Can body positivity be too positive? A P.E.I. woman asks

An Island woman is questioning the current body positivity movement — Tammy MacKinnon, a 43-year-old mother of four from Cornwall, P.E.I., wonders if women are being encouraged to love themselves the way they are rather than attempting to make healthy changes. 

Numerous recent advertising campaigns have encouraged women to be kinder to themselves and embrace their shape and size, including the well-known Dove Real Beauty campaign and now, Pennington's I Won't Compromise campaign, "echoing messages of body diversity, size-acceptance and self-love," according to the plus-size clothier's website. 

"I almost feel sometimes like we're supposed to glamourize being overweight, or our plus-size bodies," said MacKinnon.

"I want people to feel confident in their bodies no matter what size, including myself... but the reality is being overweight rarely is healthy." 

'I was told point blank to lose it '

MacKinnon shared her thoughts in a recent social media post, that sparked a conversation with dozens of others — some who agreed wholeheartedly, some who disagreed, others who noted it's a "delicate issue."

MacKinnon was diagnosed with a heart condition and Type 2 diabetes three years ago, and has been struggling to lose weight and become healthier ever since. 

"The doctor didn't tell me to embrace my extra weight — I was told point blank to lose it or my conditions would get worse," she wrote on Facebook. 

"The truth (for me) is the only time I want to embrace my overweight body is when I want to justify eating bad food. Hell yeah, I'm all over loving my body and saying it's okay to be big when I want to eat that bacon cheeseburger and onion rings … but 10 minutes later the reality is I'm not embracing my glorious oversized body anymore."

"I think we should be proud of ourselves, but should we be proud of being overweight?" MacKinnon asked. 

'Very emotionally charged'

As rates of obesity rise in Canada and around the world, there's increased urgency to tackling the disease which has been associated with several types of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and osteoarthritis. 

"Every single person is an individual, so you can't generalize any of these issues," said Dr. Christine MacNearney, who's been a family doctor in Prince County for 25 years.

Some people will carry extra weight and remain healthy, she said, but often "as you move up the scale and get into issues, you need to recognize it is affecting your health and your quality of life."

Genetics, age, food intake and activity levels all affect a person's weight, she said, adding people should make a plan with their doctor if they want to make changes. 

"Even in the office, we have to be careful addressing it [obesity] — it's like talking to someone about quitting smoking who's not ready," she said. "If people aren't ready to identify obesity as one of their health issues, it can be very emotionally charged if we try to address it." 

'Most of them are quite open'

Accepting who you are is a good approach, MacNearney said, noting she has many patients who carry an extra 20 to 40 pounds who are very healthy. At the same time, she notes her patients who are very overweight are also frequently depressed. 

"But I think the goal for people who are happy with the body they're in, also probably need a little bit of support to make sure that they don't gain five or 10 pounds every year. Because eventually, people are not going to be happy if they keep gaining." 

"I don't get the impression that this body positivity movement is such that it's going to encourage people that are feeling physical or emotional grief because of their weight to accept their weight," she said.

"I think it will be good for people who are happy in their body … you can be happy in a heavy body." 

"But I doubt that when people start to suffer the consequences — the health consequences of the obesity … that they're likely to embrace this body positivity movement," she said. 

MacNearney said the people who come to her often aren't happy in their bodies.

"They're coming in to us and they're complaining about something," she said. "For example they have sore knees, and the beginning of osteoarthritis, and if we gently and politely bring up the weight issue, most of them are quite open." 

'It's really tough'

Metabolism drops two per cent each decade, she noted, so even people who maintain the same nutrition and exercise will inevitably see a weight gain over the years. "Just make sure you don't keep climbing," MacNearney advises. 

MacNearny would like to see more broad programs to address obesity, access to bariatric surgery, and better education in schools — she sees a lot of obese children, she said. 

"We do need more government support for that," she said, explaining that she helps run a small pilot program called Wellness Tools in Summerside, P.E.I., that offers about two dozen obese patients per year nutrition and fitness education. Becoming healthier — improving blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, even mental health — is the end goal more so than weight loss, she said. 

At the same time, goal weights suggested by commercial weight-loss programs are often unrealistic, MacNearney said. 

"It's really tough — people come in and say 'I need a note for such-and-such for my goal weight' —  we usually have a good discussion and don't set that goal weight as low as the program wants."  

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