A thinner person is not necessarily a healthy person just as a fatter person is not necessarily an unhealthy person.
I am using the word fat as a purely descriptive word, just as we use thin, tall, short etc. I place no negative connotations on this word. If you feel uncomfortable by use of the word “fat” (and I still do at times), this is totally understandable given we live in a culture where we have been conditioned to believe and feel that fat is bad and shameful. There is a growing movement to reclaim the word ‘fat’ as a non-judgemental descriptor – just as thin, tall, short are.
There is an assumption in our society that fat people are not taking care of their health. Sure, some fat people engage in behaviours that adversely affect their health, but so do some thin people! Fat people vary just as much as thin people when it comes to the spectrum of health and what it means to be healthy. We cannot assess a person’s health simply from their body size and doing so does nothing to empower people to engage in healthier behaviours, in fact, it usually does quite the opposite.
When government bodies and the media talk about the “obesity epidemic” or wage “war on obesity”, fat people are lumped into one homogenous group, a group regarded as a serious health risk and a problem that needs fixing. When news stations show images of “headless fatties” walking around town or eating something deemed “unhealthy” they are implying that if your body looks like this – YOU are a problem. Quite frankly these images are discriminatory and dehumanising.
Whatever your body size, imagine you are watching a news story that is talking about a significant problem within a group of people and next second, you see an image of yourself… how would this make you feel? Irate, unjustly portrayed, discriminated against? Would this lead you to suddenly change your behaviour? You might be thinking “but I am exercising regularly and I do eat well!” – and this is the case for many people in larger bodies. Many fat people are conscious of their eating and they are physically active. Not all are, but nor are all thin people and no one, whatever their size, benefits from being discriminated against.
If you work in an area of government, public health or media that is involved in “obesity” campaigns, or if you know someone who does, I implore you to please take a moment to consider the impact of these campaigns. Please also take a moment to look at this study on stigma and this study on shame which discuss how public health campaigns and attitudes around obesity/weight may actually serve to damage health.