Body of Truth

Yes, this was my summer beach reading

Yes, this was my summer beach read

In Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do about It, Harriet Brown recounts the time a therapist asks her a seemingly peculiar question:

What if you were OK with your body the way it is right now?

Due to a range of socio-historical forces that have normalized discontentment with, most noticeably, women’s bodies, Brown is, at first, surprised and angered by the question. She writes:

Of course I’ve never considered the possibility of being OK with this body. This unacceptable body. And I’m not going to consider it. That would be letting myself go… I will never let myself go. I will never, ever, ever be the sloppy, lazy, dull, fat friends or mother or relative people like my grandmother shake their heads about.

For Brown to accept her body—her fat—she would have to admit her failure to keep up with contemporary standards of beauty that value thinness and malign fat. The therapist’s question, nonetheless, continues to haunt Brown and forces her to evaluate not only her personal obsession with weight but a society-wide obsession that, she adamantly argues, has become “epidemic, endemic, and pandemic.”

Brown does her research to uncover that many of the medical “truths” we hold dear, i.e., obesity is strongly linked with mortality and obesity causes serious illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, are misleading and contribute to a growing cultural fear of fat. More accurately, the relationship between body weight, disease, and mortality is far more complex and nuanced than these kinds of blanket statements would have you believe.

That is something I, too, discovered while researching the development of height and weight tables, which produced a way of classifying bodies into “underweight,” “overweight,” and “normal” weight categories. This classification scheme, however, was not entirely a by-product of unbiased scientific knowledge. The boundaries between “normal,” “overweight,” and “obese” were never absolute and have been subject to multiple revisions. Also, these tables are not applicable to all bodies.

In the end, Brown presents us with a challenge: question conventional wisdom, engage in critical thinking, and rediscover normal, intuitive eating.

I hope that my book, Fashioning Fat, contributes to this crusade. Let’s reimagine beauty, promote greater bodily self-acceptance, and place greater emphasis on the functional capabilities of our bodies than its appearance.

Thinking back to the therapist’s question, I don’t want to simply be OK with my body. I want to love and value it for how much it helped me accomplish. My body and I survived the abuse of late night study sessions and writing marathons to earn a doctorate, we climbed a few mountainous terrains together, and, for which I am most proud, delivered new, incredibly adorable life into this world. Those are my body truths.

So, be OK with your body, but I encourage you to LOVE it for what it is right now.

What are your body truths?

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