I read an article this week which a friend had shared on facebook about a 'fat-acceptance activist' who died at age 34 of a heart attack. It turned out the story was satire (read it here), but still it got me thinking.
Before I get into my thoughts I want to make it totally clear that I am a huge advocate of body confidence (if you know me, then you will already know this): one of my mantras is that you should exercise and eat right because you LOVE your body, not because you hate it. I wrote this to provoke some thought around the blurred lines surrounding this topic, and I imagine it could ruffle a few feathers. Good.
So, here's my primary question: where is the line between loving your body regardless of appearance, and enabling a preventable medical condition?
I know, I just KNOW someone is going to twist this, but hear me out...
There are a bunch of different definitions you can find online for 'body confidence', but one of my favourites is the following:
Body confidence is how a person feels about the way they look. When we have body confidence we accept, and are happy with, how we look and what our bodies can do.
So basically what I take from that is that body confidence is being happy with your body. Pretty simple concept I reckon, and one we should all aspire too. I've struggled with body image in the past, especially when I started working in the fitness industry and was surrounded by all these hairless 6-packs and bulging guns. That will not help someone who is already insecure! I've come a long way in order to accept my body the way it is (and still could be better), and I want to help others make the same transition based on this definition.
Now here's the discussion I'm interested in: is it OK to use the mantra of 'being happy with your body' to avoid dealing with the reality of a life-threatening medical condition? Yes, obesity is classed as a medical condition by the World Health Organisation, so that definition can't really be argued. Anyway, perhaps it is OK, as it's someone's own body for them to do with what they wish (I'm a strong supporter of personal freedom). What about if you preach to others that it's OK for them to hide behind the term 'body confidence' while making themselves physically and possibly mentally ill? What about if this is what you're teaching children and teenagers? Is this a healthy belief to be instilling in the next generation?
I strongly believe that true progress in health and fitness comes from a place of empowerment. I have a conviction that someone who, for example, is morbidly obese and suffering with related complications such as Type II diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, will be able to turn that around most effectively by LOVING their body, not by hating it. But I also believe that if you are following lifestyle pursuits that are making you physically unwell and claiming it's because you 'love your body'...well I'm sorry but to me that just doesn't add up.
Like an abusive partner may claim to love the very person they are abusing, if we claim to love ourselves while abusing ourselves does that really fit our understanding of love? If we love ourselves shouldn't we empower and embolden ourselves, and support ourselves to improve and grow as people...both physically, mentally and in any other way? The same as if it was another human being. Why is there this double standard where it is acceptable to promote damaging ourselves in the name of self-love?
If more people TRULY loved themselves and their bodies, then I believe more people would give their bodies what they TRULY crave: activity, water, healthy food, excitement, adventure, care, LOVE.
Again, I know people may get upset by some of the things I've written, but that's what happens when someone challenges your beliefs. I'm not saying your beliefs aren't valid, and I'm especially not saying mine are better than yours. I'm just saying perhaps it's time we took off the kid gloves and challenged some of this stuff, for the sake of these vast numbers of people dying from preventable, lifestyle-related diseases.
I will end on a quote from the Body Image Pledge, from the Be Real Campaign, which I think sums up exactly what I'm trying to get at:
'Emphasis should be placed on health and wellbeing, not weight or appearance.'
I would love to know your thoughts, let's get this discussion raging! Share the article around, engage with me on my social media channels, and let's find out what people think about this ?