The Question of Health

weight health relationship

OK, I’ll admit it: I daydream about getting my big break. Catching the eye of some well-placed luminary and being given the chance to spread my message everywhere they’ll let me, across media, across boundaries, all over the world. But there’s a question I’ve been asked by a few readers and acquaintances that I’m certain would surface in daytime talk shows and on-the-spot interviews, and that question always clouds my daydreams.

So I want to address that question right here, right now, regardless of whether or not my big break ever comes. And here it is:

“You encourage women to love and accept themselves exactly as they are. But do you really believe that a 400-pound woman can be healthy? Or that a 90-pound woman can be healthy?”

And my answer is this: How on EARTH would I know what “healthy” means for anyone other than myself? I am not a doctor. I am not a health expert. I am not a personal trainer, an herbalist, a chiropractor, or anyone who is required to have intimate knowledge of the human body’s mysterious workings. I have taken three biology classes and one human physiology class in my entire life, have no experience doing field work in the health industry, and absolutely no knowledge or credentials that would give me any standing should I chose to voice my opinion about the good or poor health of another human being. And while some may argue that even doctors and health experts may be unable to effectively gauge true, holistic health – especially as it pertains to weight, body mass index, etc. – I think everyone can agree that those folks have more authority than I in such matters.

Furthermore, it is none of my goddamned business if a random 400-pound (or 150-pound, or 90-pound) woman is healthy or not. Just as it’s none of my business how much money she makes or how her sex life is going. Health is private. Period.

What I do believe – and what I feel perfectly qualified to proclaim from the rooftops –  is that every woman at every weight, shape, and size deserves to be treated with respect, deserves to feel loved, deserves to make her own decisions about her own body. Every woman at every weight, shape, and size deserves to have a fabulous time exploring her personal style and honing her unique look. Every woman at every weight, shape, and size can define health for herself. And, above all, every woman at every weight, shape, and size deserves to be happy. Every woman at every weight, shape, and size CAN be happy. And anyone who claims that happiness is contingent on weight is foolish and misguided, prejudiced and small-minded.

I’m not interested in quantifying the health of other women. I’m not qualified to make decrees about the health of other women. But I’m making it my life’s work to make sure that other women are happy. Happy with their lives, their bodies, their very existences.

Because happiness is important, and we all deserve a piece of it. ALL of us. Including you.

Image courtesy mrjorgen.

Originally posted 2011-03-31 06:33:56.

Next Post
Previous Post

138 Responses to “The Question of Health”

  1. Cora

    hear, hear!
    I couldn’t agree more. Why Oprah hasn’t called yet is beyond me

  2. Charlie, Feminine Bravery

    Great answer to that question! I dislike people who have certain opinions about beauty and happiness, as I don’t see it as the same as that person’s weight, but health is something that makes you happy only if you’ve got it, and it is something worth fighting for. Health in itself is something others can’t define, it’s a matter of how you feel and how you are able to express and be yourself to the extent you want, perhaps. But whether you’re healthy or not you deserve to be happy and respected as yourself, not as numbers on a scale.

  3. Jen

    If I could grab you by the ears and kiss you on the cheeks, I would totally do it right this very moment! Mwah!! Sal, this is exactly what women need to have pumped into their very core each and every day. Not the messages we get from mainstream media, but this. You are a genius. Kiss your brilliant brain, my dear!

  4. birdmommy

    I just wanted to say that this post moved me from “I like what you do on this blog” to “I respect what you do on this blog”.

  5. Katie

    Honestly Sal, you are on a roll this week.

    I have friends who are very, very thin and tall like me (I’m 6 ft tall). I have friends who are pretty big and tall like me. I have friends of all shapes and sizes and every dang one is gorgeous. But when one of those friends looked me in the eye last summer, after hearing me discuss some sudden and pretty substantial weight gain, and told me that anyone over a size 12 was definitely not healthy – I was wearing a 14 and know lots of very active “healthy” folks who wear larger sizes – I didn’t know what to say.

    But now, you’ve given me a response. A) Its none of my or her business if others are or aren’t healthy and B) everyone deserves to be happy so let’s shut up with the negative talk!

  6. poet

    Thanks for these clear thoughts! I’ve struggled with the question of how to relate a body-positive and even fat-accepting attitude with health concerns that do apply to people at extreme ends of the weight spectrum, but separating out acceptance, choice and respect from health questions should really have been a no-brainer.

  7. poet

    PS: I had just such an IKEA scale, and I once took it apart meaning to label the numbers wheel with lots of compliments instead and re-insert it so that it spins randomly when you step on the scale – but I never figured out how to…

  8. Loren

    Great post. If anything I think you could argue you are attempting to help women with their MENTAL health. 😉 And really isn’t that just as important?

  9. PB from MN

    Thank you so much for the words you have written today.

  10. Lori

    Amen!! And there is nothing more discouraging than being told you are fat or unhealthy by someone who could never understand what it is like to be a “woman of size” (or whatever label you want to give it).

  11. Harriet

    If I were queen of the world, I would get NIH to remove from all its literature the dictum that any woman whose waist size is more than 35 inches (regardless of her height or bone structure or overall body fat) is more at risk for heart disease. In comparison, men get to have 40-inch waists. So this means, for example, that on this measure a man who is 5 feet tall with a 39-inch waist is healthier than a woman who is 6 feet tall with a 36-inch waist. This is based on very little hard evidence, as far as I can tell — I found one study with this result that included only a few hundred people. I doubt if doctors are actually whipping out tape measures and prescribing medication, but this IS yet another way women who don’t fit the mold are made to feel like freaks.

  12. Bubu

    Well said! Bravo! I would also say that health, whathever form or shape it takes, must start from a place of self-love. Whether a 90, 150 or 400 pound woman should be making any changes or taking steps to improve her health, she is far more likely to do it and succeed if she loves her self and her body, and considers herself worthy of being happy and healthy and beautiful.

  13. Carolyn

    What a great post! It is infuriating to me that if you don’t look the ideal that you are somehow lesser than…and that somehow you have to be unhealthy! It’s almost like that’s the tag line…well, yes she’s allowed to be fat but she must have health issues…and then they run all of the “issues” associated with obesity. But most times it just sounds like fat prejudice to me, covered by the “oh I really just want her to be healthy” tag line.

