Fat acceptance movement is lacking

The advocacy of various beauty images and the fight against size discrimination is an honorable cause, but not very effective if it does not acknowledge that obesity is ultimately a health hazard.

Obesity has been around for decades, just as discrimination based on size. In 1969, Bill Fabrey in New York had a bellyful of the prejudices and unjust treatments and hence founded the National Association to Aid Fat Americans, which is now called National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

This non-profit, volunteer-based organization spearheaded the Fat Acceptance Movement that works against discrimination of obese people and their mainstream stigmatization and provides “fat people with the tools for self-empowerment through public education, advocacy, and support,” as stated on NAAFA’s official website.

Several studies supported NAAFA’s claim that size discrimination exists in all aspects of daily life, ranging from employment and medical care to education and public accommodation.

One of the studies was conducted by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University and argues that size discrimination has increased to 66 percent over the past decade in the United States and that obesity is now the fourth most common base of discrimination after gender, race, and age.

Additionally, the study shows that inequities based on size are often due to widespread negative stereotypes that an overweight and obese person is lazy and less disciplined.

However, it would be too simple to say that obesity is caused solely by habits of excessive eating and a sedentary lifestyle. There are more dimensions to it than laziness and the lack of discipline.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, being overweight can be influenced by environmental factors such as insufficient access to healthy foods or lack of time, by genes which can affect the amount of fat stored, by the overproduction of certain hormones that slow down the metabolism, medication, lack of sleep, and pregnancy, just to name a few.

As stated on the NAAFA website, the Fat Acceptance Movement does not try to find excuses for big people to be overweight or encourage an unhealthy lifestyle. Instead, it promotes a different beauty image than our current, upheld standards that define slender and toned people as attractive.

Although the mission of the Fat Acceptance Movement to educate the public on the various causes of obesity, to fight prejudices against big people, and to support the belief that beauty comes in all sizes is a good cause, it is seemingly ineffective.

Since the movement was started in 1969, not much has seemed to change in the prevalent opinion of the public. To the contrary, according to the study by the Yale Rudd Center, discrimination has increased over the past ten years.

This becomes most obvious in media which not only predominantly portrays lean people to be beautiful but also produces so-called “fatertainment” for which overweight people are ridiculed. Despite small campaigns, such as Dove’s Real Beauty advertisement, movies and TV shows like “The Nutty Professor”, “Identity Thief,” or “The Biggest Loser,” to list only a few of many, still perpetuate the existing negative stereotypes of obese people.

Furthermore, a study published by the Harvard Medical School in September 2013 proved that even if heavier people are metabolically healthy, meaning they have normal cholesterol levels, regular blood pressure and blood sugar levels, they are exemptions and are still at risk for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes.

Although the movement does not explicitly support unhealthy lifestyles, embracing being bigger implies the acceptance of living a life that is or will be harmful to one’s health.

Rather than advocating only for the acceptance of bigger people, the movement should try to educate both the prejudiced public and those who suffer from being overweight.

Obese people, no matter if metabolically healthy, should be aware that being obese is always a potential health risk. They should not lose weight because of the negative prejudices and discrimination but because of themselves. Losing weight is not easy, especially when other factors other than superfluous calories are at play.

In those cases it is even more crucial that the Fat Acceptance Movement motivates and supports its members in achieving a healthier lifestyle.

The Fat Acceptance Movement’s mission to fight against size discrimination and current beauty images is worth supporting. However, its perspective on obesity is too one sided and fails to recognize that being obese is undesirable due to health issues and not because it is an indication of negative character traits.

Until they acknowledge that they must accept the truth about obesity and its related-health hazards, it might be beneficial that the movement has not yet reached the mainstream media.