Why the Fat Acceptance Movement Does More Harm Than Good

To those who are not familiar, “body acceptance” (or as it was previously coined, “fat acceptance”) has become a growing social movement with the goal of spreading acceptance of all types of bodies, primarily focusing on those who have suffered emotional harm from being bullied or shamed about their weight. This movement officially began in 1969 in New York City when the National Association to Aid Fat Americans (NAAFA) was founded. The association’s main ideology is “the belief that social pressure and overwhelming medical opinion are perpetuating a campaign of ‘genocide’ against fat people,” says Dan Fletcher, a reporter for TIME.

Since then, many other organizations fighting for the social acceptance of overweight or obese people have been formed in an effort to criticize the “fatphobic” organizations that control fashion, beauty, and (previously) access to healthcare. Their ideas are nearly all the same: fat people are discriminated against and face social and legal setbacks in everyday life, and creating a culture of “fat positivity” will alleviate these grievances.

I understand their message that different body shapes exist and all body types should be respected. However, the current body acceptance movement is not only harmful to those who experience body—or ability—related discrimination, it’s also damaging to overweight and obese people themselves. Hear me out for a moment.

First off, there are other marginalized groups of people who face discrimination, de jure (by the courts) or de facto (by the people) for their bodies’ limitations and disabilities. People who are unable to be mobile in ways that most are (e.g. can’t walk, can’t move as quickly/easily, require assistance, etc.) face plenty of de facto discrimination in workforces every day. I’m not talking about steel or lumber unions, where it’s stated that you have to be physically able, but in professional white collar work such as office jobs or STEM careers.

The assumption that they are less capable of being successful members in the office or laboratory often causes them to be weeded out, turned away, or not considered for such work. Stephen Hawking once said, “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”

Secondly, there are groups of people who become disabled through accidents, mishaps, or attacks. Disabled veterans, those injured on the job, victims of vitriolage (acid-throwing), and many other people who have had their lives changed within moments, have to face social alienation every day due to stigma or fear about the events they went through. They have to live with their conditions for the rest of their lives, and it is especially difficult for them to adjust. Worst of all, especially in the case of those wounded in combat or victims of vitriolage, there is a strong stigma about how to approach victims or help them recover. This prevents those affected from having full and successful lives and making any significant recovery.

Meanwhile, overweight/obese individuals can make lifestyle choices that can mitigate and even heal disabilities or health problems related to their weight. Even though members of the movement are willing to preach about how societal expectations of health affect their daily lives, this pressure would not exist if overweight/obese individuals made the necessary actions to curb their weight gain and maintain a healthy lifestyle. To have an entire movement centered around how being overweight is glamorous and liberating, while simultaneously highlighting how the adverse health effects plague them everyday, is concerning.

It’s even more unsettling now that the United States has socialized medicine, meaning the taxpayer must pay for their expenses. And, to be clear and reiterate what most medical professionals have found, overweight/obese people do face significant health problems: type II diabetes, high blood pressure, hormonal disruption, joint/back pain, heart attacks, heart disease, arthritis, immune disorders, and sexual dysfunction (according to the Harvard School of Public Health).

That is why I cannot fathom the “fat acceptance” movement. Its desire to normalize being overweight while ignoring how being overweight is a widespread disease in the United States is self-destructive. They believe that “Health At Every Size” (HAES, as many in the movement put it) is feasible, and should be celebrated and uplifted, despite what excess weight and fat can do to a human body.

Here’s how this social movement could be improved: make it about the body, not the fat. In the United States, approximately a third of adults and 17% of children are either overweight or obese (according to a study by the American Medical Association). 29.1 million Americans have diabetes and, according to the Center for Disease Control, 8.1 million don’t even know they have it. Sugar-coating an unhealthy condition isn’t doing this country any favors. Support someone who is disabled, who has lost a leg, who has difficulty walking or getting around, who has nearly lost their life in brutal attacks or in war, or who can’t see or hear as well as the rest of us. They need the help more. Their bodies are in greater need. And we’ll all be thankful for the opportunity to help them