    • Frankincensy

      I agree. There are healthy and unhealthy people all over the size spectrum, including the “normal” BMI range, but a lot of people ignore this and jump straight to attacking those at the extremes (because surely they *must* be unhealthy!). I think that when someone reacts to the idea of body acceptance with “but it can’t possibly be all right to weigh [amount]!”, they’re saying more about their own prejudices and fears than anything else.

  14. Katharine

    The entire weight/BMI/health link is extremely dubious until you get to the outer limits ANYWAY. For all the highly publicised studies (many of which have shady connections to companies that might profit from such evidence) demonstrating a link, there are other studies that show that there’s no link, or even better, that in some cases, the overweight/obese have BETTER health/outcomes in certain areas.

    I continue to think that the constant BUT YOUR HEALTH! cry is really nothing more than a new expression of an essentially crippled Puritan morality. And I say this as a person who is within 20 pounds of being defined as “obese”, and, apparently, qualifying for a lap band under some ridiculous new guidelines. Give me a break.

    More extended rant deleted. Argh. Just. Don’t. Get. Me. Started.

    • Katharine

      Anyway (after a day of this humming in the back of my mind) does that really have anything to do with your message? Are these critics also suggesting that a woman battling cancer, or a woman with CFS or multiple sclerosis or anything else that makes her not the common definition of “healthy”, not care about her appearance and self-worth and self-esteem?

      All we have to work with is what we have. Something else might happen tomorrow, and we might have control over that something else, or we might not, but today is today, and it doesn’t do anybody any good to hate themselves today.

  15. margosita

    LOVE, love, love.

    I hope you DO get that big break, because this is something the world (and TV pundits!) need to hear a whole lot more of.

  16. Frumptastic

    Amen! I think in the past few years I have shied away from looking more fashionable, so to speak, because I have been very unhappy with my weight. My clothes became baggier and more blah. I stuck to black and the occasional splash of color if I felt confident that day. Now, as I am working on becoming more fit (this doesn’t mean skinny), I feel more confident with who I am at any size and am taking more risks. Thank you for this post!

  17. amber

    Amen, sister. Amen. There are plenty of people talking about weight. Feeling good is something altogether different.

  18. Tab

    You know health should be a personal concern for each of us, however, beating yourself up or letting someone else do it due to being over-weight, under-weight, or maybe not as toned as you want to be is not going to help your health. I firmly believe that if you need (based on health issues or potential issues) to change something in your life you will not do it or will not be successful in it if you don’t love your body at least a little!

    I say this having gone from a size 18 to a 12 (and there is nothing ugly about a size 18!). I tried and tried and failed to lose weight or couldn’t get much off but when I stopped self-loathing so much, when I began to love myself is when I began to get to MY personal healthy point.

    • Lisa W.

      YES! RIGHT ON! If we’re concerned about health, then let’s begin with loving ourselves! In order to be happy or in order change anything in thiw world we all need motivation from within. Brava to each of us who work from a position of love—SELF-love!

    • Maria

      Firstly, I would like to thank Sal for making this post. I think it’s an important message; and I think it’s one that isn’t said enough/heard enough.

      Secondly, I would just like to say that I’ve gone through a similar experience (self acceptance came first, self care came afterward), and I would like to echo your words as loudly as I can. Change comes after love. Self hate should not be a motivation for change, and it was certainly not a happy place for me, and not something I’d wish upon others.

  19. Jess

    You make an excellent point. In today’s world, society places massive emphasis on “health” when they’re really talking about physical health, which is only one aspect of overall health. We all learned about the mental/social/physical health triangle in grade school, and it’s possible to have positive aspects in two points of the triangle while having negative aspects in the other (sometimes mental or social, not always physical). Many are unfortunately quick to judge the health of others when they truly have no accreditation to do so, considering themselves experts on the subject. What they may not realise is that overall health goes far beyond the eye’s scope, and they are passing judgment based on their own state of health, which also contains the set of qualifiers above. But they don’t consider that, because so many people believe it’s all about weight.

    Body positivity is not the same as supporting unhealthy habits, and I applaud you for bringing that point to the forefront!

  20. Anna

    Preach it, Sally! May you get that Big Break and the opportunity to say exactly this, in exactly these words, to a Big Wide Audience!

  21. Anna

    Goodness gracious, does that Ikea scale go up to only 110 pounds? Pretty scale, but not for me (ever!).

  22. peggy

    I have gone from being what I considered “chunky” all my adult life (45+ pounds overweight) to dieting in access until I was actually 10 lbs under weight for my height and body frame. I had SO many compliments when I was at my thinnest. We (and I include myself!) in society really have things bassackwards. I was very encouraged to stay at my thinnest, which I did successfully (?) with a life of constant denial to what I really wanted to eat. As long as I could fit into my size ### jeans, that’s all that mattered. My parents and my husband were the only ones that told me I had actually gone too far… that I was messing with my health and bone loss..etc.. It’s taken a long time, but I have finally found that I love me, the way I am somewhere inbetween it all. And, health and happiness DOES matter.

  23. Sheila

    Brava! From a personal standpoint, 5 years ago, I was obese. According to my doctor, I was unhealthy…but I didn’t do anything about it.

    However, I was fabulous! I still dressed up and had style (it was a lot harder to find great pieces, I’ll grant you, but I did my best). I presented myself in the most flattering clothes I could find.

    And funny enough, it wasn’t until I finally accepted my size and my body…that I was ready to lose weight. And I did it for my health. 50 lbs later, I am healthy and I’ve kept my style.

  24. Stephanie

    It certainly is not our place to judge the physical health of other people and there is something to be said for having good mental health. Caring about one’s appearance can boost self esteem. Looking good at any shape/age can boost self confidence which makes for better mental health. Mental health meaning the way you think about yourself. Great post! More people should be reminded not to judge other’s “health”.

  25. fatgirlfitgirl

    This article has strange timing I swear. Right now Im working on losing 20lbs of fat (I could give two sh** about the scale). As long as I look better Im happy.

    People misunderstand weight with health when the most important thing is really muscle mass and fitness level.

    I personally think everyone should strive for a certain level of fitness for confidence reasons, health and improved chances of longevity (along with less health problems when older). I understand though that if the person isn’t interested in long term health I can’t force them to be. But I think people underestimate how much good physical health can affect.

    • Hannah

      “As long as I look better I’m happy.” Fatgirlfitgirl, I’m not sure you understood the gist of this blog post.

  26. Jennifer

    Well said!

    Minding my own business is the best decision I ever made. Life is so much more zen this way.

  27. Bee

    Cheers to that!!! I just posted this article about the students in Toronto doing a march they call the “Slutwalk”. It was a response to a what a Constable said at a safety seminar with law students. He said, “Women can avoid sexual assault by not dressing like ‘sluts’.”

    Respect. Some people don’t understand how much this matters or that we all deserve it.

  28. Jessica

    The timing of this post is interesting to me since I am currently reading a book by Deepak Chopra. This is a gross oversimplification, but one of the premises of the book is that happiness is greatly under-rated as factor in health. All of those feelings of well-being that we get when we are feeling good about ourselves are beneficial in many ways and greatly contribute toward health and longevity. So if a person who happens to be overweight by certain standards is happy and accepting of themselves, it seems to me that is much better than an unhappy, self-loathing person of the same weight. If blogs like this help people feel better about themselves, it can only be a good thing IMHO. There is enough out there already with the message that overweight people should feel bad about themselves.

  29. Amy

    Posts like this are why I love your blog and tell everyone I can to read it. So inspiring.

  30. Cynthia @ Go Chic or Go Home

    When I completed my first marathon folks of every shape and size were dancing across the finish line. The notion that a woman or man of a certain size is not “healthy” or “happy” is so incredibly misguided. I suspect the physically diverse group of runners who completed 26.2 miles would agree.

    You rock, Sally!

  31. kathy

    Your post today moved me to transition from fan who “lurks” to fan who “comments.” I couldn’t agree more with everything that you said. This is probably why I have visited your blog ever since I dicovered it. I truly hope that you do get your big break some day. Until then, I will consider myself very fortunate to have stumbled across your words.

  32. alice

    Hmm, my thoughts are a little jumbly on this matter so perhaps they will come out that way. I agree with you 100% that everyone deserves to be happy and feel good about themselves, and that this should not depend on what you weigh. In fact, people who are sick (long-term illness etc) deserve to be happy too, even if they are not healthy.

    But isn’t saying that you are not a doctor and therefore not qualified a bit of a cop-out? Because I think what we’re all hearing from doctors, pretty much constantly, is that 400 pound people are NOT healthy and from what I hear, people who weigh much less than 400 pounds are constantly being told by doctors to lose weight. I believe the main point of your message is that other people’s health is not our business, and I agree with that too. But while I would never say anything to someone I didn’t know, if my sister suddenly weighed 400 pounds (or 90 pounds), I would tell her it was unhealthy…and if I did see someone who weighed on those extremes and they had difficulty climbing a set of stairs or something, I would judge their health privately. It’s funny, I have a BMI that’s outside of normal and I feel I am healthy; but I think about the weights you mentioned and applied them to my frame and I know I would not be at those weights. It is interesting you chose 90 pounds though, because I can easily imagine someone shorter than me being healthy at 90 pounds, but I have difficulty imagining anyone being healthy at 400. Perhaps my own bias is showing? Or maybe it’s because I do know people who are 90 pounds.

    Sorry this comment is such a mess, I love your blog, but this is an issue I feel a little confused about!

    • Sal

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I still don’t think it’s a cop out. Because even though doctors all over the place say that being X weight at X height means you’re automatically unhealthy, they’re looking at statistics, not individuals. To say that all people at X height who weigh X pounds are unhealthy is ludicrous. It’s like saying that all people over X height play great basketball: Just because many great basketball players are tall doesn’t mean that all tall people are great basketball players. Flawed logic that doesn’t account for the incredible, amazing variation that is humanity.

      The 90 pound thing? That’s why I threw that in there. Because health-weight scrutiny works both ways for women: Over one threshold, you’re too fat. Over another, you’re “anorexic.” But many folks are much more comfortable with the low weight end of that scale. A 90-pound woman may have as many or more “health risks” as a 400-pound woman, depending on circumstances. But we are trained to applaud one and scorn the other.

      And the main thrust of my argument, as you’ve pointed out, is that health – in the medical sense, anyway – really isn’t my concern. Happiness is. Respect is. And human beings deserve both, no matter what. Which is a point upon which we clearly agree. 😉

      Finally, kudos for speaking your mind and challenging this argument. I always appreciate an open, respectful dialogue. Rock on, alice.

      • alice

        Thanks for taking the time to respond and thanks more for taking my comment in the spirit it was intended. It’s a real pleasure to be able to have a thoughtful discussion on these sorts of issues and I really appreciate the space you’ve created here to do just that.

        In the end, I think it’s clear that we know far less about what makes for “healthy” than we think. Every couple of years there seems to be a retraction on something that was considered gospel just a few years before. Like first, butter was bad, but now it’s probably ok. Or how carrying weight on your stomach was really bad, but now there seems to be no correlation between that and health. Anyway, life is too short to be obsessing about stuff like that. Best to be happy right now!

    • pope suburban

      For what it’s worth, I did know someone who was, medically, healthy at 400 pounds. Her vitals were all great. She could walk all day, and was really active with her kids, managing her house, and running a business from home. Her doctors were totally amazed that her stats were those of someone much, much lighter. Now, ultimately, she did decide to have weight-loss surgery because she did not want to bank on her stats *staying* so great, but for her whole adult life? She probably had better numbers than I do, and I’m Captain Average of weight, height and fitness. This is only one person, sure, but I can at least accept that it can happen, even if the people I see strolling around on the street are probably not super-women. But y’know, I treat them the same as I treat anyone and I can’t say as I spend any time thinking about “how they must live,” so in the end their vitals are beside the point. I totally feel your confusion, and agree that everyone deserves to be happy and feel good about themselves. I just thought this was kind of a neat data point in this context, so it was sharing time.

      • Jen S.

        I know someone like that too, although I think she is more in the 350 range. She is the most active, vital person I have ever known!

        • pope suburban

          Bodies: they’re neat, and do unexpected things! 😀

  33. SarahN

    And right after Baba Wawa asks that question, she’ll ask the question that everyone’s REALLY thinking: “Do you really believe that a 400-pound woman can be BEAUTIFUL? Or that a 90-pound woman can be BEAUTIFUL?”

    But, thanks to you, Sal, we already know the answer! Keep up the great work.

  34. deja pseu

    Sing it, yeah!!! I’ve tried to make that point to people in the past but the idea of health and size being inexorably linked is like gospel to some. I do believe that hating on our bodies is bad for our health not just mentally, but physically, and the opposite is true to. Kindness, gentleness toward ourselves is good for us physically.

  35. Lydia

    Amazing words of wisdom! I also believe that the greatest gift you can give to those you love, as well as yourself is your total all encompassing health (all encompassing includes happiness and well being) — that idea of ‘health’ for me means we all deserve happiness regardless of weight, size, or shape and in the grand scheme of things, appreciating our time here, rather than obsessing.

  36. Chelsea S.

    I’m filing this fantastic post away for the future, because I’ve had trouble answering that question of health with folks who push back against my attitude of fat acceptance and promotion of positive body image. Thanks for providing the language… you speak to this topic so eloquently! xoxo

  37. kathryn

    Well said,

    I do believe that it’s in everyone’s interest to not carry too many extra pounds for health reasons; but there’s a fine line between thinking that, and becoming judgmental about other people’s choices regarding their weight.
    I agree that women can look fabulous at every body shape, and I’m so glad for all the fabulous fashion blogs out there that remind us of this every day.

  38. Rudyinparis

    Like Cynthia @Chic or Go Home, I have always been amazed by the diversity of body shapes at running events. I haven’t done a marathon, but I’ve done plenty of half-marathons, and, let me tell you, nothing else could so effectively PROVE to me that strong, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes, for real.

  39. Lynn Bert

    I agree that every woman deserves respect no matter what her body looks like. On the other hand, we do have responsibility taking care of our own health. A 5’2″ woman who weighs 400 pounds is not healthy, period. She did not get into that shape by breathing air and drinking water alone.

    There are many objective criteria to judge one’s health, it is NOT relative. As a physician, every day I spend time educating patients on proper diet, exercises, and activities. I advised them to stop smoking, to only drink moderately, and to exercise actively. Studies after studies support this type of recommendations.

    Yes, we need to love ourselves and yes, we need to take responsibility.

    • Sal

      How you advise your patients is between you and them, of course. But to say that health is not relative strikes me as … well, extremely rigid and patently untrue. What about a woman over recommended BMI who exercises four times per week? A woman well within recommended BMI who eats junk food and never hits the gym? What about a woman whose hip-waist ratio isn’t ideal, but who eats nothing but organic food and walks to work? A woman who is severely underweight by medical standards but fit and strong and athletic?

      • Lynn Bert

        There is art of medicine and there is science of medicine. I certainly do not recommend a patient who is fit and exercises regularly to exercise more just because her weight is above BMI. A patient can have normal weight but her cholesterol may be off the roof, or her blood pressure is extremely high, she would not be considered healthy from that aspect, even with her weight being normal.

        Health measurements come in many ways, weight is only part of it. More likely than not, a person with weight in the severe obesity range will have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and is at much higher risk for developing cardiovascular diseases. This is not rigidity, this is science.

        I appreciate what you say about the need to love ourselves. I need to do the same myself but I also need to do what I preach by eating right and exercising regularly.

        Thanks! I enjoy your blog.

          • Camille

            I also agree with Lynn.
            Also…I don’t agree that happiness trumps all.

  40. Vanessa

    Love, love, love, love, love. Thank you! I worked in retail for several years, and this is exactly the way I felt about helping customers. Any little help we can be REALLY does make a difference.

  41. Dee

    Your assertion that health is universally private is impossible to defend. Health is not private where insurance, secondhand smoke, poor learned (or taught) eating habits, or sex diseases are concerned. Ever.

    • Sal

      The point is that judging people, labeling them, and deciding for them that they are healthy or not-healthy is unwise, unwelcome, and unproductive. Their health, their business. My nosing into their perceived health does no one any good, including society at large.

      • Dee

        I understand your point well and clearly. When it boils down from “rah-rah abstraction” to tangible scenario, your argument falls apart. It is unrealistic to think in such dichotomic terms, unless an individual lives in a way that is isolated from others.

        Your post is a patchwork of related concepts: judgment, privacy, (the implied) right to choose, responsibility, freedom, etc. Treated on their surface — which is what I feel your post does — it’s easy to defend such abstractions. My point is that privacy is NOT simple, NOR is it productive (or realistic) to declare that health should be regarded universally as a matter of the individual’s right to protect privately. A person with HIV simply does not have the right to regard such information privately when engaging in unprotected sex with another person who assumes all’s clear.

        Is is fruitless to tell someone “being fat is bad” — it is also fruitless to belabor such a manner of point. Is is useful, however, to create separate insurance policies for people who view their health as a matter of right to choose and therefore choose to wear helmets or not. Perhaps you view this as a type of judgment, and perhaps it is, but that is because the word itself is a pejorative to many people.

    • Christine

      Agreed, Dee! People’s health is a public matter, especially when it concerns people you love. If my mother or my best friend (or any other woman I love) weighed 350 pounds, you better believe that I would urge them to consider improving their physical health. How is my caring about their physical health unwise or unproductive? It might be unwelcomed in the fact that facing reality is sometimes tough, but scientific evidence urges me to care about obesity and associated health problems (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc., etc.), even if the person about whom I’m caring is not myself!

      • emm

        I disagree. Caring does not mean telling others, unasked, what we think they should do. We need to live and let live. I trust that my 300lb+ friend knows she’s overweight. I trust she’s not been living under a rock and has been bombarded with eating and exercise advice from the culture pretty much her whole life. I trust that unless she asks for my advice or opinion, she doesn’t want it. Bottom line: I trust her. I have to. It’s her life to live, not mine.

        • Eryn

          I couldnt have said it better myself Emm. I am 300 pounds, and in general, if anyone believes they have the right to micro-manage how I care for my body, I reconsider any more time spent with that person. My health is not up for discussion, thank you very much.

        • Dee

          So you’re OK paying over the course of 10 years thousands of more dollars in insurance premiums because you’re in the same actuarial pool as people who smoke?

          That makes sense to you?

          I disagree with you. I view health as a matter of progression, and there is IS value to positive — and neutral — input and criticism.

