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HEALTH | Body Positivity: The Skewed Social Implications of Health

“Health is more than physical. It is emotional, mental and spiritual. All of them make us whole.”Unknown.

(Photo by Emma Harckham)
(Photo by Emma Harckham)

What is health? This question should be easy to answer; yet when asked to put it into general terms, it can be a very daunting task. The idea of health is so simple, yet society has morphed it into something political, ideal, and controversial.

In this week’s Mills Body Positivity Club meeting, we discussed what the meaning of health was to us personally and how it was/is shaped by the media, our family, school, and other outside factors.

It was inspiring, yet humbling to hear what my peers had to say. The wisdom and thoughtfulness behind their answers made me realize how dangerous much of our common ideas of health are.

Many of us shared the common experience of wanting to be healthy, and then seeking advice and ideas on how to do so from the Internet, books, magazines, etc. The common trend with these materials is the portrayal of health being synonymous with weight loss, and regardless of circumstances, the ultimate goal forced upon us is to have as little body fat as possible.

It is so frustrating that more often than not advice on “how to be healthy” involves extreme dieting, weight loss tricks, supplements, and the outright shaming of people who are not considered ‘healthy.’

Take this excerpt from Skinny Bitch, a popular ‘health book’ written by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, for example:

“If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to hear the truth: You cannot keep shoveling the same crap into your mouth every day and expect to lose weight.”

This advice cites no medical research, assumes one should hate themself for not being “healthy enough” and implies that losing weight is directly correlated with health. This theme constantly repeats itself throughout the book with such chapter titles as “Sugar is the Devil” and “The Dairy Disaster.” Claims such as “Soda is liquid Satan,” and “Healthy = Skinny, Unhealthy = Fat” are stated often by the authors who are clearly medically-trained. (Full Disclosure: One of them is a modeling agent, the other a model.)

Statements such as these imply that one has made a major mistake for drinking soda, or eating a dairy product. It teaches the reader to equate eating “good or bad” foods to your self-worth. It also implies that weight is the only measurement of health: something that is not applicable to everyone.

What I took away from our meeting is that health is personal and different for each person. There is no ‘one way’ of being healthy, and health encompasses much more than just your physical health. And physical health is much more than just your weight. Self-confidence, self-love, and appreciation are essential to living a healthy life. One may be the most physically healthy person ever, but if they don’t love themselves or aren’t in a positive state of mind, they may end up missing out on some of the most important aspects of living a healthy and fulfilling life.

Read Kendall Anderson’s earlier blog post: HEALTH | Body Positivity: Why Our View of Beauty is Distorted.

The Mills Body Positivity Group meets on Wednesdays at 4:00 p.m. and Thursdays at 12:20 p.m. Check out the Facebook group:

Or email for more information.