Yes, Weight IS A Social Justice Issue
(Alternative title: The article I wrote last week for my other job for Eating Disorders Awareness Week which was deemed "too progressive" to publish)
February is Black History Month, March is Women’s History Month, and sandwiched right in between is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Seems like an ideal time to dive in and examine the intersectionality between these three causes with a primer on Health at Every Size, a healthcare approach and social justice movement focused on ending weight stigma and discrimination.
The Health at Every Size (or HAES) approach is gaining traction in the medical community, and for good reason. When utilizing this approach, healthcare practitioners recognize that health truly looks different for each individual, regardless of what the BMI chart or scales say. It is actually an individualized, holistic look at wellness, unlike the weight-centered medical models that are being proven not only unrealistic and incorrect, but contribute to eating disorders by inferring that thin equals healthy.
You’ve probably heard reports that people of higher weights have higher risk for certain diseases. What you probably haven’t heard is that this disease risk actually most likely isn’t caused by weight, but perhaps by stress- from various factors, ultimately including the stigma of being a higher weight. (Not to mention that people who perceive that they may be mistreated by a doctor will put off going to get checked out for longer than someone who isn’t dreading the weight lecture.) The CDC outlines the “social determinants of health”- conditions that impact health risk and conditions. Surprisingly, health behaviors like diet and exercise (generally touted as THE keys to health) only account for a small percentage overall health. Factors like socioeconomic status, education level, neighborhood/ physical environment, access to health care, and social/community engagement and integration play huge roles in health outcomes. Poverty, discrimination, and safety actually matter much, much more than whether or not you eat vegetables or maintain a weight in an arbitrary range of a nonsensical equation that was never meant to indicate health- otherwise known as BMI.
While eating disorders are about SO much more than weight and food, the fact is that our culture makes it incredibly difficult to get over fear of weight gain when we are constantly surrounded by fear-mongering about the “obesity crisis.” With racial and gender inequality being at the forefront of today’s social justice movements, it’s time to add weight to the list of unacceptable discrimination. These things are being addressed by the HAES movement- we’d love to have you on board as well.