Nobody “Owes” Anybody an Explanation for Their Body

We are getting a bit fed up. This impatience comes with the presumption that people owe the world an explanation for their body. Is it fit enough? Is it fat enough? Are we wearing the right kind of body positive attitude? This comes from living in an excessively fat-conscious culture. But it also comes from so-called fat acceptance and body positivity advocates.

Reporting by Katie Baker in the New York Times supplies the most recent fuel for this frustration. It seems that some body positivity advocates are facing public abuse if they lose weight. Dronme Davis was a plus-size model. After losing some weight, she tells Baker:

“I’m scared of being judged or yelled at or letting people down. Which is ironic, because I think my silence is letting people down more than me talking about it.”

Expressing disappointment that Davis didn’t offer an explanation for the changes in her body, one of her followers said:

“It made me feel like she was being dishonest with her community. I don’t want to say it was owed to us, but it was such a drastic change.”

“Pretty Gross”

Virginia Sole-Smith is a fat activist with a book to sell you about fat phobia and diet culture. She recently served up a taste of the unkindness that flies at people who don’t meet her standards for fat acceptance. She devoted a recent episode of her podcast to expressing disapproval of people who have promoted acceptance of fat bodies, but subsequently found health benefits from losing weight. People like that are “throwing everyone else under the bus,” she said. Her disgust is clear:

“You used the hashtags in order to grow your following in order to post your affiliate links, get your sponsor deals, all of that. So now what you’re basically telling us is you co-opted all that rhetoric and you don’t believe it at all, and that is pretty gross.”

To be sure, our fat phobic culture is unkind. But we do not improve it by adding more hostility to the toxic stew.

Respecting Lived Experiences

One of the reasons this is so troubling is because it throws up barriers for people who might otherwise share their own lived experiences. Such sharing is essential and decent people can respect the diversity of human experience. But clinical psychologist Robyn Pashby explains why it might be difficult:

“Sharing your story means that people expect your story to be fixed. I always think that when people change, it is hard for others to navigate that change because it threatens what they think they know to be true. People are drawn to before and after, but they don’t like the during as much. It is too messy.”

No Apologies

Pashby also reminds us that cognitive dissonance is part of the problem. People have a tough time holding onto two thoughts that seem to be in conflict. It is entirely consistent to love your body AND seek care for problems with the health of your body. But through a lens of fat acceptance that denies obesity presents health problems, these two thoughts seem dissonant.

The bottom line here is simple. People deserve respect for their bodily autonomy, regardless of the body image they present to the world. Nobody “owes” anybody an explanation for their body. Or for what they do to take care of it.

Click here for Baker’s reporting and here for further perspective. For more on the disdain some fat activists express for acknowledging that obesity presents health problems, click here and here.

Apology, photograph by butupa, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


February 28, 2024