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To the Editor:
A recently published opinion, “The Practice of Body Positivity Requires More,” argues that the body positivity movement has neglected the importance of physical health. But the assumption that undergirds its logic — that fat individuals do not engage in healthy habits — is as false as it is fatphobic.
It is impossible to judge someone’s health by the shape or size of their body. There are thin people who are unhealthy. Likewise, there are fat people who are strong and fit — take Meg Boggs, the fat influencer and powerlifter who wrote “Fitness for Every Body.” We should also question why we feel entitled to pass judgment on the bodies of others at all.
If the answer is still “health,” we should also understand that it’s fatphobia, not fat, that poses the real danger to health. A study of nearly 19,000 adults found that weight discrimination was associated with a nearly 60 percent increase in mortality, independent of other risk factors. Weight discrimination has also been associated with worse medical care; almost half of doctors report having negative attitudes about obese patients, including some who report “disgust.”
It’s also worth remembering the multitude of issues inherent to Body Mass Index, the measure typically used to categorize individuals as obese or overweight. BMI was developed in 1832 by a mathematician as a way to study the “normal man,” and was only based on Europeans. Its height-to-weight ratio can’t account for muscle, and individuals it classifies as “overweight” have actually been found to have lower all-cause mortality than individuals it classifies as “normal.”
Regardless, though, all humans — fat, thin, and otherwise — deserve to be treated with respect and dignity; all humans deserve the chance to love their bodies, and to have their bodies be loved back. That’s what the body positivity movement is about. It’s also a movement by and for women of color, interrogating the centuries of racism that underlie our culture’s valorization of thinness and vilification of fatness.
I agree with the statement that “body positivity is an action.” But that action looks different for everyone. It’s misguided, for example, to assume that exercise is always beneficial. For individuals like myself, who are in eating disorder recovery, the healthier choice is often to refrain from a workout. It’s also important to be aware of external social factors — like access to fresh produce — that make it much harder for some individuals to take actions like “managing stress and anxiety, getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a healthy diet.”
For all its flaws, the opinion is right about the fact that “we still have a long way to go.” I don’t need to read a report about the social and economic costs of eating disorders; like tens of millions of Americans, I lived it, and could have died from it. For most of middle and high school, I suffered in silence; no longer. Since I arrived at Harvard, with the support of therapy and Harvard University Health Services Nutrition, I have been in recovery from anorexia. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done; it’s also the best thing I have ever done, and I encourage anyone who is grappling with food and body issues to seek the help they deserve.
The body positivity movement will be waiting to welcome you.
Camille G. Caldera ’22, an Associate News editor, is a History & Literature concentrator in Cabot House.
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