Story by Evy Tjin A Ton
#LoveYourBody, #CurvyGirl, #SelfLove. All these hashtags are trending on Instagram. Body positivity is something you can hardly avoid. But is the body positivity movement a healthy one?
Body positivity becomes more and more of an issue in this modern time. It refers to a social movement that strives to strengthen the self-image of overweight people and at the same time bring acceptance of the human body in all its manifestations and questions existing around the ideals of beauty. There are quite a few influencers who are committed to body positivity such as Lizzo, Megan Jayne Crabbe and the Dutch Mayra Louise. They are a voice for many who are insecure or feel unheard. Yet it is now questioned, if the body positivity movement is a healthy trend or not.
Esther van Etten is a sports dietitian with a practice in Amsterdam where she supervises top athletes and people who want to lose weight, eat healthier or who have eating problems. In addition, she hosts a podcast about nutrition called Voedingspraat.
Esther perceives health as much more than just the weight on the scale. Being fit, energetic and mentally stable is much more important to her. “It’s important you feel good and happy about yourself. Whether you’re thin or overweight. The road to this can be very difficult,” says Esther. “You don’t have to look like a model, you don’t have to be a size 36 or 38.” According to Esther it’s good that there is a message on social media. “We don’t all have to look the same, but when it comes to both underweight and overweight, there is a health risk.”
Esther thinks a limit has been reached. “There is too much nonsense on social media. Health is a marketing machine and many ignorant people want to earn money with it,” she worries. Esther thinks it is time for the youth to become more critical about what is put on social media. “Someone who actually knows the truth can hardly ever tell this in an attractive way to young people. We won’t be heard, because then it is supposedly boring.”
Research published in the International Journal of General Medicine shows that many diseases, like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or cancer are related to being overweight. “On the one hand, we don’t want to be overweight, but we live in a society that makes us fat”, Esther points out. She thinks that if you look around, everything is there to make you heavier. “80% of what we can buy in the supermarket, going out for dinner or even in most of the school cafeterias is unhealthy,” she says.
Esther thinks that we all want too much. “We have so little time to spare, but we do want a fit body. You just have to make time for it, it comes down to.” She believes that this should actually be a subject at school: “Everyone should know how to take good care of themselves.”
Alex Nielen is a personal trainer and is now finishing his study of physiotherapy. He defines health as “a state of physical mental well-being where you can manage your life well.” He states that mental health has become increasingly important over the past years. “You may be trained or have a good weight, but you can still have depression,” Alex says. For him being healthy is way more than just weight.
However, Alex thinks of the current trend around body positivity as extreme. “Unconsciously, there will be a danger behind the message of body positivity, which could lead to normalisation of obesity.” He explains that currently you see models on Instagram who are for example weighing 180 kg, who then want to pass on the message that you are beautiful the way you are. However, according to Alex this is unhealthy and promoting it is not the right way. “Personally, I wouldn’t like it if my customers adopt this mindset through social media,” he states.
Alex is not afraid to be honest to the people that come to ask for personal training. He is sure that they are already aware that being overweight is a problem. “Measurements can indicate that you are overweight and I am not afraid to say this,” he says. For example, if measurements show that the fat percentage is above 30%, he can easily tell them: “Good that you came, because this is really overweight”.
Healthy encouragement in Alex’s view would be to take someone as an example, who is (or has been) obese and is documenting their entire journey to a healthy body on a platform. He uses body positivity in his life to move away from getting motivation from what you see on social media. “You should compare yourself to what you looked like a while ago, take that as a focus point to set realistic goals, and do not be attracted to everything you see on your phone”, Alex concludes.