Is plus size obese? The discourse of whether being plus size means you are obese continues to be a hotly debated topic over the last half of this decade. Several celebrities, high profile plus-size models, and TV show talk hosts are publicly engaged in promoting the right awareness concerning the same. The answer is not as simple and direct as you may think and here is why.
Size, how big you look, and weight, how much you weigh, have a strong correlation. Indeed, the bigger you are, the heavier you weigh. According to fashion standards, any person who is above a size 8 is deemed to be plus-size. On the other hand, a person is considered obese when their Body Mass Index (BMI) indicates so. Ignorantly, many use this rationale to conclude that all plus size women are obese. This is not the case as the terminology ‘plus-size’ and ‘obese’ have various social connotations. They are not simply labels that refer to a particular size, but rather they are indicative of the attitudes that underlie the entire discourse on body size.
Surprisingly, the polarized opinions on the matter, those agreeing that being plus size is obese and those refuting the same, is not entirely about size but the perception society holds about the different sizes women come in. In essence, it’s not simply being ‘big’ that is the matter but ‘what being big means’ to the rest of society.
In most societies, the bodies of women have been objectified and the idea of the ‘perfect body size’ advanced. Women all around the world are expected to conform to this ‘standard’ and any disparity is frowned upon and even outrightly rebuked. This is why the label obese is frequently attached to any woman whose body is larger than the expected size.
The term obese has a negative social connotation. It is used to mean that one is ‘overwhelmingly and dangerously overweight or unfit’. Medically, this perception is incorrect. However, it is the permeating belief and societal stance on the same. Therefore, the labeling of bigger individuals as ‘obese’ is simply asserting one’s disapproval and intolerance of their physique. Conversely, the labeling of bigger individuals as ‘plus-size’ has a more respectful, positive, and affirming connotation. Those who use the term plus size as opposed to obese, are often more accepting of people who have bigger frames.
The various opinions on why, how and whether or not being plus size is synonymous to being obese is purely a subjective matter. It all boils down to what a person thinks and believes. If you frown upon women having bigger body frames than the prescribed ‘size 8’ you will most likely answer in the affirmative, agreeing that plus size women are obese. If you celebrate women who are a size 8 and above and consider them to be beautiful anyway, you may likely answer in the negative.
As we delve into the matter, here are 10 things you need to know about the raging discussion on plus size and obesity.
Is Plus Size Obese? Food for Thought (times 10)
1. Plus Size is Diverse
The plus size spectrum is wide. There are several variations in size within the plus size category. Notably, there are over 10 sizes above a size 8. It is therefore highly inconsiderate and reckless to cumulatively lump together all women who fit into these various sizes and label each one as obese. Some are healthier than others within the plus size spectrum, and therefore the indiscriminate blanket labelling does not take into consideration these salient differences within the plus size spectrum.
2. Being Plus Size does not mean You are Unhealthy
Contrary to the opinion of many, being plus size does not mean that you are unfit. Several women are larger than a size 8 and are perfectly healthy and physically fit. They eat right, exercise often and make healthier life choices. On the flip side, some women are skinny and have the ideal body size, but make deplorable unhealthy lifestyle choices. They binge on fast foods and carbonated drinks and rarely exercise.
Being big is not solely attributed to overeating or frequent food binging. It may be caused by genetic factors, where one is born and develops to be larger than the average-sized human being. Some are curvier and have wider hips and thighs because of their genetic composition and not because of practising an unhealthy lifestyle.
3. I am not Obese – I am a Human Being!
The earnest cry of any plus size women who experiences the stigmatization is that they are like any other individual, a person. They are wives, mothers, daughters, friends, colleagues and businesswomen to others. They are not just plus size. Fat activists argue that weight need not be factored into all plus size women interactions with the rest of the world.
The constant reference and identification of women by their body size takes away from their human-ness. It undermines their worth and makes them seem as faceless and valueless objects, as opposed to the vibrant and resourceful people many of them are.
Plus size women are not just a sack of pounds lying or walking around in our day to day lives. They are people who are entitled to be treated with the utmost respect and be judged, like others, based on their input to society, the virtues they uphold, their skill set or qualifications and not their body size. Labelling people as ‘obese’ takes away from these elements.
Gradually, as society is conditioned to this labelling of plus size women, it erodes any respect and empathy it may have on these individuals. This then fosters a growing indifference to their value, input, plight or need thus encouraging others to be vicious, insensitive and inconsiderate of plus size women.
4. My Body – My Choice
Every woman is entitled to choose what to do with her body. You have the right to choose what to wear, what to eat, what to do with your shape and size because it is your body. The labeling of plus size women as obese essentially is to work to compel them to make certain lifestyle changes. It is a mechanism employed to ‘force’ all those who are labeled ‘obese’ to lose the pounds, get in shape and thus be more ‘socially acceptable’ etcetera.
There are numerous social campaigns, TV ads and broadcasts that advocate for dieting, intermittent fasting, cardio, weight training and even yoga to shed weight and sculpt one’s body. Many books, researches, studies have been written primarily to advocate for smaller body sizes that are considered ‘healthier’ and less burdensome to the body’s overall wellbeing. Hardly does a day go by, without tones of that information being targeted towards plus size women, who are all stereotyped to be unhealthy.
