Its success has led to a series of positive changes, including the decision to ban the use of rail-thin models in several European countries. In the UK, body positivity has fuelled a backlash against the clean eating movement, with health experts linking questionable nutritional advice to a rise in eating disorders such as orthorexia. As glossy-haired treadmill unicorns continue to pout their way through Instagram with chia-seed recipes and colonoscopy recommendations, women are rejecting their raw food cleanses in favor of a balanced diet that includes the occasional doughnut.
But as we move away from the skinny goals of the mid-2000s and embrace different shapes and sizes, one group of campaigners has taken things a step too far. Fronted by plus-sized models and social media influencers, the fat acceptance movement aims to normalize obesity, letting everyone know that it’s fine to be fat. With terms such as “straight size” and “fat pride” proliferating, some influential figures are now even likening the valid concerns of health officials to hate crimes.
The comedian Sofie Hagen recently accused Cancer Research of bullying fat people, after the charity launched a campaign to raise awareness about the link between cancer and obesity. Through a series of expletive-laden tweets, she criticized the organization for its damaging messages, claiming that fat didn’t equal unhealthy.
Medications, mental health, social deprivation, self-esteem and genetics all play a role in our ability to control our weight, and judgment is never a constructive approach. But suggesting that being a size 30 is just as healthy as being a size 12 isn’t a body-positive message either – it’s an irresponsible form of denial.
According to the NHS, we’re in the grip of an obesity epidemic, which has led to increased pressure on the struggling health service. The latest figures reveal that weight-related hospital admissions have risen by 18% in the past year, with more than a quarter (26%) of British adults now classified as obese. Another recent study, which measured the metabolic health of more than 17,000 respondents, showed that overweight people who exercise regularly and consider themselves “fat but fit” still had a 28% increased risk of heart disease, compared to their slimmer counterparts. As well as being linked to diabetes, obesity can also be responsible for osteoarthritis, gout, breathing problems, high blood pressure and other conditions. While being thin won’t automatically grant you a clean bill of health or a long, smug life of squeaky clean arteries, there’s no denying that health risks are higher for obese people.
Public health campaigns are not designed to flatter people’s egos, but to raise awareness about potential health dangers. Since the ban on indoor smoking in 2007, tobacco enthusiasts have been turfed out through a side door to puff on their cancer sticks in the rain. Smoking is an addiction that many struggle to control, but we don’t celebrate it with viral social media campaigns about smoking pride. Although we acknowledge that some smokers can run 10 miles or live into their 90s, we recognize that the overall risks of tobacco inhalation are high, and vastly increase the odds of a premature death. So what makes obesity different?
Whether we want to gorge on 3kg of chocolate, drink until we vomit in the bathtub or line our lungs with carcinogenic tar, informed adults are free to make their own choices. But while your own body is your business, actively encouraging unhealthy lifestyle choices and denying health risks in a public space isn’t promoting body positivity – it’s just giving the green light to different kinds of eating disorders
Social media has led to an unhelpful lack of nuance
Personal trainer Luke Worthington believes part of the problem is that a lot of knowledgeable trainers and media outlets are afraid to answer questions about fat loss or even acknowledge it as a valid goal.
"When someone has either identified themselves, or been advised by a healthcare professional, that their weight is a health concern (either too high or too low), it can't be the answer to tell them just to accept it. That can't be all that we do," he told Insider.
Worthington believes that instead of not talking about weight loss at all, we should be educating people on how it can be done safely and healthily. If qualified trainers and media organizations won't talk about healthy weight management, that's when things get dangerous, because people turn to unqualified and less knowledgeable influencers for the answers, he said.
How to lose weight in a healthy, positive way
Yeboah works out every morning for her mental health and to improve her strength and flexibility. She has exercised with the aim of losing weight in the past, but said it "triggered bad eating disorder habits."
"Focusing on a number, whether on the scale or your clothing size, leads to being obsessive with eating and exercise and losing the enjoyment," registered dietitian Shana Spence told Insider.
Some people try to lose weight, but are unsuccessful or regain it, and are psychologically harmed by the experience. Some become unhealthily lean. However, this isn't the case for everyone.
Personal trainer Emily Ricketts regularly posts on Instagram about how losing weight was linked to developing a healthier relationship with food and her body.
Similarly, personal trainer and fat loss coach Anjuli Mack told Insider that many of her clients fall in love with how much better they feel once they start making healthier habits, even if the initial aim was weight loss.
"A lot of the women who come to me are looking to increase their confidence," she told Insider. "Most of them start feeling better within the first two weeks and it's nothing to do with the scale, it's down to the foods they're putting into their body and the actions they're taking each day."
Research shows that weight loss can improve various health markers, including risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, for overweight and obese people.