Body positivity campaigns gain ground but unfortunately, at the cost of being healthy and fit
Few days ago, I read a newspaper story about a social media influencer and her promotion of body positivity. The young lady sat resplendent on the newspaper pages, noticeably overweight to the point of being considered clinically obese, as she waxed eloquent about being proud in your own skin. While I concur that acceptance of our bodies is an undeniable essential in today's shallow, Instagram-first world; there's yet another fad emerging that's equally dangerous. In our endeavour to wean away impressionable minds from thigh gaps of rake thin models splashed on glossy magazines or tinsel town divas with perfect Botox-ed faces and silicon breast appendages, we seem to have completely forgotten the health factor.
Media campaigns are so focused on reducing the glare on fat-shaming and encouraging people to love themselves, that unbeknownst they are saying it's okay to be overweight and therefore, have serious health issues later in life. The raging pandemic has turned all of us more health-conscious, and while a few seemingly healthy individuals have fallen to the deadly Covid-19 virus, there are enough people who have recovered; and those who have been leading a balanced lifestyle have fought the virus best.
It is important to speak about different kinds of beauty, it is necessary to break the stereotypes of body image and skin colour that have been carved in stone by magazines, advertisements, and cinema. We see the proliferation of plus-size models, well-known brands are using models who are more real and normal — all welcome steps. But the body positivity campaigns that refuse to flag off the health issues associated with obesity are deeply problematic. While asking us to love our bodies, why are we allowing health to be the victim? How are we telling people that it's okay to be fat? No, it's not. It's not okay to be fat; it's damn right dangerous! Hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, Coronary heart disease, Osteoarthritis, Stroke, Sleep apnea, Cancer — the list of ailments that you can look forward to in life is long and painful. And you don't need to have washboard abs (it's okay if you aspire to but it's not mandatory), a healthy BMI (body mass index) is most important. There are doctors, fitness experts, and nutritionists who can weigh in much better than me to give this information, and they do. Yet we see that for a growing number of people who are obsessed with health and fitness, there is an equal number that due to their sheer ignorance or (frankly) laziness want to pass off their blubbery self as 'body positivity'.
We need more campaigns like the 'Fit India' one; sadly, it didn't really take off. At least 15 per cent of Indian children are obese; 75-80 per cent of them will remain obese as adults too. India has 14.4 million obese kids, which will become 17 million by 2025. As of 2019, there were 77 million diabetics in our country, the second-highest in the world! There will be 134 million diabetics in India by 2045. Eating healthy and exercising more can solve much of this problem. We need kids and grown-ups to exercise more, throw the ball around, play a sport, or just take more walks, but most definitely, get off their phones and computers!
The truth is we all struggle to stay fit and healthy — we have gruelling schedules, lack of open spaces, ageing bones, punishing deadlines, families and pets to care for, and are currently, imprisoned indoors. But the effort that we put in today to stay healthy and fit is a wonderful investment that reaps rich dividends as we grow older. I too struggle to remain committed to a healthier lifestyle. Even after five months since my Covid recovery, I haven't managed to get back to my older stamina or fitness due to certain long Covid symptoms. Whenever I want to give up and take consolation in what people around me say, that it's ok to be unfit, we are of course getting older now etc., I remind myself that I have a family history of Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and my own genetic contribution of PCOS. So yes, people like me who literally move our derrieres to stay healthy, should be miffed when we see 'healthy and strong' being erroneously replaced by 'fat and happy'. Even after everything, we may still fall short of being ideally healthy but we have to keep trying because honestly, it's one goal worth having in our unpredictable lives.
Staying healthy today will ensure happiness tomorrow. It's not only about being your best self, it's also about ensuring that you have the best possible old age. And while there are no guarantees in life, one of the oldest adages still holds true - "health is wealth".
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal