"Go girl! As long as you're healthy that's all that matters!"
"I'm all about body positivity as long as you're healthy"
"I am so proud of your self love! And as long as you're healthy it's nobody else's business how you look"
Those are just a few examples of the kind of comments I see on a daily basis. And don't get me wrong, I know that the people who leave them usually have the best intentions! They believe that they're paying a compliment, after all, who doesn't want to be told how healthy they look? They've bought into the version of body positivity that says the best way to love your body is by 'taking care of it' (a.k.a. not being fat), and they're simply trying to praise the people who embody that message. Unfortunately, they've got it all wrong, and the compliments they think they're giving are actually riddled with ableism, healthism, and prejudice.
When people say that they support body positivity "as long as you're healthy", what that roughly translates to is "you're allowed to feel good about yourself as long as your physical health is up to my standards. If not, you are not allowed to feel good about yourself". Putting it like that doesn't make it seem very body positive at all, does it? Somewhere along the line, this "as long as you're healthy" requirement has firmly attached itself to what people believe bopo is all about, and in doing so, has made this movement more about exclusion and judgement than love and acceptance. Here's what the health requirement really means, and why it's so harmful:
"I Can Tell Whether You're Healthy or Not Just By Looking at You"
Everyday someone I don't know on the internet makes a judgement about my physical health. Some say how wonderful it is that I have a healthy body now. Others say I'll be dead by 40 from obesity. Some say it's great that people are realising that curves are healthy. Others say I need to lose weight to be healthy. You name it, I've heard it. And the strange thing is, I don't recall ever meeting any of those commenters in real life, or spending enough time with them for them to monitor my lifestyle and decide whether it is, in fact, 'healthy'. I definitely haven't had any in depth conversations with them about my daily nutritional intake or fitness levels. I don't believe any of them have access to my medical history, or have hidden cameras planted in my fridge. So how exactly are they all so sure about my physical health?
These days, everyone is a doctor. And the first thing they learned in Google medical school is that you can tell everything about a person's health just by looking at their size. Core principles in their extensive professional knowledge are the undebatable truths that fat = unhealthy and thin (but not too thin) = healthy. This knowledge is backed up by endless front page headlines about obesity killing us all, and the deeply ingrained cultural belief that how our bodies look defines who we are as people. Fat people are lazy, ugly and unhealthy. Thin people are active, beautiful, happy and always super healthy (even when they smoke, drink, take drugs, and live on junk food, as long as they still fit into that size 8 for the Instagram picture).
Unfortunately for them, those 'truths' have been shown to be bullshit time and time again. Fat does not always equal unhealthy. Thin does not always equal healthy. Many reputable scientists believe that between 50-70% of our body type is predetermined by our genetics, which means that we need to stop telling people that they are to blame for how their body looks. I've mentioned this before, but we all have that one thin friend who could always eat whatever they wanted without gaining a pound, yet we refuse to consider that the opposite is possible too.
You cannot tell how much someone eats or how little they exercise from looking at them. Fitness has been proven to be a far better indicator of physical health than weight, and it really is possible to be fit at any size. I know fat babes who hike miles every day. I know fat babes who can outrun all their thin friends. I know fat babes who will blow you away in a yoga class. I also know fat babes who eat clean, vegan diets and are still fat. So guess what? Size ≠ health. And even if it did, physical health is not a requirement of body positivity.
"You Only Deserve Body Positivity if You're Healthy #Ableism"
Supporting people loving themselves when they're healthy may seem like a positive thing, but let's just stop and think about all the people who get excluded from this movement when their health stats don't match up:
- People who suffer from chronic illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and asthma
- People who have autoimmune disease, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or celiac disease
- People who have neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
- People who's physical health as been damaged by eating disorders
- People with physical disabilities
- People struggling with addiction
- People who deal with chronic pain
- People with autoimmune diseases or immune deficiency diseases
- Anyone who's ever been in poor physical health, for any reason, at any time
"You're Only Valuable if You're Healthy #Healthism"
Apparently a lot of people are currently under the impression that our reality is some kind of fucked up Darwinian Hunger Games scenario where only the fittest are worthy. Anyone who isn't a perfect specimen is made out to be morally defunct, a burden, a liability, useless, pitiable, or just plain worthless. We believe that our purpose in life is to achieve optimal health, and anyone who won't or can't dedicate themselves to such a noble pursuit is automatically seen as less than.
Newsflash: You are worthy regardless of your physical health. You are valuable simply because you exist. Even if you are unhealthy. Even if you are fat and unhealthy.
Nobody should be bullied, harassed, and dehumanised based on their size or their health. We are more than BMIs. We cannot be defined by how many miles we can run or how many vegetables we eat. Our blood pressure doesn't dictate what kind of person we are. Our medical records don't determine whether we get to love ourselves.
It's ironic that the very same people who support a movement dedicated to not judging people based on how their body looks, will still support a system that judges people based on how their body functions. As if that's any better.
"I Think That Your Body is My Business"
This one's pretty simple. Other people's bodies are not your business. You don't get to dictate what they should do with them. You don't get to decide whether they're healthy or not.
"Health is Purely Physical"
Every single health concern troll who rampages through the body positive community spewing ignorance about how unhealthy we all are, calling us names, spreading their fearmongering rhetoric and hate, doesn't seem to realise one crucial fact: mental health is health too. And encouraging people to hate themselves isn't healthy at any size. Of course when people attack strangers online out of concern for their health they don't truly care about their health at all, they just want to express their distaste for that person's body in the most socially acceptable way: making it about health.
Breaking free from the mental torture of hating my body is the healthiest thing I've ever done. Healthier than getting my 5 a day. Healthier than going to the gym. And a hell of a lot healthier than when I had an eating disorder. Anybody who's striving to overcome self hatred and form a more loving relationship with their body is pursuing health. It might not be the kind of health that you believe you can measure from a picture on a screen, but it counts. It is important. Just as important as physical health, if not more so.
So the next time you think about qualifying your support for body positivity with "as long as you're healthy", think about what you're truly saying. That you're someone who thinks it's okay to assume everything about a person based on their appearance. That our physical health determines whether we should hate ourselves or not. That how our bodies function makes us better or worse people. That physical health is the marker for how valuable we are as human beings. And then think about how fucked up that really is.