Body Liberation Fits in Public Health, Reason #5
Working in a more weight-inclusive way aligns well with basic public health principles and goals. In many cases, a body liberation approach enables us to be truer to the values that underlie our work. In this series of posts, we will examine ways we can improve our public health work by becoming more weight-inclusive.
Reason #5: We Value Representation, Lived Experience and Community Leadership
Little thought is given to including the perspective of people in larger bodies when working on initiatives to improve the health of larger people, or anyone, for that matter. In so many aspects of public health, we work to ensure representation of a variety of lived experiences and perspectives, especially when our work is focusing on a particular community. We value the approaches to health and well-being from various cultures and groups. There are many assumptions that are likely sources of this either intentional or unintentional exclusion of larger people. For example, the stereotype that higher weight people are inherently unhealthy, so how could they inform a health initiative? Or, the belief that people can just change their body size and avoid negative health outcomes, if they want. Or, that being fat is shameful, so better ignored. “Nothing about us without us” applies here as much as it does for any other group.
Marquisele Mercedes (Mercedes, 2020), in her article, “Expertise is Not Social Justice: Reflecting on the ‘Ob*sity Epidemic’” sums it up nicely:
Social justice is about dismantling the structures that create disparate social experiences. To do that effectively, you must work directly with people whose lives are marked by the issue that you are, more often than not, only connected to through grants, papers, and protocols. Ask those people about their hopes, their visions for the future. Does your work, as is, help get them there?
By intentionally including people in larger bodies in our work, we can begin to play a part in reducing weight stigma and improve our effectiveness in improving individual and community health. Body size intersects so intimately with other oppressions, so paying attention to this in our work can be a leverage point for impacting other inequities.
Mercedes, M. (2020, September 7). Expertise is Not Social Justice: Reflecting on the “Ob*sity Epidemic.” Medium.
As with any marginalized group, not all people in larger bodies will be comfortable representing the perspective of fat people. Proceed with caution. Reach out to people you know are involved in body liberation or fat activism in some way, and/or recruit for people with lived experience, as you would with any other marginalized group. And, working with just smaller fat people is not enough. True representation must include very large people as well.