Body Diversity: Thoughts From a Registered Dietitian
If all people had identical eating and daily movement and exercise routines, bodies would still exist on a wide spectrum of shapes, weights and sizes. In essence that is body diversity, the variation of body type as well as physical appearance and abilities. Body diversity does not assign worthiness or idealize any one body type. The emphasis is on our unique characteristics and individuality.
Why is Body Diversity Important?
Talking about body diversity is important as it promotes inclusivity and acceptance of all individuals regardless of physical characteristics and abilities. It acknowledges all bodies as valuable and deserving of love, respect and acceptance. It helps to neutralize body ideals and challenges narrow beauty standards. There are no good, bad, or wrong bodies, just bodies that exist in many different forms.
Trying to Fight Biology
Trying to change your body type is as ineffective as trying to change your shoe size or your height. Your body weight and shape are largely determined by your genetics (1,2). For example, I want you to think about two celebrities that live in larger bodies. Now imagine they have a baby – what are the odds that baby is going to grow up living in a larger body like mom and dad? Very likely. Even with a rigid exercise routine and a personalized nutrition plan, that baby’s body type will be largely determined by genetics.
Body Diversity and Weight Stigma
Unfortunately, our culture is heavily influenced by weight stigma and that directly impacts acceptance of natural body diversity. Weight stigma is having negative attitudes, beliefs, stereotypes and/or discriminatory behaviors based on a persons body weight. Weight stigma can affect an individual on an intrapersonal (within themselves), interpersonal (between them and other people) and systemic level (within society).
Impact of Weight Stigma:
- Weight stigma suggests that there is a “normal” or “desirable” body weight, shape and size. This creates an environment that has less acceptance and appreciation for natural body diversity.
- Weight stigma can lead to social rejection, bullying, and physical violence. Additionally research is highlighting associations between weight bias trauma and negative mental and physical health outcomes (3).
- Weight stigma leads to a distorted definition of health when weight is considered a primary indicator. Many factors contribute to overall health and wellbeing and weight alone does not indicate health status. You can be “healthy” or “unhealthy” at any weight.
- Weight stigma creates barriers and eliminates opportunities for people living in larger bodies on a systemic level. Most notably, access to health care, employment, clothing options, travel accommodations, etc.
Body diversity works to create a more inclusive and equitable society for all bodies. It rejects stereotypes about an individuals health, happiness, character or success based on body weight, shape, or size. Celebrating our natural body diversity cultivates an environment that focuses more on getting to know a person’s unique qualities, skills and abilities rather than relying on inaccurate and harmful assumptions based on weight.
3 Ways to Support Body Diversity: Thoughts, Talk, Action
Explore internal thoughts about body weight, shape and size as it relates to you and others. Likely your thoughts are deeply engrained and have been influenced by weight stigma. Take time to evaluate your beliefs and if they are in alignment with your values. Here are some journal prompts to get you started:
- Do you believe your body is inherently worthy of love, respect and acceptance regardless of how it looks?
- What assumptions do you make about fat/thin bodies?
- What makes you feel good/bad about your body?
- Do you pinch or poke your body feeling guilty or ashamed of how it looks?
If you experience self criticism and negative thoughts about your body try creating space between you and your thought with a mindfulness technique known as defusion. Below is an example.
This allows you to notice your negative thoughts but not get stuck or accept them as truth. The next time a negative thought is present can you notice and create some mental space from it? Once you are able to create some space can you let the thought pass by like a cloud?
Talking negatively about your body reinforces weight stigma on an intrapersonal level. When other people experience your weight stigma it affects the interpersonal relationship and proliferates weight bias. Work to eliminate comments about your body that would imply worthiness based on physical characteristics such as weight. Try not to make appearance based compliments. Instead, engage with people and share compliments based on personality characteristics, skills or accomplishments. This places value in who they are as people, rather than their appearance.
Become more intentional with the media you choose to consume. Do you see diversity in the television shows you watch or in your social media feed? What books or podcasts can you find that discuss and celebrate body diversity? Support companies that are inclusive of a wide range of sizes and models. This can lead to greater inclusivity and representation of all body types in media and fashion.
Body Diversity Resources
Exploring your thoughts and biases, being mindful of what you say to others and curating a more body diverse experience will support body diversity within yourself and your community. Below are resources to continue exploring body diversity. This is not an exhaustive list but merely some suggestions to get you started. Additionally, you can visit my resource page for more options.
Books, Workbooks, Card Decks
- The Body Is Not An Apology
- More Than a Body
- Anti Diet
- The Gift of Self-Love Workbook
- The Making Peace With Food Card Deck
- Body Positivity Card Deck
- Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH)
- The Body Positive
- National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance
- HAES by ASDAH
- Tess Holliday
- Jaimmy Koroma
- Aubrey Gordon
- Center for Body Trust
- Ragen Chastain
- Body Image Healing
- Anna Sweeney
What I Hope You Remember About Body Diversity
Body diversity is a biological fact. We will always exist along a wide spectrum of body shapes, weights and sizes. Our bodies are not the problem, our narrow definitions of health and beauty are.
Focus on what makes you feel healthy both physically and mentally. Find people who appreciate, value and respect you based on your unique qualities, skills and talents. Let’s create an environment where all bodies are safe and accepted – while hoping that one day body diversity can also be celebrated.
- Resch E, Triole E. 2020. Intuitive Eating. A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach (St. Martin’s Essentials, New York) (Fourth Edition). St Martin’s Publishing Group.
- Bacon L. 2010. Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight (BenBella Books, Texas).
- Pearl RL, Puhl RM. Weight bias internalization and health: a systematic review. Obes Rev. 2018 Aug;19(8):1141-1163. doi: 10.1111/obr.12701. Epub 2018 May 22. PMID: 29788533; PMCID: PMC6103811.