LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Reader shares response to "Body Positivity stops at Obesity" column


To the editorial department,

I am writing to share my surprise, disappointment, and confusion over the most recent opinion piece by Marielle Decena, "COLUMN:Body positivity stops at obesity." In 2017, under a Trump administration that incessantly demoralizes and marginalizes women in this country; at a time when #MeToo is so much more than just another hashtag; during a moment in history when the harsh realities of middle- and lower-class females all over the world, from their lack of access to to quality medical care and nutrition, are only beginning to be seriously discussed; how is it appropriate, responsible, or even relevant to nay-say body positivity?

Of course, an opinion piece is, in fact, opinion, I understand. And no doubt even the most immature, short-sighted, and utterly ignorant opinion column can be defended as free speech. But is this an opinion that warrants defense? I'd say surely not. 

Decena attempts, I think, to make the point that the concept of body positivity has been marketed/exploited by the media and retailers to attract the "plus-size" demographic. She states, "Yes, it is important to see the beauty in every woman’s body but in order to take full stride in empowering women, we shouldn’t be so fixated on what others deem as physically attractive. The words “thick” and “curvy,” in my perspective, do not resonate any sort of valuable measure of one’s worth. In the end, these are mere exploitive descriptions of what is sexually pleasing to the eye." 

Any "style" or "lifestyle" that is embraced by commercialism is in essence exploited for monetary gain, I agree. However,  Decena refuses to acknowledge the shift in power, authority, and ownership that has occurred in women reclaiming words like "thick" and "curvy" from being ironic to being worthy of pride. She implies, not so tactfully throughout the entirety of the piece, that "plus-size" and "unhealthy" are interchangeable terms, and never once recognizes that one's BMI is not always one's choice. In fact, by making the assumption that every woman chooses to either be healthy or "thick," Decena reinforces a slew of harmful stereotypes and biases against women. 

Decena writes, "Coming from a family that has had a history of health issues resulting from obesity, I can acknowledge that... Others live in areas that don’t have the best access to healthy food, preventative health care, and the necessary nutritional education... In some cases,  obesity is correlated to depression, anxiety, and a multitude of psychological problems. Still, our role as loved ones is not to allow obese individuals to believe that their physical states are something to be proud of and to ignore the seriousness of their condition. Taking pride in sedentary lifestyles and eating whatever we please spreads the wrong message." 

How is it acceptable for Decena to support her argument for promoting physical health over body positivity in women by outright discounting legitimate socio/economic factors that contribute to obesity in favor of classic fat-shaming techniques?! This is where opinion writing becomes something else entirely. 

I must also point out that Decena actively and intentionally distinguishes herself from as she calls them, "obese individuals." She addresses an audience whom she assumes is not "thick or curvy," speaking to thin people while talking at obese women. 

What about this opinion piece is valuable or constructive? What aspects of this overtly biased and self-indulgent essay serve to challenge readers' views for the better? Isn't that the point of an opinion column, anyway? 

The only thing I gain from it is an insight into Decena's own conflicted ideas of self-image and identity. She reveals a bully and a coward, attempting to deny agency and self-ownership from an entire community of women by proclaiming that there is only one right way to "woman." 

One of millions of individual women,

Janelle Eckardt