By Laura Bijnsdorp

Fat-shaming is the idea of placing shame on a person based on weight. This takes place at home, work, school and via media, the latter of which has brought fat-shaming and discussions around it to a whole new level.

One extreme example is YouTube’s “Nicole Arbour – Dear Fat People” video that has over 35 million views on her facebook page. In the controversial video, Arbour says, “Fat shaming is not a thing. Fat people made that up. That’s the race card, with no race.” She goes on to justify her point in the six-minute video that in my opinion is tasteless. Like many other “fat-shaming” posts, it appears to be purposely sensationalistic under a guise of “caring for people’s health.”

On the opposite end of the fat-shaming trend, a “fat acceptance movement” has been gaining popularity. Self-proclaimed “fat activists” fight to combat size discrimination that is experienced in employment, education, interpersonal relationships and the media. Unfortunately, some are just as judgmental as Nicole; condemning persons who “aren’t fat enough.”

Whatever your opinion, fat-shaming to “help” does not actually help. One can argue that fat acceptance can deny the negative realities of obesity. But fat-shaming is not the answer. Many people, especially those who are dieting, battle with the psychological and physical impacts associated with negative body image every day. The research is very clear that stigma and discrimination against overweight people make the problem worse.

According to a new publication of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), obesity and overweight have spread like wildfire throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. This is threatening the health, wellbeing and food- and nutritional-security of millions of people.

The document “Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security” shows that more than half of the region’s inhabitants – close to 58 percent (360 million people) – are overweight while obesity affects 140 million people, which is about 23 percent of the region’s population.

This is mostly attributed to our unhealthy food habits. On Sint Maarten, it isn’t hard to see that our idea of food has more fat, sugar and salt. We eat a lot of rice and beans, macaroni, fried chicken and fast food and we drink plenty of sweetened beverages.

Body shaming is never okay, but we also cannot ignore the fact that too many do live an unhealthy lifestyle on Sint Maarten. We need to work towards better health information, nutrition warnings, reasonably prices, healthy food options, taxes on unhealthy foods and affordable exercise programs.

“A real woman is curvy” is an idea that is also very much alive on the islands. I think that is where the problem truly lies. Fat or skinny; both can be unhealthy underneath. The issue is that most of us can’t go a day without hearing, reading or seeing everybody’s opinions on what a human body should look like.

Bodies are not public property. It isn’t anyone’s place to fat-shame or fat-enable. It is about the personal relationship you have with your own body – YOUR OWN BODY.

The following statements are all incorrect: “Real women have curves.” “Strong is the new skinny!” “That person needs to eat.” “A true man has muscles.” Instead of throwing around your unsolicited opinion, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Am I healthy, happy, and confident in my own skin?”

If your answer is NO, you have to realize that you have a personal responsibility to be happy. You need to make sure you get a clean bill of health from your doctor; and just as people need to stop judging others on appearance, you need to avoid using “I am proud of my body” as an excuse to live an unhealthy lifestyle. If your answer is YES, great! Keep on doing what you’re doing!

We are real people – women, men and children – who have bodies that aren’t just skin, muscles, fat and hair. Our bodies include hearts, brains and souls with each needing its own recipe of food, exercise, love and acceptance to stay healthy.

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