Body Positivity vs Body Healthy

‘Who are you calling fat?’ the BBC TV show that has blown up a whole load of opinions on what may be right and wrong when it comes to loving yourself and managing your weight. Did you see it? What did you think? It has certainly elicited a lot of opinion on social media, and in the comments sections of various news websites where it has been featured.

Personally, I feel there was a lot of touching and heartfelt moments in the programme, where a number of people who identified as ‘fat’,’ living with obesity’, or ‘overweight’, lived together in a house for a week.  The producers and directors of the show did a really good job of reflecting the many different aspects of life as a bigger person. The good, the bad and the ugly.

There seemed to be 2 factions in the house, those who were accepting of medical science and the fact that being overweight and obese can have a detrimental effect to your health, and wanted to improve their health outlook, and then the body positivity movement who were all about accepting yourself whatever size you are.

I am all for body positivity, loving the life you have and the skin you’re in, but I feel a very important element of that is to also love yourself enough to take care of your body, so that you can be the best possible version of yourself – for you, your family and your friends.

Body positive vs Health

There were some wild opinions aired on this show, mainly by one participant, Victoria, a 35 year old Body Positivity coach, originally from Northern Ireland. But I am going to focus on just one, that really raised my blood pressure.

First of all, I must say that Victoria made some really valid statements about how people should love themselves whatever size they are but as the show went on, her views seemed to get more and more extreme.  The exercise where she took herself and two others into a busy town centre in their swimwear and stood blindfolded, was clearly liberating for the participants. She encouraged passers-by to draw hearts on their bodies to show them they are loved.  I found these scenes incredibly touching, and they brought a tear to my eye.  I applaud these women for doing this, as I am sure it took some mental and emotional strength to stand there in swimwear, and as someone who has an internal battle with myself when I stand on a beach or by a pool in a bikini, I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

But, despite her good intentions around the body positivity movement, she also made some pretty uninformed statements, particularly about how communicating messages on disease risk, associated with being overweight and obese were just ‘fear-mongering’, and, how we should love our bodies regardless of our potential future health status.  Honestly, I think these are dangerous statements to make, because I feel that it is encouraging a person to be reckless with their health and their future quality of life.  The risks are proven time and time again in scientific research, and whilst it isn’t a complete given that you will develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes or some cancers when you live as an overweight person, the risk is most definitely increased.

I get that she loves the way she looks, and wants to encourage others to love the way they look whatever their size, and it really is commendable.  But this attitude must come with the warning and acceptance of the potential health risks.  If a person who loves their size at 25 stone, could see into the future and see what health problems they will develop; the loss of legs due to diabetes (as seen in the programme) and the heart attacks in their 50’s,  I am sure they would do all they could to prevent that happening, and may be try to work on loving the lighter, healthier versions of themselves.

I felt at times Victoria was in denial, by not accepting the health risks and finding out about her own health status and DNA.  It seems to me that she chose not to find out about her current health purely for the purpose of being able to live in the moment, and continue to eat the tubes of Pringles she seemed to enjoy so much in the house.

The health risks are real

Personally, I am fully aware of the health risks discussed in the programme.

My grandmother developed type 2 diabetes and by the time she was in her early 60’s had to have both of her legs amputated above the knee, due to neuropathy associated with the disease. She died at the age of 74, of a massive heart attack. This is no age, and when I think about it my parents are only 10 years off that, and I thank God that they are healthy, and hopefully will remain so for many years to come.

In the 10-15 years before my Grandma died, I remember my mum being run ragged caring for her mum.  The hypo attacks, the frequent admissions to hospital due to complications with her liver, kidneys and digestive system and of course the two major operations and all the illness that led up to her having her legs amputated.  My grandma practically had her own room at Blackburn Royal Infirmary, she was there that often.  Her stays in hospital were that frequent that my younger brother and I thought it was perfectly normal to visit Grandma regularly in hospital, and it didn’t worry us at all, but it is only now as I get older and see my parents and how healthy and active they are, that I realise how bad it was for my Grandma, that it isn’t normal to be so unwell in your 60’s and 70’s, and that we shouldn’t be in and out of hospital on a regular basis.

Wider Impact

The doctors and nurses of our local hospital cared fantastically for my Grandma, and our beloved NHS, is probably the one thing in this country that every Briton is proud and protective of.  But sadly, we all know it is on it’s knees.  We could debate all day about the why’s and wherefore’s of the reasons for this, but to protect our wonderful NHS and it’s future we all have a responsibility to make the best use of it, and to protect our own health so we access it as little as possible. This isn’t about shaming anyone who uses the NHS, or has health problems, this is about not being reckless with our health and doing what we can to protect our own health to keep ourselves healthy, therefore reducing our own drain on this most precious service, which currently spends around £5.1 billion a year on obesity and overweight related health issues, according to the Obesity Health Alliance.

The unseen damage

After the BBC program aired, I was contacted by one of our members, Francesca.  I knew a little about her story but not all the details. Francesca developed arthritis, and whilst she may have developed that whatever her size, there is no question that her excess weight will have exacerbated her debilitating pain and possibly even the level of wear and tear on her affected joints considerably. Francesca needed joint replacements, and started with a hip replacement.  But following that realised, that she would have a better quality of life if she lost some weight.  So that was it, she started – losing 10 stones and then got her knees replaced, and is now a lot healthier and considerably more mobile than she used to be, walking two miles every day with her little dog Benji.

Aside from the joint pain, Francesca also suffered from leg ulcers, that have left her with scarring, and she also now has to wear what she terms ‘scaffolding’ compression stockings, at a cost of £100 each, because the veins are so damaged in her legs, she needs the assistance to her circulation.  Francesca says ‘ These are the things that we don’t talk about, the gruesome side of being bigger and the long term damage it can do to our bodies. And after watching ‘Who are you calling fat?’ it is a worry that the younger people embracing the body positive movement, are storing these problems up for themselves, if they spend the majority of their life as a bigger person.  I know, because it is my story.’

Self love over body positivity

Like me, Francesca agrees that we should all love ourselves whatever our size, but I think this is more than just body positivity and body acceptance.  Acceptance to me seems to me that we might be settling with a version of ourselves that we aren’t 100% happy with.  I think we need to embrace a little bit more self-love, self-care and self-respect, rather than accepting and loving our size what ever the cost to our health and to wider society.

We need to take responsibility now so that we don’t see our loved ones run ragged in the future, looking after us. I know that I want to be like my mum is now, when I am older.  I want to be the one still looking after my kids, grandkids and maybe even great-grandkids in the future, not being nursed through ill health by my own children.

We need to love ourselves enough to keep our bodies healthy for a long, long time, we need to respect ourselves enough to nourish our bodies correctly, and we need to care for our bodies enough to ensure that we do all we can to prevent the potential health problems that may be in store for us in the future.

This week!

Love yourself a little more! But make sure that you are loving and caring for all of your body – what’s on the inside as well as what’s on the outside!

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