Your Health and Your Worth

Image courtesy Redefining Body Image.

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  • Jen

    Hmmmm I think I’ll have to disagree with the first half of this. Weight most definitely dictates health. Being overweight is very commonly known to be a significant risk factor for diseases such as type II diabetes/metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, all sorts of GI problems, sleep apnea, cancer, etc. And you don’t even have to be “obese” to be concerned about these problems. Even dropping 10% of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk.

  • Carina

    I don’t know… it definitely does not define your worth… but your health? You don’t have to have below 20% body fat in order to be healthy but there definitely is a limit to what is healthy. It is quite difficult to overeat on healthy food alone (at least on things that I consider healthy considering the information that is currently available to me; try eating nothing but meat, fish, high quality fat and vegetables and then try to overeat on that). So at least in my case I know that the extra weight on my body is coming from those times where I go food crazy and eat things that are not good for me, neither for my immediate nor my long term well-being.

    • The connection between BMI and health is overstated. A fat sedentary poorly-eating smoker may have worse health risks than a skinny sedentary poorly-eating smoker. But, a fat person who exercises 30 minutes five times a week, eats decent food, and doesn’t smoke has basically the same “hazard index” as a skinny person with good habits. The biggest single indicator of health is whether you get exercise.

      And BTW, it is quite possible to get fat eating only a so-called healthy diet. I was at my largest when I was on the superhealthy lowfat vegan diet that was touted by doctors in the 90s as the best thing for your health ever.

  • Sal

    Jen and Carina: In my view, the point of this is to say that weight is not the sole indicator of health. To deem anyone over or under a certain weight “unhealthy” is to assign more importance to a single factor than is scientifically reasonable. Health is complex, and isn’t determined by weight alone.

  • KiwiMichelle

    On Saturday, I raced my mountain bike for 8hrs pretty much non-stop. Not bad for someone who is classified by BMI as being at risk of obesity-related disease.

    I’d like to think that my cardio-vascular system is in a much better state that that of my exercise-phobic, junk-food consuming colleague who is of “healthy” weight according to BMI.

    Many moons ago, I was a jockey. Now that’s a job that’s all about the weight. One thing is for certain, I’m a whole lot healthier now (physically and mentally, even if I am carrying 20kgs more than I “should” be) than I was back then.

  • You know? I have been a follower of yours for a long time. A long time. And I really really appreciate what you do for women … the idea that you need to love your body. But these types of posts are really starting to get to me. You influence a lot of people … a lot! But obesity is unhealthy. Yes, the line between healthy and unhealthy is constantly changing. But have you ever dealt with an overweight parent? A parent who may have been overweight but was not obese, but then came down with an illness — maybe not related to her being overweight? but because she was overweight made the health problems that much worse? My mother can barely move anymore, and because of messages like this? young kids are told that it’s not her fault … she should love herself. Oh man. I am just getting so upset … because this attitude is shortening the lives of so many people.

  • my father can not even help my mother if she falls down? They have to call the emergency department to get her up. And that costs a whole lot of money these days. She can barely go our of the house because of the fear that she might fall down. Seriously … you really need to realize the implication of what you are starting to tell people. It’s really getting to be kind of scary.

  • Seriously … health is not just in the here and now. It’s about the future as well, and you are doing everybody a disservice when you keep on this theme that obesity is healthy. It’s not. I am being ripped apart trying to deal with my parents right now.

    • Sal

      Kari, this is clearly a very personal and important issue to you. If you’d like to discuss further, feel free to e-mail me.

  • sue

    I agree and disagree with what ya’ll are saying. At some point, being overweight in and of itself DOES dictate your health, but what is that point? 10 lbs over? 50 lbs? I don’t think it’s known for sure. But it is for certain that at some point, being overweight negatively affects your health. We’ve gotten so caught up in being PC about heavy people, that we act like you can be perfect and be 300 lbs. That isn’t true.

  • sue

    I should say..perfectly healthy. I’m not saying the morbidly obese person is “bad” but they are unhealthy.

  • Karol

    I think the point is that if you are 20-30 pounds overweight, and exercising and working on it, that it is healthy and you shouldn’t beat yourself up. Also shouldn’t decide you aren’t pretty enough and compare to the super skinny, unhealthy image that models put out there…now if we could just putting them so far up on the pedestal and realize that most of us have both chests and hips!

  • Ruth

    I do feel quite strongly about this. And I speak as someone who should definitely lose weight. A whole group of cancer specialists were interviewed lately and asked what the single thing was that they did to try to prevent cancer in themselves. And the two things they talked about were maintaining a low weight and cutting out sugar. A newspaper article yesterday talks about how concerned doctors are about obesity, and how some of them believe it is more dangerous than smoking.
    I like the idea that one could be a little overweight, but healthy through exercise, generally goodish diet. Unfortunately I think it is just not true.
    I understand that your interest in helping people accept all kinds of bodies – but there is a delicate line between accepting yourself and being complacent about something that is doing you damage.
    I know that BMI is a rough and ready measure – particularly because muscle tends to register as fat – and there may be people who are aware that they are lean but heavy and so can rightly ignore BMI. But the guiding principle that we should not be fat is, I am afraid, the right one. I would rather it were not, but I believe that it is.

  • Nicole

    You know, I’m kind of sad to click through and find a whole bunch of comments here pushing back against the weight does not equal health statement as though it were separate from the weight does not equal worth statement. What I find most disappointing about it is that many of the comments seem to assume that if we tell people they are okay as they are, then they’re going to sit around all say and eat twinkies or something. That’s a really pessimistic view of humanity. Perhaps if people valued themselves, then they would want to take care of themselves, eat and move their bodies in ways that felt good, and that this may or may not result in any visible change in their bodies?

