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Jamilah Broderick
Professor Campbell
UWRT 1103
30 March 2015
Combating Fat Oppression: Can you be Fat and Healthy?
. . . Other than intense extremes, humans can be quite healthy at just about any size or
weight, said by psychologist and author of Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get
Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Fail to Understand Linda Bacon, is the quintessential belief of those
following the Health at Every Size, or Fat Acceptance, movement (Bacon). Closely correlated
with this generations feminism, HaES followers work to battle the stigma and all the arguably
false research trying to prove that being overweight or obese is detrimental to a persons health.
The weight loss and health industry places great importance on maintaining a healthy
BMI, which is a BMI from 18.5 to 25. Body Mass Index is a weight-to-height ratio that divides a
persons weight by the square of their height, and it is used as an indicator of being underweight,
a normal weight, or overweight. There have been studies that disproves the BMI, claiming that it
does not take into account those that have extreme amounts of muscle mass, such as body
builders, and that it does not necessarily mean a person is unhealthy. Research has proven that
BMI cannot diagnose health issues (Zelman), and that there exists an obesity paradox, or the
fact that those who are overweight or obese are more likely to survive renal failure, heart failure,
and diabetes (Hainer). But is it all hearsay? Can people truly live a long, fruitful life with a body
mass index (BMI) over 25? This groundbreaking, rapid output of new research is worth
exploring.

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The Leaders of the Fat Acceptance Movement
No one quite knows where it begins, or who was the catalyst to a series of fat women and
men jumping out of the woodwork to tell their stories of health at their larger than average size,
but there stands three brave women in the forefront of this movement: Tess Munster, Ragen
Chastain, and Linda Bacon.
Outspoken, brash, and unapologetic Tess Munster is a size 22 model and hero for
thousands of overweight young adults; she is making waves on all forms of social media
platforms, primarily her Instagram, @tessholliday, after beginning the Eff your beauty
standards, saying and hashtag. Eff your beauty standards, was meant to take a stand against
the conventionally beautiful body type, or the slender body type. Tess Munster works hard to
promote body confidence, while simultaneously ensuring the masses that no matter the number
on the scale, everyone can be healthy and beautiful. While it truly is important to celebrate all
different shapes, claims with little research to back it up that health and weight has no correlation
could very well be harmful (Holliday).
Therefore, Ragen Chastain, another leader of the HaEs movement, and author of the
Dances With Fat blog, uses all her time into proving this point. In her blog post, Do 95% of
Diets Really Fail?, Ragen goes in depth to compare and contrast the 1959 study that 95% of diets
fail to the more recent re-analysis of that experiment from 1999. She concludes, after explaining
her thought process in great detail, that this percentage continues to hold true. . . . What Im
trying to say here is that the registry is no help in proving the efficacy of dieting because it
utterly lacks statistical significance and relies completely on self-reporting in addition to
under-reporting, some of those success stories could have regained their weight but not
reported it, she writes. I already love my body and Im healthy and Health at Every Size has

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given me everything Ive ever wanted so I dont need another path to health (qtd in Chastain).
She considers herself a naturally talented athlete, and is currently training to attend the 2016
IRONMAN.
Linda Bacon takes research about the correlation between obesity and health even further.
. . . the majority of individuals are unable to maintain weight loss over the long term and do not
achieve the putative benefits of improved morbidity and mortality, she writes in one of her
many articles about the concept of dieting to lose weight, and therefore improve ones health.
With a Ph.D in psychology under her belt, Linda has taken the HaES movement by storm,
writing several books about body love and self-care. In her book Health at Every Size: The
Surprising Truth About Your Weight, she explains to a group of women, all overweight and fed
up with their constant failures of losing it, that it is not them who are failing diets, it is the diets
failing them. She tells them to abandon the thought that weight loss equals happiness, and to
embrace who they are and work on what is inside of them instead of out (Bacon). This way of
thinking seems reasonable, healthy, and safe, yes?
Body Positivity: Harmful?
Unfortunately, research and peer-reviewed studies do not agree. Health care of obesityrelated illnesses costs the US about 190.2 billion dollars annually, 14 billion of that coming from
childhood obesity. Thats 21% of all medical spending (NLC). In better words, this means that
abandoning weight loss and maintaining a BMI of 30 and up costs not only an individuals
health, but also costs the rest of the country in taxes.
But that makes no sense, right, since a recent study proves that you can be fat and fit, and
therefore not cost the US in obesity-related medical bills? Marilyn Wann writes in agreement. A

