Friday, July 22, 2011

Why the HAES movement has it wrong

Lately, I've been thinking about the HAES (health at every size) movement. I've run across some fairly articulate fat activists who keep beating readers over the head with their spectacular health at their high weights. This habit has been rubbing me the wrong way, but I hadn't really given it too much consideration until recently.

I realized that my discomfort with HAES as a focal point among overweight people comes from the fact that the very existence of such a movement validates the idea that we have a social responsibility to be healthy. It comes from the same mental place as people who criticize being overweight because it drains the health care system funds or who think it's okay to tell you you're fat and shouldn't eat this or that "because it's bad for your health". Health isn't an obligation we owe the world and HAES essentially acts as an answer to criticisms about weight and health. By addressing those concerns, you validate them.

My feeling is that there needs to be a different sort of movement which encompasses all people with all lifestyles. I'd call it "My Body, My Business." If you want to make it sound catchier, you could even call is "MB squared". The basic idea is that everyone has the right to treat their body, which they own and live in, as they desire. If they want to spruce it up, remodel it, or rebuild it, that's their business. If they want to wreck it or demolish it, it's also their business.

If this were the movement, the focus would be on personal rights to live in accord with ones own values and pursuit of happiness. Those rights, however, would end where they infringe on someone else's. That means smokers can smoke until their lungs turn black, but they can't inflict their smoke on anyone else. It means fat people can gain as much weight as they like, but they can't crowd someone else on a plane. It means alcoholics can drink until their livers cry for mercy, but they can't get in a car and hurt someone else.

Of course, there will always be people who argue that we harm others collectively with our bad habits and damaging our bodies, but I would say that vague and diffuse costs are the top of a slippery slope in which we police lifestyles according to "the greater good". We don't want to go there, because if we kept on that path, no one would be happy when they reached that destination. So, let's keep it to the concrete and real and stop talking about health, which is personal and nobody's business and you don't have to justify how you live to anyone but yourself, and focus on minding our own damn business.