Body Acceptance and Glorifying Obesity
Body Acceptance, Concern Trolling & Glorifying Obesity
There are many definitions for the Internet phenomenon known as “concern trolling,” but it has a special meaning in terms of body shaming. Concern trolling is when a person expresses concern about health or offers health advice to someone they don’t know, just based on a photo of them online.
(For those who may not know what “trolling” is online, it generally means harassing people or trying to rile people up by making offensive remarks, just because you can.)
Concern trolling mostly occurs with large / fat (Disclaimer: I use fat as a neutral term, not an insult!) / “obese” people, but it happens with thin people, too. (Such as concerns that the person is “anorexic” or hasn’t been eating enough. Again, based only on a photo of someone they don’t know.)
In the case of fat people, the concern is that they aren’t eating well, exercising and / or are not at a “healthy” weight. And when it appears in the context of body acceptance or expressing body love, there is often the concern that the person is promoting an “unhealthy lifestyle,” also known as “glorifying obesity.”
People may think these sort of comments are acceptable, and some aren’t necessarily coming from a bad place. But there’s a reason it’s defined as “trolling” — because this is just another form of body-shaming masked as concern. It’s another way for people to say, “Your body is unacceptable.”
Here’s why concern trolling is an issue:
1. A person’s health is none of anyone else’s business.
Individual health markers, conditions, diseases, risk of diseases, and illnesses – these are all private, personal matters. A person has no obligation to share this information with strangers. When society considers you to be too fat or too skinny, that does not suddenly mean your health issues need to become public knowledge, or that you are obligated to justify your body to other people (or that you have health issues at all).
2. Even if you were entitled to comment on a stranger’s health, no one can diagnose conditions or evaluate health just by looking at someone. Unless you are their doctor, you don’t know anything with regards to their physical health.
All that’s accomplished by concern trolling is alerting the person to the fact that they are fat (as if they didn’t already know) and that society considers that to be a bad thing (as if they didn’t already know).
We still place so much importance on BMI – body mass index – as though it’s a magical all-encompassing health assessment tool (mostly because it’s cheap and easy to use). In reality it’s always been a deeply flawed system that was never meant to measure individual health or fatness. Still, today we send 6-year-old kids home with fat-shaming letters because their BMI is a little out of range. Then we wonder why young kids are dealing with body image issues and going on diets.
The fact is – there are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people (and visa versa). Some people eat lots of junk food, exercise very little and never get fat. Some fat people exercise 5 days a week and eat a healthy vegan diet.
The idea that fat people are all lazy, compulsive junk food eaters who don’t “take care of themselves” and lack self-control is a harmful, inaccurate stereotype that needs to go away.
Even when someone does fit that stereotype to whatever degree, it’s still none of your business and does not justify body-shaming.
Many studies have shown that physical fitness level is far more indicative of health than the number on the scale. This is yet another health characteristic that you cannot assess by simply looking at someone.
3. “But that obese person obviously doesn’t exercise!” – For starters, you have no way of knowing if they do or don’t! How is it any of your business how much they exercise or why they are the size they are? Why do they need to justify their body to you? Again, you are not their doctor!
4. “But obesity is a real public health issue, and something needs to be done!” You know what ISN’T a solution to the “obesity problem”? Fat shaming and size discrimination. A study from the University College London last year found that discrimination did not make fat people healthier or encourage them to lose weight, and was in fact associated with weight gain.
5. This is the most important point: A person’s weight, size or health does not and should not determine their worth as a human being. It should never be a source of shame, and nobody should be denied acceptance or respect because of their appearance or health status.
Health is highly individual, complicated and changes from day to day / year to year. People of all sizes may have all sorts of health conditions for all kinds of reasons.
We need to disassociate health from morality. Being in perfect health whether you’re fat or thin does not make you morally superior. Society has created this moral panic around fatness, as if fat / weight is an evil threat that needs to be eliminated. But fatness is on people. On unique, complex human beings who deserve the same level of care and respect as everyone else.
Body acceptance is not predicated on health and does not require you to justify your body first. It does not ask you what you ate for dinner, what your vitals are, if your sugar intake is too high, or how often you go to the gym, and then tell you whether or not you’re allowed to accept yourself as you are.
Self-loathing and stress over body image don’t lead to better health. People who embrace their bodies are more likely to want to pursue a healthy lifestyle, which means doing what’s best for their body.
Denying fat people visibility and promoting one body type as valid is obviously not helping to create positive body image and self-esteem. What we have instead, is a huge weight loss industry and a nation of people obsessed with losing weight – often at the cost of their own personal health!
Body acceptance needs to be open to everyone and include people of all shapes and sizes. Concern trolling, shaming, bullying and discrimination need to end for the good of all.