Obesity hides behind female body positivity


By Bekah Denny

Body weight manifests itself in different ways on each specific body type, and what’s presented on the outside is not representative of health on the inside. (Illustration by Camille Sweeny-Carter)

Ranging from size zero to the “plus-size” 8XL, media and fashion have started to embrace size inclusivity. This new understanding of beauty in every size is an important step to achieving greater acceptance in society, but body positivity doesn’t erase the negative health effects of obesity.

Body positivity is the acceptance of all body types as beautiful and perfect in their own individualized way with the goal of improving overall health and well-being. This movement has blown up in the past five years with women, most notably Demi Lovato, Lily Collins and Tracee Ellis Ross, encouraging women to embrace their natural bodies. Ross created an inclusive clothing line with JCPenney ranging from sizes small to 3XL. Collins used her platform to bring awareness to women’s struggles by highlighting the deadly toles negative body image can take after starring in “To the Bone,” a story revolving around those struggling with anorexia. Another contributor to the body positivity campaign is Dove, who has promoted “Real Beauty” with women of different sizes, ethnicities, and ages.

While size inclusivity impacted society positively, it has also disillusioned people into believing that obese and plus-size are interchangeable. “Plus-size” means clothing or people of a size larger than the average range. A study in the “International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education” revealed that the average size for a woman in America is 16-18. While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines obesity as “weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height,” determined by a person’s individual body mass index score (BMI). The average woman’s height in America is five feet, four inches, and a healthy weight to fit a normal BMI is 124-138 pounds.

Medical professionals were once concerned with women being far below their BMI. Today, they are concerned with them being far above. The fashion and media industries have seen it all: before when, in 1999 to 2009, anorexia and bulimia became the norm. In an effort to stop this epidemic, society sought help for girls suffering from these eating disorders from the fashion industry to high school health classes. Employers of models, actors, dancers, and other women in media, started to take note if their employees were underweight and demanded they receive treatment if needed.  

Now, nine years later, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and obesity is becoming glorified. In 2015, at the start of the size-inclusive movement, the hashtag #ThisIsPlus spurred several women and some men to share photos of themselves using the hashtag. This campaign became a great platform to show the fashion industry that people come in all different sizes. However, many of the images shown alongside the hashtag portrayed obese women. These obese women further skew society’s view of plus-size and unintentionally advertise an unhealthy body type. Along with this movement, television shows like “My Big Fat Fabulous Life” (2015- present) and “This is Us” (2016- present) idolize and celebrate extreme obesity disguised as “plus size.” This celebration of obesity, a deadly and harmful disorder, creates the romanticized notion in viewers minds that obesity is an accepted norm.  

On the other hand, seeing more and more women in the media who are curvier has caused bigger girls to reject fad diets and self-deprecating thoughts, in the end making women far more confident in their own skin. Terms used to insult like “fat” have been morphed into compliments and become the desired curvy or “thicc.” This evolution creates more realistic beauty standards, but there is such a thing as too thicc.

Obese and plus-size are not synonymous with each other, but rather plus-size is the crutch that supports obesity. Representation is no longer the issue; education on the difference between “body positivity” and health needs to be the main concern. Media and fashion should not represent an unhealthy lifestyle, but instead, influence change for a healthier society.