. As Robb Wolf brilliantly put it, it's pretty hard to make money off healthy people, unless you're selling fitness equipment.
Love for your body should come from a deep appreciation, respect, and the investment of time and energy to build the relationship into a healthy and prosperous one
Many of the critics of the video – and there are a lot – have cited genetic conditions, life-long weight issues, and psychological concerns as reasons why the video is in bad taste. Certainly, these conditions are valid and do apply to many people, who should never be shamed. As I've said – nobody should ever be shamed. But FAR too often, the very people citing genetic conditions or emotional reasoning are still poisoning themselves with a high carbohydrate, grain-based diet full of processed foods and other garbage, and washing it down with soda or sugary “juice,” diet or otherwise. And who can blame them? After all, these are the guidelines that have been given to us by everyone from doctors to nutrition experts since the McGovern committee chose to adhere to the Seven Countries Study in the 1970's.
The thing is… most of this has since been disproven, and is generally accepted as hogwash by unbiased researchers. And if you're wondering how such a pervasive lie – a lie that has killed tens if not hundreds of millions of people prematurely, has been allowed to continue, I have one word for you: lobbyists.
But this isn't a rant about politics or corporate personhood. So what exactly am I trying to say?
Well, obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes… these things are not normal for any species, much less ours. They're not something we should just be accepting as the facts of life – and they're not something that have been seen as such until very recently. To try to convince someone who is suffering from obesity and health complications to “love their body,” isn't, as Ms. Arbour would suggest, “assisted suicide.” It's a manipulative attempt to deny that person of that most basic instinct of every living being on this planet: the instinct of self preservation. And for what? To profit from them on both ends of the equation, selling them both junk food and blood pressure medication? Never mind obesity, that phenomenon is what's truly disgusting.
To try to convince someone who is suffering from obesity and health complications to “love their body,” is a manipulative attempt to deny that person of that most basic instinct of every living being on this planet: self preservation.
On the other hand, to “shame” that person into “eating less” is an equally cruel and ineffective approach, in that caloric restriction as a dietary choice simply doesn't work. To cite Robb Wolf again (can you tell I'm a fan?), “It’s a great racket: Sell you something that does not work and blame you for the failure!”
And if there's a point to this long-winded rant, I think that's it.
We don't need to relax our opinions about what healthy means. What we need to change is our collective notion that unhealthy – whether it be from obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or even anorexia caused by trying to look healthy* on a diet of garbage – is somehow normal or acceptable.
So yes. Love the skin you're in. But please: treat it with the same respect, compassion, and attention that you would any other recipient of love in your life. Anything else would be, well, inhumane.
Over the next three months, in order to address this topic and provide what we feel is constructive and inspiring information for those struggling with obesity (or any other diet-related health concerns), we will be hosting a number of tried-and-true experts on nutrition, paleolithic diets, and healthful cooking. These include Abel James, Robb Wolf, Dr. Loren Cordain, and more.
Please subscribe to our podcast or email newsletter (top of the right column) to be notified when these episodes are released.