      • Frankincensy

        I don’t think caring about the people you’re close to is necessarily in conflict with the idea that “healthy” comes in more than one size. I’d be concerned if my best friend suddenly shot up to 350 pounds, because I know enough about her weight, health, eating and exercise habits, etc. to suspect that 350 would be deeply unhealthy for her. That’s not the same thing as passing a 350-pound stranger on the street and jumping to conclusions about their health, or claiming that nobody could possibly be healthy at that weight.

        • Christine

          Frankincenscy…thank you.. perfect way of putting it.

      • Dee

        I completely agree with you.

        Further, I hope that someone will speak directly TO me if they think my health is in peril. Maybe I already know, but maybe I do not.

  42. candice

    I had a strange experience today. Someone I am friendly with said (with reference to me) “skinny girls don’t know how to…” (what it was is irrelevant).

    At a size 10, I do not consider myself to be skinny or anywhere close to skinny, although I think my personal self-definition is not pertinent either way. I was not expecting a comment like that and I have been thinking all day how odd it is that it bothered me so much.

    No matter how big or small my body is, why should I be labeled as not able to do certain things as well as other women based on size? I think, in general, any label is bad, hurtful and far too simple. No matter how innocent it may seem.

  43. Kari

    Wow. I’m kind of surprised, and I guess I’m in the minority. Size is a huge factor in health — I’m not saying that it’s the only factor, but it is a factor. Just because labels are hurtful does not mean that you throw out the baby with the bath water. Obesity is not healthy. Period. And furthermore, it is something that we should all be concerned about with the rising cost of health care. You can’t just say I’m not a doctor or I’m not an expert — that’s just plain wrong. Dead wrong. And it really bothers me that you would say that. Do you want to start throwing out other scientific theories because you don’t happen to be a scientist? I’m not a biologist, so I don’t believe in evolution.

    • Sal

      My point is that if someone were to ask me, specifically, if I think people at a certain weight can possibly be healthy, I couldn’t respond one way or another. I have neither the credentials to make judgments about the health of other people, nor do I think it’s wise to make generalizations about human health. There is tremendous variety in humanity. Not all people who are obese are unhealthy, not all people who are not-obese are healthy. It’s more complex than “obesity is bad.” I am not endorsing obesity, or thinness for that matter. I am questioning the idea that incomplete and constantly shifting information about the relationship between weight and health make it wise to pass judgment on others for their size.

      I would never say that I discard scientific theory because I am not a scientist. But if someone asked me to weigh in on the specifics of a theory about which I only had a general idea – or ideas gleaned secondhand from contradictory research that constantly changed its implications – I’d be loathe to give an opinion. What we know about how weight affects health changes all the time.

      As for the rising cost of health care, obesity is not the sole cause of that problem.

      Finally please note that this post addresses those who are deemed underweight as well as those deemed overweight.

  44. hellotampon

    It’s sooo nice to hear someone articulate how ridiculous and paternalistic the whole “health” argument is.

  45. Mark M

    “Because happiness trumps everything, and we all deserve a piece of it. ALL of us. Including you”

    Happiness is one thing, but healthy? No. A 400 pound, or 90 pound person (why the question is about women I do not know) is NOT physically healthy. I even doubt if they are truly healthy in a mental sense, considering the amount of issues they have with their diet. Even they know they are over/under eating and choose not to care (denial), or they don’t know they are (delusional), or they are unable to do anything it (willpower issues). These are not good things and traditionally symptoms of deeper psychological issues.

    • Sal

      The post is couched in terms of women because this blog is about and mainly read by women.

      To make such sweeping judgments of countless strangers about whom you know absolutely nothing seems unwise and uncalled for. There is no way to know how or why someone gained or lost weight without talking to her personally. To assert that anyone who cannot achieve and maintain a certain weight is mentally unstable is assuming a lot.

      • Mark M

        Hmm. I might have come across as a little abrupt. I apologise for this – this is an issue I have strong feelings about. IMHO, the point you make regarding respect (and self-respect) regarding the treatment of all is laudable. I do believe, however, that the pursuit of happiness must involve a genuine and sincere desire to treat your body with the respect it deserves.

        I have watched people die a difficult and painful death as a result of unhealthy eating practices (both through bulimia and obesity). As a 40yo, I have watched many of my friends gain weight steadily and as a result, become less active and many now experience health complications (diabetes, heart conditions, etc).

        Happiness is not contingent on weight, but it sure is contingent on health and health is contingent on weight.

  46. Bec


    I’m a terrible blog lurker, but I would just like to say thanks to you, Sally, for just being so totally inspirational to me, and no doubt countless others, all the time.

    Having struggled over the course of my 24 years with bulimia, anorexia and binge-eating at various periods, I have been trying really hard this last year or so to really appreciate my body for what it is and what it allows me to do. Unfortunately, this has resulted in my sometimes becoming convinced that if only my body was the most healthy, fit body it could be, a body that could do anything, then I could finally accept its size and shape. But sadly, this is no different than when I have told myself that if only my body was a certain weight I could accept it.

    I want to accept it now – what it can do now, what it looks like now – because I deserve to feel comfortable in my own skin. We all do.

  47. Zoe Danger Awesome

    This post deserves an a cheesy 90s slow clap!

    But As much as I love this post, some of the comments are really getting me down. I don’t know why I continue to read the comments of articles that mention weight, they upset me every time.

    So here is what I have to say: I am about 5ft4 and 215lbs, that makes my BMI about 35, otherwise known as obese. I am fat. I am also a human, a good friend, I lover of fruits and veggies, being outside in the summer, dancing, and I am healthy. You cannot tell any of that by looking at me.

  48. Kate

    Sally, I love you. Thank you so much.

    Health is not a moral imperative. I do not owe anyone my health. So there.

  49. Julia

    Sally, are you saying that you can be 400lbs and say “I love myself ergo I’m healthy” ? It has been medically proven that obese weights lead to cardiovascular problems, pulmonary issues, diabetes, emotional disorders (hey, isn’t that partially why you started this blog?), muskoskeletal issues etc etc. Sure, there may be one obese woman in a million who is perfectly healthy but she is very much a minority. I’m not saying you can’t be obese and love yourself — you absolutely can. But you’re confusing health and self-love. Sometimes they are in accord — ie “I love myself because my body is a machine that consumes only as much as is needed to run properly and be at its aesthetic apex” — and sometimes not — I love myself even though I weight 400lbs, eat dessert 3x day, have diabetes and can’t walk without runnning out of breath.

