The Healthy Acceptance Movement

Moderation and consistency are the keys to a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. The media tends to set a terrible example of the ideal body image. Women who are rib-revealingly slim, men with deep-ridged six-packs: these images are ubiquitous in 21st century society and reflect a trend towards thinness that has become more and more obsessive over the past few decades. They reflect a trend towards humanly unattainable figures, impossible proportions and photo-shopped fantasies.

Enter the “fat acceptance movement,” which defines its goal as “seeking to change anti-fat bias in social attitudes.” The movement exposes the myriad of flaws in the thinness culture. More importantly, the fat acceptance movement seeks to bridge the gap between physical and psychological well-being – loving yourself for who you are and not hating yourself for what you aren’t.

Proponents of the fat acceptance movement argue that being greatly underweight is both physiologically and mentally detrimental. Not only does being underweight come with a host of physically-derived health problems, but it also displays an unhealthy conformity to skewed societal values of “beauty” and a blurred self-perception that leads to an obsession to constantly get thinner.

Weight is certainly not always an appropriate measure of health, which is where the flaws of both the underweight and overweight acceptance movements come from.

This supposed strict dichotomy between underweight and overweight leads many to overlook the fact that weight is often not an indicator of good health. Someone who is anorexic will have a body weight far below the healthy range, but a body fat percentage test would reveal that this individual actually has a body fat percent that indicates obesity. This is because extreme anorexics consume insufficient nutrients to stimulate muscle growth, and so their bodies consist of mostly fatty tissue. 

Similarly, body mass index (BMI) is a common measure of “healthy body weight,” which takes a ratio of height and weight to determine physical well-being. However, it fails to take into account muscularity, and so a bodybuilder would have an “obese” BMI, even though he or she clearly dedicates incredible effort to exercise and nutrition.

In Joni Edelman’s article in The Huffington Post on why she supports the fat acceptance movement, Edelman says “happiness does not require thinness. Fatness does not presume sadness.” This is extremely important; both thinness and fatness are physical

conditions that can have psychological roots. Many people suffer mentally, day in and out, to count every calorie they consume and to track every minute of their gym time every day. On the other side, derisive comments like “fat isn’t beautiful” or the erroneous idea that one cannot be fat and happy drive overweight individuals to hate their bodies and

 themselves and go to drastic, dangerous measures to change everything.

Walking around Colgate’s campus or frequenting Trudy, it is difficult to want to ruminate on physical health issues. Most people here seem so fit, right? But for some, beneath the surface lies an obsession with calorie-counting and over-exercise that can create lifelong mental and physical challenges. And we have to face the fact that when we graduate, some of us will join the 35% of American adults who are classified as obese – a staggering and disturbing problem that comes with an incredible host of health issues.

Let’s all put some credibility, then, in a “healthy acceptance” movement. Its tenets can include adherence to the government’s suggested 150 minutes of exercise per week – something only 66 percent of Colgate’s students report doing. Healthy acceptance involves eating fruits and vegetables but enjoying treats in moderation too – it’s good for your body and mind. Don’t focus on that extreme fad diet for spring break or flat abs just for the summer but rather make our goals lifelong.

The fat acceptance movement has a great message: love yourself for who you are, do not conform to an unattainable skinny norm and if you gain a few pounds, it’s not the end of the world. But don’t take away the message that “being overweight for life is okay, as long as you love yourself.” Undue strain on joints, clogged arteries, greatly increased lifelong risk for diabetes and heart disease and death are just some of a host of physical ailments that could plague those who don’t take control of their health. And while being too fat or thin may mirror happiness in the short-term, a life-long approach to health is the best option for most people.

Complications from being overweight or obese account for over 112,000 Americans deaths per year. This represents an epidemic, and while it may be easy to eat everything and remain physically inactive, those decisions can shorten one’s lifespan by decades. Moderation is needed – a happy balance between underweight and overweight – the healthy acceptance movement.

No one promises it will be a simple change. But as one of my favorite quotes says, “What is each day but a series of conflicts between what is right and what is easy?”