In the first of her blogs for Marie Claire, Stephanie Wilderspin explains why being plus size doesn't mean she's unhealthy
“Your body is a temple.”
I’ve heard that phrase so often over the years. At talks that were held at school. From relatives watching me get a second helping at dinner.
But to the people who use that phrase, my body is a temple. As they see things, my body is a public space to be critiqued and compared to other places of worship. They look at the exterior and judge the architecture, the age and size of it, how well it’s being maintained. They’ll tell you what they know about the religion it is built around. Even passers-by will tell a friend their own opinion, or maybe, because they don’t like what they know about the religion, they’ll spray-paint words across its walls because they think that specific religion is bad. They need to let the worshippers know their flaws. Maybe it will help them see the light and change their life around.
If you’re overweight and someone tells you that your body is a temple, that generally means that they are going to give you The Health Argument. They’ll tell you that you have to ‘look after your body’ and that it is ‘not okay to be overweight’ and that you ‘should lose weight to look after yourself’. Normally, this will come from a place of caring, even though it probably hurts to hear at the time. Because, the truth is, nobody wakes up one morning and decides to be fat. Being fat is a side-effect of something much deeper, and that “something” is different for everybody.
The term “obesity” comes with many problems. Firstly, someone is considered “obese” based on their BMI: a system almost 200 years old that only takes weight and height into account – not your breast size, not your bone weight. It’s unfair to group so many different people into one single box, defining them according to one, unnamed statistic, skipping over their story because their height and weight don’t correlate. Each person has a different genetic disorder, or illness, or reason behind their choice to lead an unhealthy lifestyle. The term obesity only refers to the exterior. And that’s not an accurate way to judge someone’s health.
General assumptions are another reason that The Health Argument is problematic. Health is a multifaceted thing. It’s not simply a matter of eating well and exercising regularly. It’s also about mental wellbeing, and any other diseases your body is fighting. A person is not unhealthy because they are overweight, but they might be overweight because they are unhealthy. But that is between them and a medial professional, not for the public or even close friends and family to comment on.
And The Health Argument also becomes a justification. I dread walking alone because it’s very likely that a group of boys will shout at me from their car about how hideous I look, or someone will hit on me to make their friends laugh. This happens at least once a week, and I never know when, so I can’t prepare myself for it. I shouldn’t have to. I can’t talk about plus size fashion without being told that shops shouldn’t stock over a certain size because it promotes being unhealthy, despite the fact that even “fat” people need to wear clothes. My mother, who has type one diabetes, a genetic disease, went to her doctor, and he assumed that she had type two – simply because she was overweight.
It’s almost as if people believe that shaming people to become smaller is a way of helping. If us plus-sizers realise we’re not ok, then we’ll change our habits, stat. No thought goes into whether our happiness and self worth plays a part in things. No thought goes into our mental wellbeing. Even if you decide to change your lifestyle, they don’t want to give you clothing options in the meantime. The only option is to get to a “healthier” size as quickly as possible.
The truth is this: your body is not a temple. Your body is your home. Nobody has the right to look at your home and tell you it’s disgusting and needs redecorating. As long as it’s not dangerous, and you’re maintaining it, then you are OK. Sometimes home feels more like a prison, but regardless, it’s yours and you should be able to love it and look after it. Your body is routing for you. It’s protecting you from what is going on around you and keeping you safe and sheltered. Hopefully, one day, you’ll learn to love it and care for it in the way it deserves. But nobody has the right to tell you how to run your home. And believe me when I tell you that it is so much easier to look after a place you love than it is to look after a place you hate’