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Stop Using the Terms Fat and Skinny to Describe Health

In the past few years, social media has pervaded almost every aspect of today’s society. One main focus point has been health, particularly as it pertains to body image. Social media has shifted the narrative regarding diet culture to focus on attaining a certain shape or look, rather than focusing on overall health.

Women and men alike are faced with images upon images of the “perfect” body and a multitude of fad diets to help achieve it. Instead of inspiring individuals to improve their general health, social media has trained us to view these toned influencers as skinny, and everyone else (including ourselves) as fat. This gross oversimplification divides everyone into two groups, without considering the various other factors that contribute to a person’s physicality. 

A primary biological aspect that is commonly overlooked in this conversation is genetics. Genetics and family history play a substantial role in determining a person’s physical appearance. One example includes a gene referred to as Neurexin 3, which is known to cause overeating and can be found in approximately 20% of the population.

Similarly, histories of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases within families have been found to have an impact on later generations’ health, putting them at risk at developing diseases such as diabetes at early ages. However, family history and genetics aren’t limited to precocious weight gain; rather, it has been found that similar factors can also pass along slimness as well.

A study done in 2011 found that “many cases of thinness are likely to represent the low end of the healthy distribution of weight and, as such, are likely to have a primarily genetic origin.” This goes to show that genetics works both ways, and can make it difficult for individuals to put on weight or lose weight.  

However, predetermined genetics is just one aspect that affects general health. Societal factors play a major role as well, and can often cause a variety of issues making it difficult to lose/gain weight.

One such example is hypothyroidism, which primarily affects women who suffer great amounts of stress, affecting their metabolism and subsequently, their ability to drop weight. With the workforce becoming increasingly competitive and demanding, conditions such as hypothyroidism are gaining prevalence.

Gastrointestinal issues can have the opposite effect, as they often impact one’s ability to put on weight. This is usually due to improper digestion, which in turn affects the way that food is processed and utilized in the body

These examples barely scratch the surface; there are hundreds of other conditions and socioeconomic factors that impact a person’s physicality. However, the examples prove that though someone may carry more fat than others does not automatically mean that they are unhealthy. Because of this, it is crucial that we shift the narrative regarding health to include the uniqueness of every individual’s body shape.

Exercising to better yourself is important, but make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. It is simply impossible to expect yourself, or anyone else to appear a certain way, even with extreme amounts of dieting and exercise. It’s also equally inappropriate to assume that someone is unhealthy simply because they have more fat on their body than others.

We all come from diverse cultures and environments; rather than make assumptions about each other, we should strive to appreciate our diversity and create a culture that is body and health positive. At the end of the day, health is a conversation meant for a doctor and their patient- not strangers. 

Photo: Siora Photography via Unsplash

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I strive to empower teenagers everywhere by fact and reason. I want to give a voice to the voiceless and highlight both the struggles and achievements of all people.

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