Is Concern over Fat More about Esthetics than Health?


To many of us, the title of this post is a bit of a duh.  When it comes down to it, for many, many people, the struggle of weight is primarily focused on how we look.  Thin remains in.  Following is a post I wrote for Real Deal Girls a while ago but for some reason, failed to re-post it here for our readers to view.  Sadly, even though the post was written a couple years ago now, it doesn’t seem like much has changed.

As I read the WSJ story“The Scales Can Lie: Hidden Fat,” I traveled back to my college days, remembering one friend who puzzled me.  At the time, I was struggling with my own self-perceived fatness and I remember wondering how my friend could be so thin yet not look it, at least in the way thin is usually thought to look.  She seemed the perfect picture of “ideal”  until you noticed her muscle tone.  There wasn’t any.  I still would have preferred having her body to mine at that time, though, being as ensconced in a poor body image as I was.

Fast forward 30 years and I see the above article talking about “normal weight obesity.”  It’s a situation where someone of “normal body size” (their words, not mine) has a higher ratio of fat to muscle than thought to be healthy. Seems as many as 30 million Americans may fall into the “normal-weight-obesity” category.  The article was talking about the impact of unhealthy levels of body fat on heart health, and goes on to discuss the need for validation of the Mayo Clinic study that suggests this as well as the problems with assessing body fat.

What I took out of the article, however, is that the research underscores the basic message of the health at every size(SM) (HAES) movement.  To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it’s our health, stupid.  Not that I encourage anyone to worry, but if we are going to worry whether we’re fat or not, our focus lies better on its impact on our health rather than on our size.  And we can benefit greatly from realizing fat doesn’t always have a negative impact on health.

I have no idea what was going on with my friend, whether she had a high percentage of  body fat or not.  But my 20-something-year-old mind was thinking fat, and not the health impact of it, but what it looked like.

Along those same lines, one prominent voice in the HAES movement raised worthwhile speculation about what may be behind the concerns of some of the scientists quoted in the WSJ article.  “Perhaps it isn’t really weight per se, or high BMI’s, that has lots of scientists concerned — it is the aesthetic properties of fat itself,” says Bill Fabrey of the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination.  As evidence he points out the final quote in the article. “If you’re at a sloppy normal weight, that’s not going to be good for you.”

Sounds like for some the “sloppiness factor” is at issue at least as much as health.  No real surprise there.  I’ve moved on since my 20s, thank goodness, for my own sake as well as that of the women I work with.

Have you moved on? If so, you may want to consider taking part in the HAES movement.  You can join the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH).  It really is an organization worth supporting and being a part of.  And remember, there’s strength in numbers.  When we’re talking about movements, that is…not body size.

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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