Scroll through Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, and you’re sure to find at least one example of a woman’s declaration of love for her curves, acceptance of her “flaws,” and body-positive outlook in a world of perfect models and even more perfect (and unrealistic) magazine covers. There has been a proliferation of full-sized celebrities: Melissa McCarthy gets starring roles; Rebel Wilson is emerging as a bona fide star; Christina Hendricks is selling cars on the basis of her full-figured body; and then there is Oprah’s embrace of her heavier self. We’ve come a long way in accepting every body type.
But is this acceptance coming at a cost? There is no question that America’s collective waistline is continuing to expand. A study done just last year shows that women’s clothing sizes have increased dramatically. Similarly, The State of Obesity, a project from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, finds that nationally, 38 percent of adults are obese and nearly 8 percent are extremely obese.
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Is body positivity or the fat acceptance movement spurring people to overeat and forgo exercise? That seems unlikely: Honestly, who actually chooses to be overweight? Yes, we need to make better choices and exercise more, but as a culture we’ve been trying fat-shaming for decades and it hasn’t worked. Blaming the victims seems cruel: Even the American Medical Association has officially removed the stigma from being obese, classifying the condition as a disease—in other words not a life choice or moral failing. (Here are 13 more things experts won’t tell you about weight loss.)
What critics fail to realize is that body acceptance can lead to a happier, more fulfilled life. A recent study published in the journal Body Image found that your view of your own body has a major effect on your overall wellness journey; feeling shame or dissatisfaction with your appearance can lead to mental health issues and less activity.
So, is this movement making people fat? If anything, the opposite may be true: People who feel bad about their weight seem less likely to achieve real change or take steps to improve their health. And remember that it’s possible to be over-sized and still be fit. Numerous studies have found that not only do overweight exercisers have healthy hearts and strong lungs, they tend to outlive people who are normal weight couch potatoes. (What actually is the healthiest weight? You might be surprised how much debate there is.) Go ahead and embrace the way you look and lead a healthy lifestyle. That’s your ticket to healthy, happy life.