The HAES (Health at Every Size) philosophy promotes the idea that you can be healthy even if your BMI is not within the “optimal range.” That you can enjoy life, and feel good about yourself, despite what the mirror, the scales, the tape measure, or your grandmother tells you. Eat without drama, move with joy and let the rest take care of itself. No counting of calories. No monitoring of heart rates. No scheduled maintenance. Just being alive and healthy. What an incredible concept!
Yet, it seems to rub a few folks the wrong way. This is “an excuse to be fat.” (Nobody really seems too upset with the idea that you can be underweight and healthy – you don’t run into a lot of “this is just an excuse to be skinny”) If you troll through internet comments and posts (I know – why would you?) you will find a fair body of opinion that fat people (actually, fat women) are a drain on the health system, have questionable morals, and shouldn’t insult the viewing public by showing themselves to the world.
When I was a girl, the overweight were said to have a weight “problem”. Underweight people were either envied, admired or pitied for their poverty. We talked about having a “good figure”. Which involved having the right shape, as well being in an acceptable weight range. The relative number of kids with weight “problems” may have been smaller if you don’t include the underweight kids. My father recently showed me his class photo from1948 and said “See! Not one obese student.” This was to illustrate his belief that kids are fat now because they are lazy and glutinous – sitting around on computers and eating all day. In his time kids walked to school, ate only at meal times, played games at recess, and were generally “better” than their grand children. He is of course, correct about most of that. But not all of that. He does not note how many of the students in that class are underweight, or unhealthy. How many of them will die young, how many of them will grow up to be bullies and assholes, how many of them will pass on their dysfunction to the next generation. Just that none of them are “fat”.
Fat has been unacceptable for a while now. Fat is equated with sloth and gluttony. Two of the seven deadly sins. Fat people take more than their share and do less than their share. When I was a child, there was no discussion about healthy weight. One was either fat (bad) or thin (good). The judgment was visual. I remember one doctor, without ever weighing me, testing my blood, or asking about my lifestyle, grabbing the fat on my abdomen in his hand (he was an ObGyn doing an internal) and declaring – “You’re fat. You have to lose 10 pounds.” I knew with some certainty at that moment that I was about as unacceptable as a girl could be. Was he right? I know now that he was not. Not only was we wrong about my weight, he was a misogynist and a creep and in today’s culture he’d be sued for malpractice.
Me and my weight problem at 17 (3rd from left) going to college.
Still, we judge people’s health with a single glance. Fat? Unhealthy! And we have a moral obligation to be healthy, don’t we? Health Nazis use the moral imperative of “health” to condemn everyone who hasn’t signed up. It’s not entirely acceptable to say a woman doesn’t “look” as good as she should – but it’s perfectly acceptable to say a woman is not as healthy as she should be. And no matter what, fat offends.
HAES has been called an “excuse to be fat and lazy”. This of course implies that fat equals lazy. That fat is a choice. That fat people could be better citizens of the world if they got off their asses and stopped stuffing their faces.
Is it an excuse? Does being fat require an excuse? The HAES philosophy encourages you to view food as a normal part of life. No guilt. This alone is a major challenge for those of us who grew up on diets. Simply enjoying food, or in fact simply eating food is impossible of every thing you eat has judgment attached. HAES tells us to get out there and move. Simple right? Unless your brain is replaying every ugly comment you’ve ever heard about fat women wearing shorts, riding bikes, dancing, jogging etc. Fat women like me (185 lbs, 5’6″) can’t even buy yoga gear at the trendy shops. Lulu lemon doesn’t make their famous gear for “oversized” women. God knows they wouldn’t want their valuable logo plastered on my ass.
I did belly dance for a while – until the arthritis in my SI joint made that too difficult. I loved it. A room full of women of literally all ages, sizes, races (some in hijab) learning to dance. An instructor yelling at us to let it out – “you need that belly! This is belly dance!!” I actually got on stage with my midriff showing (Gads!) and shook my hips and lifted my boobs. I probably didn’t look anything like the dancer I felt myself to be but I actually didn’t care – not at all. Even when a woman I work with said “Belly dancers in Edmonton? Bunch of fat cows. God – why do they let these people out in those outfits” I was fully able to let it go.
Fit, healthy BD teacher in Edmonton – I dare you to try to keep up with Jodi when she gets her cardio shimmy on the go. Oh – and she also had a black belt.
I follow BBW, the Fat Nutritionist, Arya Sharma,Weighty Matters, all bloggers who know more about all of this than I do. And yes, the message they offer has changed my life. It has made me healthier and happier. Not every day. Like many of the women who post on BBW’s facebook page, I have days when the old thinking returns and I find myself looking for the baggy shirts again. I am very fortunate to have a partner who thinks I am not only good enough, but very very sexy. I am fortunate to have a doctor who never tells me I should lose weight. I am fortunate that I work with health care professionals every day who reinforce the message. I am fortunate to live in a time when serious researchers are challenging old thinking. I am fortunate that I’m smart enough to do the math – I know that I don’t eat too much because I have not gained an ounce in seven years (since I stopped dieting). I know I can walk three miles a day and out pace many as I go. I know that all indicators of my health are good –my body strength is excellent (if you live in Alberta – and sign up for the Tomorrow project – they do these tests!) The one and only indicator that doesn’t impress is my BMI (29.9 – okay – 30). And that does not concern me because it’s been shown to be a faulty tool for assessing risk. I am healthy. I am active. I eat very good food.
So – does HAES give me an excuse to be fat? I don’t need an excuse. Thanks anyway. I, on the other hand, will excuse everyone out there who thinks they know anything at all about me based on my weight “problem.” Not everyone can be as smart as me afterall, or as fortunate.
me and my weight problem getting ready for the show