    Also, I disagree with your comment that it’s none of your business what someone weighs. If you live in a country with universal health care– ie most of the civilized and not-so-civilized world — (not sure if it’s the same in the US where your health care is doled out by HMO’s based on individual premiums)– you’re paying for your health and your neighbor’s so it’s absolutely your business when a significant portion of the public is overweight and requires more medical treatment than the norm. That comes out of your pocketbook — whether in taxes or as a premium. No one is an island… the ramifications of bad health are felt by us all. LIke your blog, Sally, but disagree with the post.

    • Sal

      I am not saying that all people who love themselves are healthy. I am saying that I am not qualified to decide for other people whether they are healthy or not. I am not saying that research on weight doesn’t exist. I am saying that research provides parameters for health that constantly change, which means I am not comfortable accepting any of it as given. I am not conflating health with self-love. I am saying that all people at all weights – including those who are UNDERWEIGHT, which many commenters here are completely ignoring – deserve respect and happiness.

      And, once again, there are countless “preventable,” “choice-driven” health issues that increase the burden on health care systems, but obesity seems to be the only one that gets constant public outrage and attention.

    • FaithJ

      There’s so much defensive, hands-off, “it’s none of your business” going on in America. I welcome respectful, constructive feedback on my health, and my weight. It may save my life. I think speaking up can be an expression of genuine love for another person. But I respect and understand the spirit and emphasis of Sally’s post. My job’s new healthcare policy requires twice-yearly weigh-ins and blood tests and monthly food diaries that must be submitted. I don’t view it as obtrusive, I view it as accountability and a way to reduce healthcare costs.

  50. molly

    I agreed with this yesterday but couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I didn’t comment. Now I have a response: Thanks for everything you’ve said here, and for defending your statements in the comments with patience and reason. Good job.

  51. Kris10

    Thank you for this post. It reminded me of something from last year. I used to read NY Magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut. Every time that the authors featured Gabourey Sidibe in any manner, commentors absolutely flipped out. At least in interviews, she always came across as joyful and confident, and I think this made many people very, very uncomfortable–someone at that weight should be timid, self-conscious, unhappy, and trying desperately to lose weight, right? The comments generally boiled down to a few arguments: 1) That’s not healthy; 2) How can she be comfortable with herself? She’s obviously delusional; 3) Having her in the public eye is condoning obesity, so she should stay out of sight.

    I felt like it was none of their business either way. She’s allowed to be genuinely happy! The meanness and negativity on NY Mag got to me soon after and I replaced this reading with some more positive reading instead. (In fact, it may have been NY Mag that first pointed me here.)

  52. Jennifer Tidwell

    I have to echo what others have said above. I have always enjoyed reading your blog, but now I think I have a crush on you.

    This is one of the best statements I’ve ever seen in print:

    “What I do believe – and what I feel perfectly qualified to proclaim from the rooftops – is that every woman at every weight, shape, and size deserves to be treated with respect, deserves to feel loved, deserves to make her own decisions about her own body. Every woman at every weight, shape, and size deserves to have a fabulous time exploring her personal style and honing her unique look. Every woman at every weight, shape, and size can define health for herself. And, above all, every woman at every weight, shape, and size deserves to be happy. Every woman at every weight, shape, and size CAN be happy. And anyone who claims that happiness is contingent on weight is foolish and misguided, prejudiced and small-minded.”

    We cannot dictate what makes others happy. My brand of happiness might make someone else miserable, and it has nothing to do with the size of my body, or how attractive I am to others. One of the things I’ve learned with age is that what others think of you doesn’t matter compared to how you feel about yourself.

    Thank you for posting this.

  53. Sal

    First of all, I want to thank EVERYONE who has commented, and commend those who disagree with my stance for keeping their comments and critiques civil and respectful. As always, I am impressed and delighted to find that my readers are thoughtful, brave, and engaged. You are all amazing.

    I realize that reading anything – but most especially a piece of writing that touches on highly emotional issues – can trigger misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The written word has no tone or timbre, and without the author there, in person, to expound and explain it can be difficult to feel certain of the author’s exact meaning. But since several points have been brought up again and again here in the comments, I thought I’d take a moment to clarify them specifically:

    1. This post is not a wholesale endorsement of obesity or underweight-ness. I do not believe that I, personally, understand enough about how weight impacts health to deem another human being healthy or unhealthy based on measured weight alone. Therefore, I cannot say with any confidence that being underweight or obese is “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “unhealthy,” especially not in a broad, sweeping, applies-to-everyone-in-category sense. I am an inexpert layperson. Feeling under-qualified to make judgment is NOT the same thing as endorsing by default.

    2. This post is not an attack on the medical profession, or a demand that doctors cease to encourage their patients to cultivate healthy habits and lifestyles. Doctors save lives every day, and their training and expertise make them valuable contributors to society. However, medical science is constantly evolving, and I’m not comfortable taking ALL current medical beliefs as gospel. Much of what doctors believed and recommended to their patients in 1950 is vastly different from what they believe and recommend today. Much of what they believe today may be overturned, tweaked, or replaced by more advanced research in the future. Keeping abreast of current medical recommendations is important, but keeping an open mind about them is valuable.

    3. This post is not a declaration that all science is bunk. Without science, scientific theory, and research we would know nothing about our world or the inner workings of our bodies. But, again, it’s the nature of science to evolve and change constantly. What has been proven today may be overturned or revised tomorrow. Skepticism is encouraged among scientists, even skepticism of their own hypotheses and of long-proven theories. My own skepticism should not be conflated with disregard for all science.

    4. This post is not a denial that people at weight extremes may need more medical care than people in the middle. However, to cite obesity as a cause of rising health care costs strikes me as a misinformed exaggeration. Health care in the U.S. is in a shambles, and my understanding is that situation has many, many causes. And, as I stated above in another comment, there are countless “preventable,” “choice-driven” health issues that increase the burden on health care systems, but obesity seems to be the only one that gets constant public outrage and attention.

    5. This post is not a denial that weight could ever possibly impact the health of a human being. It is a declaration that regardless of both weight AND health, all human beings deserve respect and happiness throughout their lives. And, in fact, happiness and health are often entwined.

