Normalization Of Obesity

Updated: Jan 7

There’s been a Cosmo magazine cover circulating lately that shows morbidly obese women with the words “this is healthy”. They started putting obese women on their covers about 2 years ago with Tess Holiday, but this time they outright said it was healthy.

We want to explain why this health-at-every-size (HAES) movement isn’t good, but first let’s mention what they do right. They advocate for not shaming yourself or others based on your body size or weight. That’s great. You aren’t a bad person if you are overweight or obese, and you should be happy no matter your body size. If you aren’t happy, then change!

So, we think that “health” should change to “happiness”. The acronym gets to stay the same (HAES), but the message is far better (happiness at every size).

And that’s because you can’t be healthy at every size. Period, full-stop. You aren’t healthy if you are morbidly obese, just like you aren’t healthy if you are anorexic.

This isn’t something open to interpretation.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for numerous chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. While some people may be obese and point to their normal blood labs as evidence of health, that’s fallacious for two reasons. First, metabolically healthy obese folks are still at a greater risk of chronic diseases than normal weight folks. Second, blood labs don’t tell the entire picture of health. Things like joint health and energy levels are known to suffer with obesity, but that won’t show up on your metabolic panel.

So, what about those people who say “mind your own business, this isn’t affecting anyone”? They’re wrong. Promoting obesity as being normal or sexy will have a big influence on the millions of young, underdeveloped, and impressionable minds reading the magazine, particularly given that many of them are already overweight or obese.

The analogy here would be promoting smoking as some form of self-acceptance and telling people it's okay. It's absurd. This doesn't mean that we should fat or smoke shame, and it certainly doesn't mean that someone who is obese or smokes is a bad person. We simply shouldn't be normalizing these things as healthy.

And to pre-emptively address the flipside of the coin, this type of promotion is vastly more damaging than showing lean, skinny, or fit people because it's a lot harder to become underweight than it is to become overweight and obese in the modern food environment.

Comment over here.

You can find posts here, here, and here. Alex's personal blog posts relevant to this discussion can be found here, here, and here. Podcast can be found here.

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