At one time I would have talked about the pressure men and women face in this world to achieve nearly perfect dimensions. With a growing percentage of the population becoming overweight and obese, this “pressure” no longer seems to be as prevalent an issue. In fact, the expose′ about weight has reversed direction claiming that all body types should be accepted and appreciated for their “natural beauty.”
As a physician, I do not pass judgement about beauty. I do, however, have enough clinical training to know the current message being portrayed about people maintaining body weight in excess of “healthy limits” is potentially misleading and dangerous. The Sports Illustrated article along with an article from Good House Keeping entitled, “At 200 Pounds, I’m Perfectly Happy With My Body” (picture above next to Ashley Graham) are views expressed today that potentially create a wedge between self image and good health. Those supporting these articles do so by claiming these two women are examples of “women in good health.” They offer lab values validating these claims of “good health” which show no evidence of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney disease, gall bladder disease and any vascular compromise increasing the risks for strokes.
The problem with this claim is simple. Health, in a state of compromise, can produce perfectly healthy lab values. Have you ever heard someone say, “Did you hear about “Joe Smith?” (a fictional name.) He just went to the doctor last week and was told (based on his exam and lab work) he was the “image of good health.” “Suddenly, he dropped dead of a heart attack TODAY!”
Do you believe Joe was in good health, or do you believe Joe’s body could no longer compensate for the POOR HEALTH he was experiencing even though lab values didn’t reveal this status? Good health is much more than a physical examination and a blood test. In my opinion “GOOD HEALTH” needs to be defined as a
BALANCE BETWEEN PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, MENTAL, SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL COMPONENTS IN LIFE.
I believe the purpose of these articles is to emphasize the need to accept people and appreciate their beauty regardless of size. In doing so, this leads to the improvement of SELF IMAGE along with greater SELF ACCEPTANCE. I agree that society places a taboo on body weight creating emotional hardships, but this doesn’t justify ignoring risk factors involved in the degradation of the structural body (including risk factors for osteoarthritis) as well as the risk factors associated with chronic diseases (such as diabetes and heart disease.)
Excessive Body weight IS A RISK FACTOR associated with UNHEALTHY OUTCOMES. It is certainly not the only one. To minimize this risk factor in an environment with a growing population becoming overweight and obese is a mistake. Those making the argument in favor of supporting “curvier fuller figured women” are placing an emphasis on AESTHETICS (even though the lab value argument is mentioned.) Whether a person considers maintaining weight above a healthy range (where healthy range is defined as a range reducing one’s risks for structural and chronic disease) a desirable personal standard, it must be recognized and understood as an UNHEALTHY DECISION similar to choosing an UNHEALTHY DIET. It must be emphasized again that HEALTH RISK FACTORS may require varying periods of time until symptoms manifest. THIS DOES NOT MEAN A PERSON IS HEALTHY UNTIL THE DAY THE SYMPTOM REVEALS ITSELF! This day simply marks the beginning of the body’s inability to compensate for the stresses placed on it. It becomes a final protective mechanism to force the individual to understand a problem (beyond the body’s ability to manage) exists and requires some external change in behavior to reverse a negative outcome.
Excessive weight beyond “healthy ranges” must be recognized as one of these potentially damaging components. Those claiming that society must learn to accept “curvier fuller figured women” for “who they are” (from a sociological aspect) are justified in their claims. Those choosing to promote this lifestyle however, must be just as committed and responsible to explaining to those wanting to follow this lifestyle the dangers that excessive weight potentially produces. Attempting to undo social injustices knowing that overweight and obesity are risk factors for developing disease mandates public exposure to these relevant facts so the public can make informed decisions for their choice of lifestyles. It is time to stop telling the public to view OVERWEIGHT and OBESITY as “healthy” alternative choices that need to be embraced more openly and honestly. Factually, this is INCORRECT! We should, however, accept ALL PEOPLE for who they are and show them the courtesy and respect they deserve.