How does Health At Every Size relate to Body Liberation?
If you're reading this, you've probably heard of Health At Every Size (HAES). I use HAES as an overarching framework to ground both my individual counselling work and my activism work, both which aim to support people who are struggling with their body image (among other things). Recently, I was invited to guest blog at life coach Deanna Langford's blog about how HAES relates to Body Liberation. Read on for my thoughts below!
If you aren't already familiar with Body Liberation, it isn't necessarily about feeling attractive (although that’s often a nice side effect)...but it’s about freeing yourself from the confines of what your body is “supposed” to look like, be or do. Body Liberation works towards the goal of ensuring that all people- of all races, abilities, ages, genders, sexual orientations, body sizes, and much more- have equitable access to services, care, and resources, and that everyone feels represented in the global community.
I’m going to outline the principles of HAES and provide a commentary of how my framing of Body Liberation relates to each principle. I’d like to acknowledge that my take is informed by decades of work by fat activists, particularly fat Black women, who have come before me. I have deep gratitude to their knowledge and continued teachings. Some activists you may want to check out include Sonya Renee Taylor, Da’Shaun Harrison, Jessamyn Stanley, and Hunter Shackleford.
HAES is a paradigm that was officially established in 2003 by the Association for Size Diversity and Health. However, HAES as an idea has been in the works since fat activism began in an organized way in the 1960s.
Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
Katie’s take: Body liberation recognizes that bodies naturally come in a variety of sizes, shapes, shades, ethnicities, abilities, ages, genders, etc. Therefore, this principle acknowledges the natural variety of bodies and respects the fact that there is no “ideal” or “not ideal” body, even though our society tries to put those labels on certain kinds of bodies. Body liberation has space for every kind of body.
Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional and other needs.
Katie’s take: Body liberation acknowledges the vast array of experiences that impact health- this includes the social determinants of health such as income, education, unemployment and job insecurity, food insecurity, housing, environment, early childhood development, experiences of oppression and marginalization, and access to affordable health services of decent quality. Things like trauma, genetics, and stress also impact whether a person can attain health. Furthermore, “health” as a concept is unstable and subjective and may not be attainable for a variety of reasons including poverty, disability, and access to resources. Body liberation and HAES both recognize that the pursuit of “health”, in whatever way each individual conceptualizes it, is not an obligation and doesn’t have moral value. Simply put, you are a worthy human being deserving of dignity and respect regardless of whether or not you choose to pursue “health”.
EATING FOR WELL-BEING
Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
Katie’s take: Body liberation recognizes the detrimental impact that dieting has had both on an individual and a systemic level. The diet industry is a $70+ billion/year industry which depends on diets failing and people hating themselves in order to continue to make money off of us. Letting go of diet culture and tuning into our own needs around food is a liberating experience that is hard, but possible. Body liberation recognizes individual autonomy around choice and believes that people can and should make their own informed decisions about what to do with their bodies.
Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
Katie’s take: Body liberation believes that people of all sizes deserve equitable access to care and resources. Body liberation works to end oppression, which includes oppression based on size and weight. Intersectionality (coined by Kimberle Crenshaw) is a key component of body liberation because it recognizes that our experience of any kind of discrimination is impacted by other identities we hold. Care, especially medical care, needs to take into account how weight stigma and various identities intersect to provide better service to those who do not align with privileged identities.
Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.
Katie’s take: Using the term movement is key for me in my body liberation work, because “exercise” can have so many negative connotations wrapped up into it. “Exercise” has been used to belittle, bully, and punish fat people into movement for the purpose of weight loss only. In my experience, I’ve found weight loss to be a poor motivator (due largely to the fact that it fails 95% of the time, and it made me absolutely miserable) but moving my body because it feels good, because I want the endorphins, I want to sweat, because I want to see the trees, plants, and flowers outside, or because I want to feel the air moving against my skin? That is a much better motivator in my view! Body liberation acknowledges that people can choose how and if they want to move, recognizes that some people have limited movement, and encourages feeling the joy of whatever movement you choose!
I'd love to hear how you've implemented HAES principles in your life, and how it aligns with your view of Body Liberation- comment below!. If you want some support with how to implement some of these principles, I offer free 20 minute Discovery Calls so we can chat about how to get started!