In our society today we often hear how being “fat” is bad and makes the person “ugly.” This is never more evident than at the start of the new year when everything around us revolves around new year’s resolutions. When we go online, enter a store, or even talk to our friends we are bombarded with images and talk about losing weight as a goal, but this is most often disguised as “getting into shape.” The pressure to fit an ideal western body image is constant and seems never ending. As a person who has suffered from eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and EDNOS) since early college all these images wreak havoc on my psyche and make me begin to spiral. Although an eating disorder can become dormant it never truly gets healed. I always tell myself my eating disorders are either quiet or loud and it is always around the new year that they become the loudest. I find myself wanting to restrict my eating or eat what I want and then throw up. My relationship to food is one that is not always the best and when the new year hits I find my old patterns returns. When this all happens, I often ask myself, how did we get here?
“In American culture, it’s bad to be fat. Rarely is this more apparent than at the start of the new year, when diet culture, fat phobia and capitalism converge. Exploiting body shame and people’s desire for renewal, weight loss companies ramp up ads, gyms reduce rates and diet companies promise to help people realize the elusive goal of weight loss that lasts…January’s anti-fatness may be cloaked in wellness and body positivity, but its core message to potential customers is the same it has always been: Their body is not good enough, and they have not been disciplined enough to lose weight. Sociologists say that message also suggests weight and health are solely the product of individual choices rather than the result of sexist, racist and classist systems.”[i]
What we must remember when we start the new year, and weight loss is heavily pushed on us, is that the image of an ideal body weight and appearance is most often determined by white men, and sometimes women, in positions of power and privilege. This in turn leads to the discrimination of many bodies and the normalization of bodies that are, as society sees them, healthy. Dr. Gregory Dodell of Central Park Endocrinology in New York City said, “We know that people can be healthy across the size spectrum…I have patients that are ‘normal BMI’ that have Type 2 diabetes. And I have patients that are well above ‘normal BMI’ that don’t have any health problems. If you hide their weight, if you just compared their labs to each other, you’d think the person with the poorer labs was the heavier person. It’s not always true.”[ii]
It is well documented that BMI is not an indicator of health as it hinges on a certain body type, that of white people, leaving little room for other body types which have other factors, such as hip size, that make BMI a work of fiction. My body has almost never fallen into the “normal” BMI spectrum. “The main issue with BMI is that it measures excess weight, rather than excess fat, and doesn’t take into consideration where weight is distributed throughout the body. Weight comes not only from fat but also from different bone structures, muscle mass, and water retention.”[iii] Most people, one being myself who is Latin(e)(x), have their weight distributed differently and their bone structure is vastly different than that of a white body. At any given time, my body is more bottom heavy with the hips and thighs I get from my mother. No matter what I do or how much I work out/diet I will always have my hips and thighs. These are a part of me just as much as my hair, nails, or personality is. I cannot even count how many times I have gone into a store and been discouraged because a size I thought I was didn’t fit and it wasn’t until later in life that I realized that this wasn’t an issue with my body but with the production of said clothes.
As much as we see an institutionalized racism in our world today, we must remember that this extends to the beaty and health industry. “If it were about health, we would be talking about access to health care. We would be talking about the toll of discrimination against fat people in medical settings, as well as in social settings. We would be talking about access to food and activity and education and economic security. We certainly wouldn’t just be talking about people above or approaching a certain weight…By the early 20th century, slenderness was increasingly promoted in the popular media as the correct embodiment for white Anglo-Saxon Protestant women. Not until after these associations were already in place did the medical establishment begin its concerted effort to combat ‘excess’ fat tissue as a major public health initiative…In this way, the phobia about fatness and the preferences for thinness have not, principally or historically, been about health. Instead, they have been one way the body has been used to craft and legitimate race, sex, and class hierarchies.”[iv]
When you are at the start of the new year remember that you are beautiful, and your body is perfect. I know I say these words to you, and they sound as fluffy language designed to make you feel comfortable but know that today I truly mean it. Every day I am on a journey towards self-acceptance where I look in the mirror and can truly say I am beautiful. In fact, I write this to you as I struggle with my weight and self-image. I can’t remember the last time I looked at myself and said that I was beautiful, but we all must work towards that.
We must push for a world where we no longer judge on body image and size and think like the famed singer Lizzo does. In an interview with Essence she says, “I love normalizing the dimples in my butt or the lumps in my thighs or my back fat or my stretch marks. I love normalizing my Black-a** elbows. I think it’s beautiful.”[v] Your body is amazing and can do anything. The societal standards that exist all around us need to be shattered and we must normalize our bodies because we all are beautiful.
[i] Dastagir, Alia E. Everything You Miss When You Think Weight Loss is About Willpower.” USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2021/12/29/new-years-resolutions-focused-weight-loss-may-actually-harm-health/9034595002/.
[ii] Dastagir, Alia E. Everything You Miss When You Think Weight Loss is About Willpower.” USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2021/12/29/new-years-resolutions-focused-weight-loss-may-actually-harm-health/9034595002/.
[iii] Heneghan, Carolyn. BMI Myths Debunked and More Accurate Alternatives. Dignity Health, https://www.dignityhealth.org/articles/bmi-myths-debunked-and-more-accurate-alternatives.
[iv] Dastagir, Alia E. Everything You Miss When You Think Weight Loss is About Willpower.” USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2021/12/29/new-years-resolutions-focused-weight-loss-may-actually-harm-health/9034595002/.
[v] Panchal, Ananya. Lizzo’s Best Quotes About Body Positivity and Beauty Standards. Bustle, https://www.bustle.com/entertainment/lizzo-body-positivity-weight-tiktok-quotes.