How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
Just scroll through pictures of women tagged #fitspiration on social media, and you’ll typically see women that fit our culture’s beauty standards. That is, they’re thin.
In the media we consume daily, women in smaller bodies are spokespeople for healthy lifestyles. On the other hand, people who are plus-sized face plenty of stigma from society and assumptions from doctors about their “unhealthy habits.”
Because of the way weight has been framed with respect to medical issues and beauty standards, Americans have a “fear of fatness.”
That anxiety has contributed to a focus on individual responsibility related to body weight and size — rather than larger socioeconomic problems that are linked to weight gain.
Quite simply, our culture tells us thin equals good, fat equals bad. But this is far from reality.
“Mainstream media has always defined beauty by the number on the scale or the inches of a tape measure. Beauty has always been limited to such a small box,” says Alexandria Sundstrom, a plus-sized blogger at Chubby Struggles.
While there are significant studies that show that obesity makes a person more susceptible to heart disease, sleep apnea, diabetes, and other issues, that doesn’t mean that a person who weighs more carries additional health risks.
There are many variables at play.
“A person’s overall cardiovascular disease risk is made up of a combination of factors besides weight,” says a recent study conducted by Harvard Medical School. “Some people just weigh more than others because they have more muscle and bone mass.”
It’s time to rethink our definition of health with respect to weight. So we asked five plus-sized female bloggers to share their definition of health.
There’s a double standard that thin people don’t have to face
“Thin people also have disease or engage in unhealthy habits, yet they do not face relentless comments from strangers ‘concerned for their health’ or claiming they are a bad influence. The double standard can be seen everywhere in a world where plus-size dancers get trolled for ‘promoting obesity,’ while thin celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Jennifer Lawrence are applauded for showing how down to earth they are for eating fast food.”
— Renee Cafaro, editor of plus-size fashion magazine SLiNK
Health policing is basically cyber bullying
“We deal with a fair share of cyber bullying and fat shaming under the guise of ‘health policing.’ The truth is there is no way anyone could know the vital health records of anyone from Instagram.”
— Renee Cafaro
Plus-sized people make healthy, conscious choices
“The biggest thing I do is just listen and pursue what makes me happy and feel my best. For me, that’s dancing a couple times a week because it makes me laugh and feel sexy. Or I do weight lifting because it makes me feel strong and badass. I know I feel better when I have more organic and fresh ingredients in my meals, so I make grocery shopping a fun adventure to try new fruits and veggies, or seek out interesting restaurants with locally-sourced ingredients to try on date nights. I make sure I’m spending a lot of me-time pursuing my goals and taking breaks when I need them.”
— Alexandria Sundstrom
People in larger bodies don’t let their weight hold them back
“I grew up hearing, ‘you have such a pretty face,’ which only left me feeling ashamed of the rest of my body. It made me question my value as a person in this world. To stay healthy I don’t do anything differently than anyone else. I exercise when I can and I try to make better decisions about my health every day. I don’t let my weight hold me back from anything, or torture me into thinking I have to do something to be a better human.”
— Jessica Torres, fashion blogger and Instagram model
Health is just as much about how you can perform
“Showing is proving. When you are stronger and have more endurance than your thinner counterparts, that’s all the proof that is needed. For active people, their performance and ability are much more important than what they look like to others. Feeling good, having great skin, having energy from getting enough sleep, and eating well are their own rewards, rather than trying to compare a dress size.”
— Marianna Leung, curvy blogger and designer
Health is choosing quality of life over chronic dieting
“Back in college in 2001, I finally quit a lifetime of crash dieting, prescription diet pills, and disordered eating, mainly because I couldn’t take the heart palpitations anymore. All of that risky behavior was endorsed by family and doctors because at 5’1”, a size 12 is obese on the BMI scale. No matter how hard I tried I still never could get skinny enough to reach these arbitrary ‘beauty and health’ goals.
At that time, I experienced chronic pain, blood pressure issues, and more legitimate health problem indicators than I do now. When I quit it all, I gained weight and made a decision to find a way to embrace my appearance for the first time rather than succumb to feelings of hatred and failure. My life has been much better ever since.”
— Renee Cafaro
Regardless of size, being strong is healthy
“A year ago I was a size 16, and now I am almost a size 12 but have only lost 10 pounds. The change came from weight lifting. I am still seen as fat and my BMI would consider me to be obese, but I am healthier now than I was when I was 40 pounds lighter 10 years ago. Even though I am older and overweight, I have a healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and pass all other health tests. Appearance cannot determine your health.”
— Alison Gary, curvy blogger at Wardrobe Oxygen
Health is being mentally strong and honoring your body
“Health is obviously a compilation of stats like blood sugar, blood pressure, and the like, but also mental health and a feeling of strength. I work out to feel strong mentally and physically, not for weight loss. As my grandmother always said, ‘everything in moderation.’ If you find yourself doing anything in the extreme, from extreme exercising to extreme binging, it’s a sign of poor health, in my opinion. You should honor yourself and do what feels right.
To me I know I am healthier now than when I ‘looked healthy’ more than 80 lbs. ago, not only because my blood tests don’t have red flags, but because I now care to put good whole foods in my body instead of just ‘diet’ gimmicks, and my mental health struggles are behind me.”
— Renee Cafaro
Consider all the factors of health. Don’t just base assumptions on size.
“People think that so many fat people have the option to eat healthier or be active. There are so many factors that are of value when considering health. We always forget to talk about mental health, and how important that is, and how it can affect your physical health.”
— Jessica Torres
Meagan Drillinger is a travel and wellness writer. Her focus is on making the most out of experiential travel while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Her writing has appeared in Thrillist, Men’s Health, Travel Weekly, and Time Out New York, among others. Visit her blog or Instagram.