If you exercise and eat the same as people 30 years ago, you’re likely to have a body that is substantially heavier and fatter. So what else is at play? Answering that question is still a work in progress. An attempt to map the various influences on weight gives a much more honest and complex picture, one that is still incomplete.

Genetics, medication side effects, pollutant exposures, hormonal changes, stress, and poorer sleep patterns are all part of the answer.

Fueling disgust and shame

Unfortunately, unscientific and harmful ideas about thinness and fatness persist through continual messages from the big institutions. Governments, public health organizations, corporations, and the media routinely reinforce the message that self-discipline leads to thin bodies, that we are in a crisis of fatness and that it is up to us to keep ourselves thin no matter the unhealthy pressures put upon our bodies.

Corporations sell us unhealthy food, then run campaigns about the importance of moderation. They even lobby governments to recommend their unhealthy foods to the public.

The media is rife with judgmental and dehumanizing messages about fatness. This is true of both news and entertainment media. Consider the latest offering: Netflix’s Insatiable, a show about a girl whose body drops pounds after her jaw is wired shut, then gets revenge on her bullies. The show is something of one long fat joke.

Governments continue to allow non-nutritious foods to be sold, while supporting public health campaigns that emphasize self-discipline. Health promotions campaigns continue to use visual messages that fuel disgust, shame, and loathing of bodily fat despite evidence that such campaigns are less effective and deepen stigmatization, which worsens health.

All of these societal messages shape our emotions and thoughts about our own and other people’s bodies.

We feel responsible for the size and shape of our bodies, despite the many influences on the styling of our lives and our bodies. We are encouraged to see our bodies and health as personal projects, and as failures unless they conform to a particular ideal.

New visions of virtuous living

What would it mean to refuse such pressures?

To some, this is a rejection of the social norms that create solidarity. People might become uncomfortable or defensive when others refuse to participate in moralistic talk about food, exercise and bodies—talk that sounds something like “I can have this piece of cake because I worked out this morning.”

But what if we resolved, for the rest of 2019, to express social solidarity while reinforcing other virtues?

We can, for example, resolve to be kinder to each other and ourselves. We can resolve to learn something new in the next three months, or to start a new volunteering gig.

We can collectively invite other visions of virtuous living together.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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