    Health is not rigid. It is not a magical weight-height ratio. It is not the same for everyone. It is complex and many-faceted. And that means that I cannot imagine looking at a woman, gauging her weight, and declaring her healthy or unhealthy. Especially being a non-doctor, non-scientist layperson with incomplete evidence.

    My goal with this blog – with my life – is to help ALL women learn to love, respect, and care for their bodies regardless of shape, size, and configuration. (More on that here If I can help even a small number of women by reminding them that happiness is not contingent upon reaching a medically-sanctioned number on a scale, I will do it.

    Thanks again for a varied and lively discussion. I am happy to continue addressing individual questions and comments, but hope this will clear up a few issues that have arisen repeatedly.

    • Christine

      Although I may disagree with some things you have said, I appreciate your thoughtful response! Thanks! And you’re correct, it’s okay to disagree. After all, this is YOUR blog and YOUR opinions! 🙂

  54. hellotampon

    I agree that it’s not easy to determine if someone is health or happy but by looking at them or knowing their weight. However, even if everyone wore their complete medical history on a sandwich board every day, I STILL don’t understand why it’s socially acceptable for people to use “concern” over someone’s health as an excuse to bash them for how they look in the first place! You are responsible for your own health (and no one else’s), and unless someone’s unhealthy habits are *directly* encroaching on yours (ie, someone blowing cigarette smoke in your face), or the person in question is a loved one, it shouldn’t matter what other people are doing to themselves. Bashing someone’s appearance out of a paternalistic regard for their “health” is a completely BS excuse to bash people for their looks without seeming like a jerk, and it really aggravates me when I see it. I’m 5’4″, 115 lbs and for all intents and purposes, quite healthy, but I did just put down half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s before sitting down to write this comment. No one has ever admonished me for doing something like that, and it’s because I am not fat or overly skinny- or should I say “unhealthy.” Because of that, I have the privilege to eat whatever I want in front of just about anybody without being judged. I have never caught anyone making fun of my big nose either, but then again that’s not something that I can be blamed for “bringing on myself” so if anyone did, they would look like an asshole. And that’s the only difference.

    • Frankincensy

      “I’m 5’4″, 115 lbs and for all intents and purposes, quite healthy, but I did just put down half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s before sitting down to write this comment. No one has ever admonished me for doing something like that, and it’s because I am not fat or overly skinny- or should I say “unhealthy.” Because of that, I have the privilege to eat whatever I want in front of just about anybody without being judged.”

      I’m very glad you shared this, because I’m getting a little irked by all the people insisting that being overweight is NOT OKAY – the implication being that if you’re slim, you’re fine. A few years ago I had deeply unhealthy eating habits, never exercised, and weighed in the “ideal” range for my height. Funnily enough, nobody ever suggested I improve my diet or exercise more, and I got nothing but compliments about my size.

  55. Eryn

    This is one of the (many) reasons you are fabulous times a billion. So many folks hear your words and take them to heart, and this is one of those subjects that should be given more space than it currently has. Well done!

    I think folks are allowed to pursue their lives however they see fit, and we should all strive to protect everyone’s right to do so. I think on the flip side, its also important for people to understand they must take an appreciation for the body they have right now, especially if no one has given it to them.

    I love my body, not because its 300 pounds. I love my body because its an important expression of the diversity in the universe. I love my body because its mine, and I will always seek more ways to express that love!

    Millions of thanks for writing up this post!

  56. JennyDC

    Everyone’s health is their own business, but it really hurts to see someone you love making health decisions that are likely to shorten their life. It’s hard not to try to do SOMETHING. That said, with the person in question, I bring up the subject as gently as possible and let her decide to continue the discussion or not. I try to help rather than blame. But ultimately it’s up to her, I just want her to know that I would do anything I could to help.

  57. Marian

    ‘It is a declaration that regardless of both weight AND health, all human beings deserve respect and happiness throughout their lives.’

    Thank you so much for saying this. Even if someone is unhealthy, even if that unhealthiness is due to that person’s deliberate choices or carelessness, he or she deserves basic respect as a human being. Society doesn’t have anything like this abstract, generalized scorn for people who have developed health problems like chronic pain through years of playing a strenuous sport, even if they played carelessly and with bad form and ‘brought it on themselves’. And that’s good – those people don’t deserve scorn, and neither do people of extreme, or any, weight, no matter how they reached that weight.

    The truth is that fat (and thin) people get attacked simply because of the emotional responses the appearance of their bodies evokes in their attackers; the health argument is a distraction and a cover-up.

  58. Roxxi

    I weigh 90 pounds. I also happen to be 4 feet 11 inches tall. I don’t like it when people make sweeping generations about the healthiness of a particular weight. Health encompasses many varied factors, and a lot of it can’t be ascertained by superficial observation. I’m also a size zero, sometimes double zero, or XSP. The size zero argument used to irk me too, but I’ve learned to ignore people who say negative things about my physique. Whether they mean to insult me, or not. 🙂

  59. KT

    Everyone should love themselves.
    If you are unhealthy – fix it.
    If you hate yourself – fix it.

    People are going to judge you no matter what (skinny, short, fat, blue, black, brown, straight hair, big eyes, little ears, huge nose…etc.)

    I am not obese, if I was – I’d fix it. I do sometimes judge people who are over weight. I work out, I eat “right”… if I didn’t, I’d get fat. I think… “why can’t they just get out and do something?” …then I feel bad and think that maybe they are just bigger people in general… and then again, maybe they’re just really lazy. Maybe they have had a terrible thing happen in their lives. No one really knows when we’re judging strangers. That is why it’s not good to judge – although we all do it!

    I also know people who are bigger and are healthy, and little and are healthy. I know people who are obese and unhealthy, too. It works every which way – just love yourself and respect people until they give you reason not to, I guess.

  60. Meredith

    Sal, just want to chime in and say “Amen!” as so many other people have before.

    Every one deserves to love themselves. No matter their weight. What, if you’re overweight/underweight, you can’t love yourself until you fit into the acceptable BMI box? Really? I had a conversation with a coworker who said she didn’t like her clothing, but didn’t want to buy anything nice for herself because she didn’t like herself at her current weight. What if that never changes? Does she not deserve to look nice?