However well-intended these efforts may be, the constant rallying, insisting, targeting of plus size women and depiction of plus size bodies as not ideal in their fitness campaigns, does infringe on the personal right of each woman to decide how she looks.
5. Beauty is Subjective
Several women are comfortable with their current body sizes. They like to be plus-size and have no problem with their weight or how they look. These women consider themselves to be good looking, appealing, approachable, elegant, and stylish. Those who think differently should not force their views on these women.
The fundamental inquiry is who determines the standard or measure of beauty. Simply because an individual dislikes the look of cellulite on a plus-size woman’s body or does not consider them attractive, does it mean these women are not beautiful? If someone is comfortable in their own skin, they should not be marched around and bashed for not looking a certain way.
6. You Are Here
Whether a plus-size woman is slightly overweight or extremely overweight the fact remains that they do exist. Society cannot turn a blind eye and pretend that they do not. Attaching a negative connotation to their existence does not obliterate them from the face of the earth. It does not make them any thinner or healthier but simply masks the ignorance of those who are unwilling to come to terms with the reality that plus size women do exist, and make up the majority of women in the American demography.
7. Do Body Acceptance Campaigns Glorify and Encourage Obesity?
The ongoing body acceptance campaigns by several brands and media outlets have been faulted for glorifying and encouraging obesity. But do they? Before we accept this assertion, we should interrogate the premise of such beliefs.
Body Acceptance Campaigns were initiated to create social awareness and acceptance of the different body sizes amongst women. These campaigns looked to diversify the image of beauty by the inclusion of plus size women on the runway scene, fashion magazine covers, advertisements and promoting their visibility. This was in a bid to encourage women to be more accepting of their different physiques and embrace their body diversity as opposed to try to conform to one.
This has wrongly been construed by many people as the promotion and glorification of being overweight. Many people claimed that the campaigns seemed to normalize being overweight and that the overall results of the campaign would be more detrimental than helpful to society at large. Particularly a study carried out 4 years ago, asserted that the continuous exposure of women to these campaigns would promote unhealthy eating and act as a disincentive to working out and practising other healthy lifestyle choices.
However, body acceptance campaigns do not advocate for people to be big but rather advocate for the acceptance of people who are already big, simply because they do exist and cannot be assumed away.
8. Health Intervention or Stigmatization?
It is not debatable that obesity can be attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle. There are several health risks attached to being obese such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and even higher risk to develop cancer. However, the excessive concern and scrutiny of the ‘health hazards’ plus size women may face is unwarranted. It begs the question of why society is not equally up in arms concerning the health hazards posed to other categories of people such as alcoholics and chain smokers. These too are unhealthy practices that have long time effects on a person’s body, appearance, and quality of life.
Social media campaigns and TV ads that advise against alcoholism, drug addiction, depression and other unhealthy practices are not as prevalent or frequent. Can it be because being overweight is stigmatized more than other equally, if not more, detrimental unhealthy practices? Why are people overly willing to body shame and speak harshly on being overweight than they criticize addiction to various substances and practices such as depression and other ills? Since the media is a reflection of what society is, it can be alleged that excessive concern and scrutiny is because of the stigmatization and stereotyping of plus size women and not a genuine health intervention.
9. Change Does not Thrive in Negativity
Many members of society believe that speaking harshly and blatantly against ‘being overweight’ will foster change and healthier lifestyles among all. Several studies and statistics have shown that there has been a steady increase in the number of overweight individuals – both men and women – over the decades in America.
There were several rationales advanced for the same. One of them being the exponentially growing and market boom of the fast-food industry. Due to this, the government is forced to make provision for oversized people by increasing accessibility and mobility options. Health care institutions are required to incorporate bariatric equipment to provide for the safety and care of their plus size patients.
The growing concern is why the government should spend so much on a self-inflicted ill, or why the society should be ‘inconvenienced’ by the unhealthy decisions of others? This has led to a lot of body shaming in a bid to ‘curb the vice’. However, this is counter-productive.
If society desires to have healthier individuals and change the overweight narrative amongst its members, it should be more accepting and positive. It is proven that once a person becomes more self-accepting and positive about themselves, they are empowered to make better and healthier lifestyle decisions. On the contrary, whenever a person is guilty and self-hating they are predominantly unable to get out of the cycle of destruction, be it drug abuse, food addiction, and or any ill. They stand defeated before they even start.
10. Weight is not the Only Way we Measure Healthiness
Overall health comprises mental, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. The focus on physical wellbeing as the ‘key determining factor’ of soundness and health is simplistic. People need to be healthy and whole in all the above aspects to experience a healthy and enjoyable life. Being plus size does not take away in entirety from one’s wellbeing, as popularly asserted.
In conclusion, being plus size does not necessarily mean you are obese. At the end of the day. What is of greater importance is your perception of your body size and whether you are content and pleased by the same. If not, the choice to become healthier solely rests on you. Do not yield to the incessant stigmatization and damnation from the rest of society. Embrace your curves and your size and always endeavor to lead a whole rounded healthy lifestyle.