Widespread anti-fat prejudice typically stems from misconceptions about health, weight, and body positivity, and negatively affects millions of people every day.
At the bottom of nearly every article celebrating body diversity, you will likely find some version of the following comments:
“Aren’t you promoting an unhealthy lifestyle?”
“I’m all about confidence, but this is just unhealthy.”
“I just don’t find fat people attractive, that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
“I have no sympathy for these people, they bring it on themselves.”
“Think of the children!”
This is called concern trolling, and it needs to stop. The intersectional issues of size, health, and weight loss are far more complicated than we’ve been led to believe, and this lack of understanding has led to weight-based discrimination becoming a serious problem across the world. Widespread anti-fat prejudice typically stems from misconceptions about health, weight, and body positivity, and negatively affects millions of people every day.
People are allowed to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies, but we need to start treating people of all sizes with respect. We can start by providing some actual information about being fat.
1. BMI is BS.
“Muscle weighs more than fat.” It’s the adage of body-builders everywhere, and, though technically we should say muscle is denser than fat, its message bears repeating: Muscle mass can have a big impact on weight. And yet, body mass index calculations don’t distinguish between fat and muscle, nor do they take into account things like a person’s frame size. They do, however, draw arbitrarily sharp divisions between what’s considered normal, overweight, and obese, even though individuals with a lot of lean muscle and little fat could fall into any of these categories.(On the flip side, those with a low BMI may have very little muscle and a high percentage of body fat, despite landing in the “healthy” range.)
Contrary to popular opinion, BMI is not an indicator of fitness. Its inventor, 19th century Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quetelet, intended his formula to be used to assess the status of general populations so the government could better allocate resources—not to calculate how much excess fat individuals have.
Nevertheless, many doctors and medical insurers continue to rely on BMI (deemed by NPR a “200-year-old numerical hack developed by a mathematician who was not even an expert in what little was known about the human body back then”) as an authoritative marker of health. While perhaps useful as a broad strokes guide to determining where someone’s body falls in relation to others’ of similar height, it’s important to remember that the picture BMI paints isn’t nearly complete.