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recent study found people who were "metabolically healthy" and overweight or obese had no
higher death risk than metabolically healthy "normal" weight people, her article explains
(Wann). And while it is true that overweight and obese metabolically healthy people exist and
do not have a higher death risk, the same article that Wann cites from concludes with the fact that
youre still more likely to develop other metabolic risk factors that contribute to chronic disease
if youre overweight (Sifferlin).
It is not the only one. Researchers from Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at
Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada found that those with a BMI over 25 that did not have
high blood pressure still had a risk of having heart disease with their next ten years compared to
those who were also metabolically healthy but of normal weight. Metabolic health in
overweight and obese people also does not take into account that extra weight on joints
consistently over many years leads to joint pain and difficulties (Healy).
Then there is the study that Ragen Chastain debunked, still insisting that 95% of people
who diet fail. On a forum dedicated to fighting against the perceived false logic that Health at
Every Size followers and leaders present, one anti-HaES member responded to her article: OF
COURSE most diets fail at keeping the weight off in any long term way, because most diet plans
are designed to be used for only a short period of time. Let's face it; very, very few people are
going to replace meals with shakes or hold themselves to a ridiculously low carbohydrate plan
for the rest of their lives; these strategies work as short-term means to an end, but don't address
what to do to maintain weight loss or the psychological reasons that we overeat or put on weight
in the first place (qtd in Fatlogic). Over half of the people that exist on this forum were once
overweight or obese, and continue to maintain their weight loss, proving HaES leaders wrong
that healthy weight loss is only effective on 5% of dieters.

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The professors who conducted another analysis on this 95% of diets fail study say that
the conclusion is misleading. Only 100 subjects were used, and they were willingly placed into a
hospital and given an extreme weight loss plan because they were unable to do it on their own
(Fritsch). 100 subjects in a closely-monitored hospital is simply a sample bias, and does not
represent the hundreds of thousands people trying to lose weight every day. ''The people we see
in clinics tend to be more overweight and have more psychological problems. They are more
likely by a factor of two to have binge-eating problems, said Dr. Brownell (qtd in Fritsch).
But What About the Obesity Paradox?
The presence and amount of adipose tissue in the human body has a very strong
correlation with the aging process, and the determining of lifespan. When mortality rates are
plotted on a graph, comparing those who are considered underweight (BMI of 18.5 and under),
over weight (BMI 25 to 30), class I obese (BMI 30 to 35), class II obese (BMI 35 to 40), and
class III obese (BMI 40 and over) to those who are considered of normal weight (BMI 18.5 to
25), those with the longest lifespan are those who are closest to a BMI of 25. Therefore, those
with elevated BMI demonstrate lower cardiovascular mortality when compared to those of a
normal weight.
Doctor Gruberg observed patients with coronary heart disease with those who are
overweight, obese, and of normal weight. He found that those who were within the BMI of 18.5
to 25 suffered higher incidences of complications, such as cardiac dead. Even more so, a year
after their visit, Dr. Gruberg discovered that the normal weight patients had higher rates of
mortality than that of his overweight and obese patients. What does this mean? It means that an
obesity paradox does exist.

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But the research does not stop there. In another study from Holland that had a 7-year
follow up, being overweight, but not obese, was associated with a lower risk in mortality, no
matter the cause.
These results of the obesity paradox is not restricted to just cardiovascular diseases.
Concerning peripheral arterial disease, the mortality rates 54% in underweight patients, 50% in
normal weight patients, 40% in overweight patients, and 31% in obese patients. Furthermore,
class I obese patients had the best survival rate for stroke, for undergoing nonbariatric general
surgery, type 2 diabetes, and amputations.
There is a common denominator in all of this proven research: having a BMI between 25
and 35, or being overweight or class I obese. It turns out that those who were of class II obesity
and above (or, a BMI of 35 and above) showed the highest risk for cardiovascular death. After
class I obesity, all-cause mortality risks shoot up, and continue to climb as weight climbs
(Hainer).
So, what can be said about the Health at Every Size movement?
Body Positivity or Good Health? Why not both?
Does practicing self-love mean not taking care of your health? Tess Munster, and Ragen
Chastain would argue that they are healthy despite the number on the scale, and while this may
be true in the present, the future says it cannot be managed for long. These two leaders of the Fat
Acceptance movement are considered a higher BMI than class I obese, which places them in the
category for increasing mortality and at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease,
osteoporosis, and more. Moreover, the constant pressure on joints, primarily the knees, from
extra weight that the human body is not meant to carry affects 1 in 3 overweight and

