January 20, 2016

Joely Mitchell

Let’s embrace all body sizes and tell women they’re beautiful no matter what. The positive body image movement is excluding an underrepresented group of society, writes Joely Mitchell.

Happiness of natural beautiful girls

Meet Emily. She’s 21-years-old and is studying a Bachelor of Science at university. She works part-time as a cashier and in her spare time enjoys cooking and weightlifting. For 11 years of her life, Emily suffered with an eating disorder. When she was 15-years-old, she was at her smallest, a mere 49kgs. For over a decade, Emily hid her bulimia and anorexia from her family and friends, despite suffering everyday.

“When I was eight-years-old, I remember a girl saying that I was bigger than the others, despite the fact that I was only a little taller and thicker. I’ve never been overweight, I just had a more curvy figure. So, at that age, I decided to stop eating bread and that went on until I was 19,” she told Truth4Youth.

Emily did everything she could to avoid eating meals. She would put milk in the bottom of a bowl and leave it in the sink so it looked like she’d eaten cereal for breakfast. She’d hide sandwiches in her books at school for her to throw out later. She’d make excuses to get out of social gatherings that involved food. During her final year of high school, she would pretend to study in her bedroom, but would instead purge the food she’d eaten during the day. She was also very active, she walked to and from school every day regardless of weather, went for runs at night, and took dancing lessons twice a week.

“I played with laxatives a few times, but one time I lost about 6kgs of water weight and fainted, that scared me. That night I told my brother because I felt that it had got to the point where I was getting more and more at risk,” she said.

After a lot of assistance from family and friends, Emily curbed her condition. She now eats 2,000 calories a day and has gained lots of much needed weight.

During Emily’s 11 years of suffering, she was mentally and physically vulnerable. She was judged and criticised for the size of her body. Her friends and family told her she was too skinny, shopping assistants would comment on her size, and passers-by would even look her up and down in judgement.


Meet Tess Holliday. She’s 30-years-old and a mother of one. She’s an American model, blogger and makeup artist. She is best known for her positive body image movement, #EffYourBeautyStandards. She’s over 127kgs and praised by many for her role as a positive body image activist, but she’s also received criticism. Some people argue that a person whose body weight is reflective of an unhealthy lifestyle should not be a role model, regardless of intentions.

“Health is everyone’s personal decision. It’s their choice and I think that should be respected. There are a lot of reasons people are over, or underweight. We’re all at different places in our journey,” Holliday has said in response to the criticism.

Holliday sends an inspiring message about body acceptance, and she’s bringing to light the societal issue of fat shaming, but are we missing another marginalised body size?

Emily said that even if she loved her body at the time, she would never have been considered a body image role model. She said people don’t accept women who are extremely underweight.

“I’ve experienced the opposite side of it all and it sucks, so I can’t imagine being overweight would be any better. People are beautiful, but to put people down for being underweight, and instead glorifying these images of obese women who are ruining their bodies, just as much as underweight people, is wrong,” Emily said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost two in three Australian adults are overweight or obese. This is a 10 per cent increase to the levels 10 years ago. One in four children also fit into that category. Being overweight and obese is the second highest contributor to burden of disease in Australia.

Expert in diet and lifestyle, Professor Joseph Proietto, told Truth4Youth that both weight extremes are very damaging to a person’s health.

“Just about every organ is impacted by obesity, it’s a cause of heart disease, sleep apnea, infertility, diabetes, arthritis, and even increases the risk of cancer. By being underweight, a woman’s period can stop, and they can become estrogen deficient, which is bad for bones and general health, and can cause mortality,” he said.

“Anorexia has traditionally been treated by psychiatrists, it’s very difficult to convince them that they’re underweight. Obesity is mainly genetic, and the environment facilitates this.”

Fat activist, Kath Read, said she doesn’t consider her role as a body activist part of the body positivity movement. She said that thin women carry a lot of privilege and constantly whinge about not being included in the conversation about stigmas attached to body sizes.

“But ‘what about the underweight’ is the body politic version of ‘but what about the men’ in feminism or ‘what about the white people’ in race politics. It’s the privileged bellyaching because the attention is not on them for five minutes,” she told Truth4Youth.

However, Emily is unfamiliar with the privilege identified by Read.

“Being privileged suggests that thin and underweight girls, and boys, have it easy. As someone who was underweight, I can say that I never felt this privilege. Because of our size, we’re often overlooked in the conversation of body positivity. But believe it or not, we face struggles on a daily basis too,” she said.

– Joely Mitchell

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