With body shaming lurking in every aisle of clothing stores, normalising plus size is not easy. However, according to a study conducted by the University Of East Anglia, normalisation of ‘plus-size’ body shapes may be leading to an increasing number of people underestimating their weight, thus undermining efforts to tackle England’s ever-growing obesity problem.
Analysis of a data collected from almost 23,460 people who are overweight or obese indicated that weight misperception has been on the rise in England. Individuals, especially men, with lower levels of education and income are more likely to underestimate their weight status. Such people are 85% less likely to try to lose weight compared to people who accurately identified their weight status.
The data is alarming and with increasing weight issues globally, obesity is indeed turning into a major health problem. However, this doesn’t mean that people stop making efforts to end body stereotyping.
Shaming people for weight issues is definitely not a solution to the problem at hand.
It has taken a very long time for our society to shake off the stigma around plus size. Due to an obsession around the size zero figure and washboard abs, people had raised the bar of appearance to unreal and unattainable heights both for themselves and for others. While all who are not perfectly chiselled don’t necessarily face bias, overweight people are at the receiving end of ruthless taunts and shaming due to these unreasonable standards.
There are brands who don’t manufacture clothes above the size M, then there are movies and advertisements which mock and shame plus size people. Thus, it is a big struggle for obese people to even find decent clothes. Which is why normalising plus size is more of a necessity to grant these obese people dignity. But if we are to believe this study, then clearly, we are losing focus.
The problem is that instead of the focus being on fitness, it is on physical appearance.
Educating people about a healthy lifestyle must be a mandate for everyone, irrespective of their body size. We need to stop looking at people from the perspective of a weighing scale. Instead, we should try to encourage everyone – big, small, lean, stout, obese and thin to opt for healthier choices. When the communal perspective will shift from physical appearance to physical, mental and spiritual fitness, then we will automatically shift towards being a healthier society.
People will not shame others with weight issues if they are aware that factors like metabolism, diet, hormone imbalances, etc make each one of us different. It will teach people with weight issues (like yours sincerely, who suffers a bout of depression every few months because of body weight, despite regular exercise, Yoga and whatnot.) that what matters is leading a healthy lifestyle. Having access to plus size clothes is our right, but that doesn’t decrease the importance of fitness. As long as we maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, we are fit. But not making an effort at fitness is as dangerous as obsessing over it. Both trends are equally harmful.
As the study points out, individuals with lower levels of education are more prone to underestimate their weight issues. We can rephrase it to say that people with low awareness about fitness and health do the same. Similarly, people who don’t understand fitness, resort to body shaming others more. So what we need is a drive to educate people on fitness. Fat shaming and false body expectations do need to go. But what needs to stay back, along with plus size clothing and normalization of plus size is awareness about what health actually means.
Picture Credit: Samuel Zeller, Unsplash
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.