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metabolically healthy obese people (Kane). Shockingly, this is not as high as the number of
obese people suffering from heart disease or diabetes.
In the end, it is important to practice self-love, but the Fat Acceptance, HaES movement,
can be harmful rather than helpful. Ignoring the state of your body and how it can damage your
health in the very future in order to love yourself for who you are is not the road body
positivity should be taken. Instead, in order to love ourselves, we should eat reasonably and
exercise to prevent any obesity-related illnesses. That is being body positive and practicing selflove. If not, obesity could go on the rise, and the United States could see higher taxes and rates of
heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
There is overwhelming evidence that being severely obese can lead to medical problems.
This is where the Health at Every Size movement gets it wrong; you cannot be healthy at literally
any size. Being either underweight or extremely overweight means putting yourself and your
body at high risk for disease and chronic pain. But, what the Health at Every Size movement
does get right is that you can be fat and fit.
A succinct anecdote I have is of my own mother. For her weight and height, she is
considered overweight. For over ten years now she has been trying to lose weight, but falling
weak to the temptation of sweets at her job and the craving to just overeat, even if it is of
something healthy. She does have to watch her sugar intake, because high blood pressure runs in
her side of the family, but other than that she has no other health issues. Her trying to lose weight
is entirely for aesthetic, and not for health. She feels she will look better and will be able to
wear cute clothes if she loses the forty pounds she desires to lose. Linda Bacons body
positivity groups and books would be so helpful for her poor body image, and, to a point, the Fat
Acceptance movement could help her shed her constant desire and obsession to lose weight,

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rather than trying to shed the pounds instead. Ragen Chastain with her Dances with Fat blog,
Tess Munster with Eff your beauty standards, and Linda Bacon with her Health at Every Size:
The Surprising Truth About Your Weight are very helpful for the community when it comes to
this rampant low self-esteem and obsession with flat stomach, thigh gaps, and a slender waist.
I think that definition of beauty is constructed by society to make us buy expensive
wrinkle creams and weight loss pills and any number of things that create billion dollar
profits for the beauty and diet industries. I also think that its highly problematic since
what most people find attractive is often deeply rooted in a societys bigotry,
oppression and injustice, Ragen Chastain wrote in her blog. I think that the ability to
perceive beauty is something that we develop, and some people never develop past
looking for a superficial, arbitrary social construct either because they dont think its
possible, dont know its possible, or simply dont want to. That doesnt make anyone
else not beautiful, it just means that most people havent developed a strong ability to
perceive beauty in different forms. I believe everyone is beautiful, and I think that the
only way that lessens the term is if someone is trying to use the idea of beauty to make
them feel better than, or superior to, others (qtd in Chastain)
In conclusion, Tess Munster and Ragen Chastain claim to be living proof of being
severely obese and healthy. But, how could we truly know if they are in full health if we are
outside looking in? Anecdotal evidence is full of flaws, and their claims of health could be
because they are treating any medical conditions they experience as normal, and independent
of their weight, as my own anecdote about my mother is not the experience of everyone. This
mystery may never be solved, but what I do know is that you can be fat and fit, and that society
today places more importance on looking good rather than feeling good.

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Works Cited
Bacon, Linda. Linda Bacon, Ph.D. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
Chastain, Ragen. "Dances With Fat." Dances With Fat. Dances With Fat, 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
Fatlogic. "Reddit's Stories Are Created by Its Users." Reddit: The Front Page of the Internet. Reddit,
2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
Fritsch, Jane. "95% Regain Lost Weight. Or Do They?" The New York Times. The New York Times, 24
May 1999. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
Hainer, Vojtech. "Obesity Paradox Does Exist." Diabetes Care. American Diabetes Association, 2013.
Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
Healy, Melissa. "Fat and Healthy Is a Myth, New Study Says." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 2
Dec. 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
Kane, Andrea. "How Fat Affects Arthritis." Arthritis Today. N.p., 2015. Web.
Koehly, Laura, and Aunchalee Loscalzo. "Adolescent Obesity and Social Networks."
NLC. "National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education & Families." Healthy Communities for a
Healthy Future Economic Costs of Obesity Comments. NLC, 2012. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
Preventing Chronic Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 June 2009. Web. 7 Mar.
2015.
Wann, Marilynn. "Big Deal: You Can Be Fat and Fit - CNN.com." CNN. Cable News Network, 3 Jan.
2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
Zelman, Kathleen. "How Accurate Is Body Mass Index, or BMI?" WebMD. WebMD, 12 Feb. 208. Web.
21 Apr. 2015.