    Here’s another thought that I’m sure many will not agree with, but I’ll put it out there — “health” is not a stick that we should beat people up with, any more than “beauty” is. The idea that you can only be okay with your overweight self if you’re working hard on it and eating vegetables is just another way of saying that you can only have the privilege of feeling okay about your non-standard body if you’re otherwise completely virtuous. EVERYONE has the right to feel good about their bodies, and I believe that self acceptance can only promote health.

    • Well said, and I agree 100%. Thank you.

    • i am so very much with you. i also get tired of the idea that the world has become too PC about obesity, and if only people knew that it was bad to be fat! things would change. i’m pretty sure, living in our culture, that anyone remotely overweight has gotten the message that society disapproves. nobody overweight and remotely self aware is walking around enjoying themselves, at least not without a lot of self-work to strengthen themselves against the message that they are ugly/worthless/uncivilized that they constantly receive. look at this blog – the comments are all very uncertain that fat could ever be acceptable, and this is a fashion/body image blog! blogs that focus even more than sal does on self-acceptance have to moderate their comments ferociously, to filter out vicious the fat hate.

      in short, the default of our society is that fatness = horrible, and eating disorders and self-loathing seem like the enemies that deserve some attention right now, rather than harping on what every six year old girl knows (or thinks she knows), that weight is important! i mean, duh.

  • Deborah

    This is very true. For example, I am a 39 yo woman, 5 ‘7″ 1/2 and weigh 225.5 at my heaviest 246 which was last year. I am active, I exercise on a regular basis at the gym, hike, swim, work outside on our land etc. I am minful of my eating and what food I put in my mouth although I am not perfect as no one it.

    I have a freind/co-worker 36 yo man, around 6’2″ who keeps his weight right around 150 (he is fat phobic to a degree I have never seen before but that is a longer story than I have room, time or patience to write). He is extermely active, works our job and does lanscaping on the side most days, he doesn’t do “gym” type workouts but is very active with his children and on his land as well. He eats a very “healthy” diet, has not eatemn fast food in almost 20 years and is very particular about what he puts in his mouth at all times.

    Oh we both work a physical job.

    So last year at our workplace they offered an indepth cardiac screening. We went together as we had to travel to another city. To my surprise and his chagrin our my health screening was off the charts better then his. My screening indicated I had no plaque build up in my arteries, the circulation to my legs was excellent, my blood pressure was excellent (which I already knew) and I had no evidence of ANY cardiac issues or precursors to cardiac issues whatsoever.

    My co-worker on the other hand had plaque build up on the “borderline” level. He will soon need to go on medication to control it, the circulation to his legs was also in the borderline area and his blood pressure was elevated.

    He was angry, to say the least, that his cardiac health was not better than mine since he was so much “healthier” than I am. He judges everything by appearance and is incredibly ugly about it at times too. I think this is a good example and proof medically documented that fat does not always equal less healthy than skinny.

  • Laurel

    Weight is a very difficult topic. Everyone comes to this with their own history. I appreciate Sal’s post because weight alone is a very limited view of health (or beauty, or self-esteem). My history involves attempting to be too light for road racing (bikes). My body image was skewed. I raced better when I was light-same problem you see with distance runners. But I started questioning whether it was worth it to be that light when I got sick all the time. Now I am “heavier”, but my body fat % has not changed. Through hard work (but I love the sports I do) and good diet, I slowly added about 10lbs of muscle.

    Is weight important? It’s a good start point. But I think it’s more informative to track body composition. Losing 5lbs of water and muscle isn’t good. Losing 5lbs of body fat is good. But tracking weight alone doesn’t tell you how these numbers differ.

    Whether your weight is low, high, or at a good point the trick is to get the information you need to move in a good direction for you. I don’t think BMI or weight alone give you the info you need to make positive changes. It’s individual. RE Sal’s post-I think it’s a push to accept the wide range of body types that are healthy. Sadly, we cram people into one “ideal body” when there needs to be acceptance of the diverse range of strong bodies in the world.

  • Hello, I recently started a project and have found your blog very inspiring and wondered if you would be okay with me using some of your posts as research for my current art project? As I am gathering resources for initial research 🙂 I am also asking women to write me a paragraph (or more) on what you like and dislike about your body and how it affects the way you dress, and I am collating this together in a book for my final end of year piece and wondered if you would be interested in writing anything for me? I am currently keeping responses anonymous but if you would like to take part please email me at and thankyou for writing such an inspiring blog xoxox

  • Frenchie

    I have had this “discussion” with my students. They think skinny = healthy. To illustrate my point to them, I ask them for their time in the 10 km run we have here every year. Every student who answers has completed this run in one hour 10 mins to one hour and a half. I am almost four times their age, weigh a healthy 165 pounds on a 5’7″ athletic frame, and I can complete that run in under an hour. Their mouths hanging open at the thought that my size 10-12 body can beat their skinny ones in a 10 km run.

    I could not agree more. Weight does not determine your health or your value. Period.

  • Jenny

    People who insist that weight determines health are still stuck with correlation equalling causation. It simply does not. Behaviors that cause things like heart disease and diabetes are often found in the overweight population, but those behaviors are also often found in the unhealthy “skinny-fat” population — the sedentary, the smokers, those who’ve lost the genetic lottery. I weigh over 200 pounds, but my lipid profile is beautiful and I’m in gorgeous shape. I’m healthier than many of my thinner and younger students. My weight absolutely determines neither my health nor my worth.