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Natasha Devon Headshot

Let's Stop Disguising Body Image Prejudice as 'Concern For Wellbeing'

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I'm going to tell you something now which may shock you. Brace yourself. It is so utterly opposed to everything we have been conditioned to believe as a society that it might cause you a moment of absolute discombobulation... Ready?

There is absolutely no verified scientific evidence linking health to body shape.

That means every time you have heard some sanctimonious televisual pundit or journalist quoting stats on how much money 'obesity' costs the NHS every year, they were doing so on a flawed premise. It was *deep breath* incorrect.

I'll allow you a few seconds to recover from what is undoubtedly some very disorientating cognitive dissonance...

Now, it would be utterly remiss of me to suggest that being completely sedentary and sitting on your backside all day eating huge quantities of lard is not terrible for your physical and mental health. It absolutely, irrefutably is. But we must remember that being sedentary and eating lard are not synonymous with being obese. There are plenty of obese people who eat well and take regular exercise, just as there are plenty of thin people who happen to have high metabolisms but are unknowingly storing potentially fatal fat around their internal organs by existing on super high calorie diets.

Making huge, sweeping generalisations about the particulars of a person's lifestyle based on how they look is not only fist-gnawingly unfair, it's preventing overweight people from getting the medical care they need and deserve (and it's keeping the Daily Mail in business).

There's a secondary problem, too, of 'overweight and obese' people always being quoted in the same statistic. Here's what always happens: TV show cuts to a VT of a person so large they are having difficulty walking down the street, wearing clothes three sizes two small (always filmed from behind, whether with their permission or not we do not know). TV presenter then says "One third of British adults are overweight or obese" before smoothly cutting to "obesity is linked to heart disease, diabetes blah blah blah".

...SH*T! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE AND OUR LEGS WILL FALL OFF! (You are supposed to think).

Let us be clear. Being consistently slightly overweight is far healthier than yo-yo dieting, a pattern of behaviour which, sadly, a huge proportion of British people have been locked into based on a skewed notion of 'health' incessantly shoved in their faces by an industry with a multi-million pound advertising budget at its disposal.

I have a BMI of 27, putting me firmly in the 'overweight' category. Putting aside for one second how flawed BMI is as a measurement of, well, anything (condemning as it does most professional athletes, mixed race and black people to the Siberia of the dreaded overweight section, forevermore to be told they're going to die and their legs will fall off) a recent comprehensive health check at a Harley Street clinic revealed I am 30% LESS likely to develop heart problems in the future than my peers. This is because I exercise three or four times a week and always ensure I get my five a day (fruit and veg, too! SNARF!). I have low cholesterol and low blood pressure - officially. And I'm a size 16. I'm the sort of seeming-anomaly that should make Katie Hopkins' head implode (and nearly have, on numerous occasions, which was of course tremendous fun).

Despite this, my NHS GP is always telling me any ailment that happens to befall me (from anaemia to eczema) is 'more common in overweight people' and then she ticks her little box on her little flipchart which no doubt says 'this condition was ENTIRELY self-inflicted by this STUPID fat person on her STUPID fat self'. Presumably, thin people are never poorly. Ever.

The prevailing confusion surrounding health and body shape is what allows people who are body Nazis, people who believe the slender are intellectually, emotionally and genetically superior, people who are *whisper it* quite obviously battling their own demons because no one should really care about anyone else's body that much, to cover their inherent prejudice under a false notion of 'caring about your wellbeing'.

As a body image campaigner, I've only ever wanted people to be healthy and happy. Crucially, I understand that health is a precarious balance between the mental and physical variety and that anyone sticking to a completely rigid regime of food and exercise is neglecting the former. I also understand that bodies are diverse organisms and that humans can live a healthy lifestyle and exist within the confines of huge variety of shapes and sizes.

I understand that body image insecurity stops people partaking in physical activity, from concentrating in school, from going for the job they really want or dating the person their heart desires. It stops us functioning, as a nation. Fat shaming rhetoric does not help our collective mind-set and, despite what we are so often told, it will not improve our health.

So, here's my advice: Live a healthy lifestyle, in a flexible way. Laugh and love (because both giggling and shagging are fantastic for the abdominal muscles), exercise sometimes, eat a rainbow. Then see how your body ends up. Whatever it looks like, that is the body you are supposed to have and it is your right to celebrate it how you see fit.

Owning your body is the healthiest thing of all.

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