    I was going to make some comment about my own weight and fitness level, but you know, not the point. I’m tired of talking about weight. As RuPaul said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Other people’s health is none of my business either, though I will say, at my own place of employment, its the active people who are driving our insurance costs up due to all their expensive sports injury surgeries.

  61. Cindy

    But if you end up paying for the medical bills (through taxes and Obamacare-socialized medicine) for the 400 lb OR the 90lb woman is that fair? Especially for those of us that strive to keep healthy?

    • Sal

      Personally, I don’t begrudge anyone health care. Regardless of circumstances. When people need or ask for help, they should be helped.

      • Cindy

        I think it might be a different story if I told you I was going to take 30 dollars out of each of your paychecks for 2 years to pay for the healthcare consequences of your neighbors that could have been prevented by different, healthier choices. You talk a good game, but when faced with actually cash coming out of your pocket, I think you might change your mind. Reality beckons…

        • Sal

          First of all, you don’t know anything about how I feel about taxes, what my financial situation is, or a single solitary thing about my personality. So your assumptions about my hypothetical reactions are based on your own emotions and beliefs, not mine.

          Second, the numbers you’re throwing out have no basis in our shared reality, so your fictional example holds no water.

        • hellotampon

          I hate it when people get all pissy about taxes and start moaning about every dollar they have to pay that doesn’t directly benefit them. Paying taxes is part of living in society. I don’t have children, but I don’t cry about my tax money getting used for schools. I don’t drive on every road in my town, but I don’t bitch when my tax money goes toward repairs. I don’t go to the library very often, or use food stamps, or collect social security, or receive veterans’ benefits; again, no tantrums here. It’s selfish to whine and cry because “your” tax dollars indirectly pay for someone to receive healthcare, whether you, in all your infinite wisdom and morality, feel they deserve it or not.

  62. Paula

    Of course happiness is important and I agree that the pressure for women to be so thin is ridiculous and it’s unfair to tell women on the heavier end of the scale that they’re unhealthy based on their weight unless their weight is giving them actual health problems, but I think it’s really irresponsible to say that if choosing to be 90 pounds makes you happy that it’s fine. I had an eating disorder at one point and one of the things that made it hard to stop was that I kept getting compliments on how thin I was. If making oneself unnaturally thin were looked down upon more than it is, I bet the number of people with eating disorders would go down. I have a friend who is very tall and very thin naturally and of course I think that she shouldn’t be shamed for that, but once you bring choice into the equation it’s a dangerous thing to say that being 90 pounds, no matter what your height, is fine as long as you’re happy. It isn’t fine. It can kill you.

  63. Cynthia @ Go Chic or Go Home

    I wish I had mentioned this in my original comment, but, I’m 5’10” and 142 lbs. Apparently this is considered to be in the “ideal” range by many of the charts and graphs scattered around the Internet. I’m 34, run 15 miles a week, don’t have a drop of hydrogenated oil in the house, don’t smoke, limit my red wine… and I have elevated cholesterol. My friends are utterly shocked when I tell them. Cholesterol issues are often genetic, but most people don’t understand that so they think if you’re skinny you must be healthy. I love this blog post and all of the comments because it really shines a light on the issue of preconceived notions as they relate to health and beauty.

    Not to generalize too much, but my takeaway whenever I read Already Pretty is that the act of truly loving yourself, your style, and your beauty can naturally dovetail into a better state of mind, better health, and so forth. @Sheila mentioned how after embracing and loving her body she shed 50 lbs and reached what was, for her, a healthier weight. Maybe I’m missing something more in the message of this particular post, but, I have always thought this blog does a beautiful job of emphasizing that preconceived notions about beauty and health can be misguided, even damaging, and that it’s best to understand each situation in its own context.

    Love what you do, Sally.

  64. rb

    I used to work with a woman who was a bit chubby. She was really cute and bubbly and a lot of fun to be around.

    Then she suddently lost a ton of weight and everyone was falling all over themselves to compliment her on how great she look. People were talking about her behind her back saying things like, “I never realized Heather* was so pretty!” or “Heather looks so fit now- I should do the same!” That last comment? That one came from me.

    When in fact, what was going on was that Heather had developed a pretty severe drug problem.

    Last I heard she was much, much thinner, and living with her dealer. She doesn’t work at my company any more.

    I’ve thought a lot about that in the years since and have really made an effort to judge people neither by their weight nor by (my perception of) their health.

    *name changed

  65. S. of Narrowly Tailored

    Sally, I think this is such a great approach to this question—that it’s just outside the scope. Regardless of whatever “health question” exists, everyone deserves to feel respected, supported and loved!

  66. Kath

    Thank you. As a 300+lb woman, who is constantly berated by people demanding that I “prove” my health, from complete strangers, asking about the regularity of my menstrual cycle, how many miles I can walk/run/cycle (with no mind to how many THEY can do), what my blood sugar levels are to whether or not my bones are going to shatter under the weight of my fat body, I wish I could hammer this point home to every single one of them.

    My body is my business. And I owe nobody an explanation, proof, or justification for my body.

  67. Mander


    I’m sick to death of the health morality that has been shoved down our throats so much in recent years. As if the people who will tell you how unhealthy I must be because I’m fat give a sh*t about me. Please. It’s just a way for them to try to show that they are superior, morally and physically.

    I am under no obligation to be healthy, much less prove my health status to anyone else. Not my family, not my doctor, and sure as h*ll not a stranger.

  68. Chris

    Things happen for a reason and I happened to just stumble upon your blog and specifically this post on a day when I really needed it! I can’t wait to explore your blog more!

    Also… it’s nobody’s business what I look like. I am the one that looks at myself in the mirror and If I’m accepting of myself, so should everyone else. Just saying.

  69. kate walsh

    Good site! I really love how it is simple on my eyes and the data are well written I am wondering how I might be notified when a new post has been made I’ve subscribed to your feed which must do the trick! Have a great day!

  70. Not an expert

    So you have taken biology…..

    If there is a 400 pound tiger in the safari, does that mean its healthy? If it is starving, does that means its healthy? Both from a scientific point.

    Answer: Of course not. You don’t have to be a scientist, a doctor or a health expert to know that beyond a certain weight, there is no way that person is healthy. Forget about looks, this is common sense! Any weight that gets out of control being too much or too little is unhealthy, PERIOD!