The point of the collection is to challenge our ideas of what “overweight” and “obese” look like, and the photo set certainly does that. I also found myself cringing at each photo heading, wherein women were labeled “normal,” “underweight,” “overweight,” “obese,” or “morbidly obese.” Seeing those tags put on individual women with actual faces and bodies really illustrates how damaging and harmful they can be (beyond just inaccurate) — what does “overweight” even mean, anyway? I calculated my own BMI and at 20.9 I fall pretty smack dab in the center of the “normal” range. But I look at my own body and I don’t think that I’m more “normal” than any of the women in those pictures; and in my own context of a family full of thin people, I often feel (and, compared to them, look) “overweight.” Compared to my sixteen-year-old self, I feel huge. I expect that as I get older and my metabolism slows down, I’ll get a little bigger; I suspect when I come back from Germany and I’m eating a more balanced diet and working out again, I’ll be smaller. Yet the BMI doesn’t account for age or bone density or muscle mass — should I be the same BMI at 16 that I am at 35? At 50? At 70? Right now, when I’m not working out at all (unless you count walking 20 minutes to and from school, which I don’t) and I’m not eating particularly well (pasta and beer is not a balanced diet) and when my body is getting all soft, should my BMI be higher than it is when I’m going to the gym every day and eating better and I’m more toned and I have better cardio strength and I can feel that I’m healthier? Because, well, it’s not. Should I have a better insurance plan because I’m more “normal” than a person with a higher BMI but a better health history?
The one-size-fits-all BMI model does nothing to combat the “obesity epidemic.” Instead, it compromises individually-tailored health care, helps only insurance companies, and frames obesity as an individual issue instead of a collective and complicated problem that has less to do with fat and more to do with access to health care and healthy food (and a good number of other factors). Actually looking at images of “obese” people helps to combat a lot of the internal prejudices that we hold against that word, and against people who are assigned into that category.
One of the most interesting things about the photo gallery is how many of the images show women in action — running, in athletic clothes, outdoors, etc. I assume that women submitted photos of themselves in situations where they think their bodies look good. It’s heartening that so many women feel good about their bodies when those bodies are in motion, and when they are acting instead of posing.
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- Fat and Health. by Monica September 1, 2010