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Body acceptance is not an excuse to be fat

Published:Sunday | June 21, 2015 | 6:00 AMKeiran King, Contributor
Keiran King

It's crunch time. One in three adults worldwide is overweight, a pandemic of two billion people courting diabetes, stroke, pneumonia, heart disease and cancer. That's our top five killers lined up like the Grim Reaper's firing squad, with the entire species waddling to execution.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, based in Seattle, weighed 188 countries between 1980 and 2013 not a single nation managed to slim down. Jamaica looks destined for the flabby bottom of the chart - although we're not as meaty as America, we're bulging four times as quickly. The Ministry of Health now says an astonishing 40 per cent of our men and 80 per cent of our women are too fat.

That last sentence might rankle some readers. Too fat? Who the hell appointed you Big Bad Wolf to huff and puff about our weight? Relax. This isn't another diatribe telling anyone to eat more fruits and grains. (Although we all should, they're delicious.) In fact, you don't have to listen to me, your spouse, or even your doctor, so long as you heed the writing on the hospital wall.

The body-mass index (BMI) is a colour-coded range of safe weights for every height, based, in part, on the stress limits of our bones and joints. Tip into the yellow, and you're overweight. Go orange, and you're obese. Simple, no?

Not really, because being heavy comes with extra baggage the kind that doesn't show up on the chart. Studies show that the plus-sized receive less sympathy from jurors and doctors, less respect as doctors and professionals, and less pay overall than their svelte counterparts. Add in a media preoccupied with six-packs and thigh gaps, not to mention euphemisms like 'extra baggage', and you've got a perfect storm of discrimination, poisoning places that once had largesse for largeness (Puerto Rico, Samoa, Fiji) with fat bias.

 

large feeling small

All that prejudice can leave big folks feeling a little small, so a counterculture has taken shape, promoting body acceptance - essentially, the same "Hey, we're people, too!" rallying cry of all oppressed groups. But like the gay-rights movement before it, body acceptance lives in the grey area between genetics and lifestyle, which has left its advocates confused about what to fight for.

At the genetics (or 'nature') end is a battle about body type - the idea that deodorant commercials reinforce an unattainably young, flawless, Eurocentric image of desirability. That's true. Hence deodorant commercials, like Dove's long-running 'Real Beauty' campaign, now try to showcase a variety of ethnicities, ages and hairdos. A necessary corrective, because as any seamstress can tell you, even the fittest people come in a variety of shapes small-busted, wide-hipped, long-legged, and so on.

At the lifestyle (or 'nurture') end is a skirmish about body size the idea that everyone, regardless of their waistline, should be considered healthy and beautiful. Hence the acronym HAES (Healthy At Every Size), defiant hashtags like #fattitude and the international celebrity of Tess Munster, the first size 24 fashion model.

This is dangerous psychological comfort food, convincing people they're somehow making the world better by eating cheeseburgers. Healthy obesity is an oxymoron those surplus pounds trim up to a decade off your life expectancy, even if you lose the weight in your attenuated old age.

Yes, beauty should be diverse, but it shouldn't be meaningless. By definition, we can't all be equally attractive, unless the point of comparison is a manatee. So let's agree to ditch the Greek ideal, but replace it with Jamaican common sense.

Beauty and health should be synonyms, defined by our individual realities instead of our collective delusions. It's okay to be imperfect and miss the gym and cheat the diet and splurge on your birthday and relapse and make mistakes and fail - we're all human - but it's not okay to demand the rest of us call it a victory.

- Keiran King is a playwright and journalist, pursuing his master's degree in California. His column is on hiatus. Tweet @keiranwking or email columns@gleanerjm.com and yell@keiranking.com.