Body positivity should match personal lifestyle balance
Pediatricians say weight and size is only one aspect of healthy living
April 5, 2023
The body positivity movement has encouraged people to have a positive mindset about their body size, shape, and weight regardless of traditional societal standards. But taken too far, living an unhealthy life ignoring weight and possible symptoms of obesity can lead to higher risks of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and joint problems. So how can people balance accepting their body’s size, shape and weight yet make an active decision to feel good about themselves even if it may mean risking health problems?
Balancing a positive mental mindset around weight with maintaining physical body health can be thought of using weight as only one indication of health, and reshaping the typical language used around obesity.
According to Bethany Hodges, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago, weight is just one of the “vital signs” of health, along with blood pressure, heart rate and oxygenation, so it should be viewed within a larger health context.
For example, a person can be thin but very unhealthy, while someone who is not thin can be healthy if they pursue a healthy diet and physical activity.
However, taking body positivity to the extreme by not paying attention to physical health metrics such as one’s Body Mass Index, or BMI, can create health risks.
My hope is that you can feel positive about your body regardless of its size and shape. I still want you to feel positive. I just want to help you brainstorm about achieving and maintaining a weight that’s healthy for your body.
— Dr. Bethany Hodges, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago
Dr. Hodges said a better way to positively address obesity is changing the language surrounding its usage.
“I don’t immediately say something like, ‘You are obese,’ because that sounds negative and judgmental,” she said. “I think it’s a more holistic approach to say, ‘Do you have concerns?’ or ‘How do you feel about your weight and appearance?’ and start from where the person is feeling that they are.”
The body positivity movement confuses Dr. Hodges slightly because it can imply that the default view is a negative body image. She does not want people to think that being overweight is inherently negative, rather it’s more about pursuing a larger healthy lifestyle goals.
“My hope is that you can feel positive about your body regardless of its size and shape.” Dr. Hodges said. “I still want you to feel positive. I just want to help you brainstorm about achieving and maintaining a weight that’s healthy for your body.”
She believes managing obesity as a holistic lifestyle modification can help to destigmatize it. Rather than personal body image being solely focused on weight, other aspects of health can help patients see the broader picture.
Simple tips to help make lifestyle changes include matching screen time with physical activity, eliminating sugary beverages and eating protein with carbohydrates.
Yet Dr. Hodges acknowledges that overall, the body positivity movement helps to address the general stigma of obesity in a way that dissuades unnecessary prejudice.
“I think it’s really important to help educate the public about ways to be supportive for all body types,” Dr. Hodges said, “for the individual person who’s experiencing those things.”