Why Healthy Looks Different on Everyone
Health is often described as having a sound mind, body, and spirit. However, society is quick to latch onto the physical aspect of health and question what physical health truly means. Is health subjective? Can people be healthy at different weights? Is everyone’s ideal health different? The answer to all of these questions is yes!
Why do body sizes differ?
We know that body sizes are not all the same and that every single human being looks unique. Body size and structure is determined and influenced by a variety of forces, which is why all individuals look different. Genetics play an obvious role in physical appearance, as an individual’s gene pool influences bone structure, predispositions, and more. For example, if a child has two extremely tall parents, it’s likely that the child will be tall as well.
In addition to genetics, factors like nutrition, society, and autoimmune functioning can influence body size and shape. Nutrient deprivation in growing children can result in stunted growth, weakened bones, and physical changes. Society can often influence body shape as well—typically, what is culturally ideal has an impact on how individuals strive to look, which unfortunately, can be problematic. Lastly, certain autoimmune diseases and other health conditions can affect the appearance of the body. Some illnesses come with physical or appearance-based symptoms, which can alter body size and shape.
Another example of body diversity is the fact that two people can be the same height, engage in the same amount of exercise, eat the same diet and still be different sizes or weights. This difference, despite everything that is the same, is because body sizes are also determined by much more than just diet and exercise. In fact, these two people eating the same and exercising the same, may also have different levels of health because nutrition is also unique to each individual. The diet for one person may be insufficient for their body’s needs while it may be an adequate diet for another person.
Can different body sizes all be healthy?
A common question when trying to understand body diversity or health at every size is wondering why people living in different body sizes be equally healthy. How can a person in a larger body and a person in a smaller body have the same degree of health?
This confusion about who is deemed “healthy” based on appearance is a direct result of our diet and appearance-focused culture. If the media, culture, and society all value certain figures and portray only some people as healthy, it makes sense to assume that only one standard can be healthy. However, this is not the case! Health is person-dependent. So, individuals of all body sizes and weights can be equally as healthy because a person’s ideal health is one that allows them to live a life that they are satisfied and happy with. A person’s ideal weight is one that allows them to be nourished, feel capable, and live their best life. The discrepancies in body sizes often have more to do with genetics than diet or actual health.
In the ideal world, the media would recognize that all body sizes can be healthy. People of all shapes, sizes, weights, abilities, and identities would be shown in the media as images of health. While society is slowly making strides at becoming more inclusive, there is still a long way to go. Luckily, as more bodies are shown positively in the media, communities are able to benefit from the diverse representation. Instead of children growing up with only one image of health, they can see diverse examples of what it means to be healthy and find positive representations of who they are in the media.
Why understanding body diversity and Health at Every Size (HAES) is important
Understanding body diversity is important because it allows for an inclusive view of health that promotes overall wellbeing. By understanding that individuals can be healthy across a wide range of weights, we can provide better services and fight against eating disorder culture. By refusing to think of health as weight-based, providers can avoid weight bias or size discrimination, instead caring for the individual as a whole person.
HAES promotes a holistic version of health that is not characterized by size, ability, illnesses, or any other trait. It is rooted in the belief that all individuals get a say in their health and that their health is unique to them. Regardless of size, ability, or illness, all individuals are able to reach health and find joy in their experience.
To further illuminate the positive results of HAES, the Association for Size Diversity and Health lists the five principles of HAES:
- Weight inclusivity. HAES believes in accepting the inherent diversity in body weights, sizes, and shapes.
- Health enrichment. HAES advocates for policy changes that work towards person-centric care and equalizing access to proper care.
- By acknowledging inherent biases and actively working against weight and size discrimination, HAES believes we can provide care better access to care with the understanding that a person’s background affects who and where they are today.
- Eating for wellbeing. HAES promotes eating based on hunger, fullness, needs, and fulfillment, rather than eating as a means of weight loss or control.
- Positive movement. HAES supports positive movement and activity to the degree that individuals of all sizes, ages, abilities, and interests choose to engage in.
By understanding the foundation of the Health at Every Size Movement and why body diversity exists, individuals can learn to understand and accept difference presentations of health. By advocating for proper care for all, we can slowly chip away at weight bias and outdated standards of care.
If you are struggling with food or body image, The Emily Program is here for you. From providing eating disorder assessments to various levels of eating disorder treatment, The Emily Program walks with you during all stages of healing. To learn more, call 1-888-364-5977 or visit The Emily Program’s website.