On being kinder towards larger bodies
Well, all bodies really….
This month (November 2022) the newsletter themes included kindness, tolerance, thanksgiving and the elimination of violence towards women. And as I sat with those themes, trying to come up with something to write about, I kept going back to the Yoga For All® Training that I am currently doing, and a lesson this week on “Healthy at Every Size”. And then I realised – being in an abundant body brings out a lot of unkindness, intolerance and contributes to violence against women, particularly what are commonly known as micro-aggressions. (Think about people being judged as lazy just because they are in a larger body.)
If you are a white, middle aged, fat woman you are in the most underemployed category in Australia (add in single mum and you get extra negative points). This is because fat discrimination is kind of the one that we don’t talk about, and still allow.
My training talked about the fact that the creator of BMI was interested in statistics and morality, and that it is nonsense, scientifically speaking (it’s more of a made up math thing), and yet the focus on it makes huge amounts of money for the weight loss industry, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the fitness industry, etc.
Analysis of meta data from around the world has actually shown that being “obese” (a random line in the sand based on the spurious BMI) does not shorten lifespans, in fact statistically those classed as obese actually live a little longer!
There is an assumption that because you are in an abundant body that you are unhealthy – but many people in larger bodies will still test within normal ranges for most health markers (blood pressure, cholesterol, organ function, vitamin & mineral levels, etc). As well, thin people can test outside normal, but we usually don’t blame it on them being thin.
Weight cycling (where people diet, lose weight, and then regain it, rinse and repeat) though can negatively impact health. And the biggest impactors of negative health impacts are actually high levels of stress, things like drugs, smoking, alcohol, etc, and low socioeconomic status. (Side note – marginalised peoples are more likely to have low incomes and be discriminated against in all sorts of ways, which in turn leads to higher stress. Of course we would rather focus on getting people to loose weight, and shaming them if they don’t, then trying to undo social inequities.)
Health is a spectrum, and many things that impact our health are not under our control. And, it should not be a barometer of worthiness. All beings have inherent value, including people in larger bodies.
The Healthy at Every Size philosophy is that healthy habits bring health to bodies of all sizes, shapes, and ages. These healthy habits include:
- eating plenty of fruit and vegetables
- moving (to your capacity)
- not smoking or drinking or doing other drugs
- getting enough sleep
- reducing/managing stress
They also emphasise compassionate self care, respect, and critical awareness, where you challenge assumptions and value lived experience and people’s knowledge of their own bodies.
So, what does health look like from a weight neutral perspective?
- good health markers
- good mental health
- functioning body systems eg digestion, circulation, etc
- good energy levels
- good sleep
- low pain levels
- stamina and strength (to the level you want)
The main goal is to be able to do what you want to do!
I have been technically overweight for about 30 years. My weight hasn’t changed much for the last 20 or so years. I can touch my toes, which I know many people can’t do, as my flexibility is pretty good (thank you gentle yoga). Most of my health issues are due to a condition that I was born with, not my weight. My mental health is pretty good – I have a lot of tools, and have done a lot of work on myself. I don’t drink or smoke or do drugs.
I actually love my body! I know it really well – I talk to, and listen to it, a lot. I am kind to it (mostly) and treat it and other bodies with respect. I don’t judge it, I am not ashamed of it, I try very hard not to harm it. I am grateful for the things that having a body allow me to experience (eg chocolate, beaches, sunsets, cat cuddles, etc), and try to acknowledge the capacities that my body and I have that may be unique to me.
What is your relationship like with your body? (Feel free to take a moment to think about it.)
Finally, I want to leave you with this:
Be thankful for your body, no matter what it looks like.
Be kind to your body, always.
Listen to your body – it knows a lot!
Karen Howard is a counsellor, coach, energetic body worker and yoga teacher. She is also an Access Bars® Facilitator and a Body Process® Facilitator. You can connect with her via her email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find out more about Healthy at Every Size here – https://haesaustraliainc.wildapricot.org/
Good on you Karen. I am not over weight but I have suffered with acne most of my life. It just means we all have ‘something’ to put up with.
Thank you for sharing your story.
Leonie Elizabeth Ashute.