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Can 'Embracing Your Curves' Promote An Unhealthy Lifestyle?

The short answer? No.

20/09/2017 12:54 PM AEST | Updated 20/09/2017 5:30 PM AEST
Tess Holliday
Tess Holliday is a US plus-size model who identifies as a "body positive activist".

In an age of celebrity worship, Photoshop, social media and more specialised photo filters than you can poke a stick at, it's little wonder people can fall into the trap of thinking their (perfectly normal) body isn't up to scratch.

As such, messages such as 'love the skin you're in', 'embrace your curves' and 'social media isn't real' are vital in order to help combat body loathing on a mass scale.

And body loathing is no joke. It can take a massive toll on an individual's mental and physical health, and in some instances prove fatal.

In saying that, Australia has an obesity problem. In 2014-15, almost two in three Australian adults were overweight or obese, an increase of 19 percent from 1995.

So the question is this: can messages of body acceptance and body love, well-intentioned as they may be, also inadvertently promote an unhealthy lifestyle? Can 'embracing your curves' go too far?

According to Dr Vivienne Lewis, assistant professor in psychology at the University of Canberra, the question of body image and body health are different things entirely.

"Loving your body at any size is important to feel good about your body and to have high self esteem," Lewis told HuffPost Australia.

There is a differentiation between body love and healthy behaviour.Dr Vivienne Lewis

"No matter what your body looks like, it's important to be able to embrace it and celebrate it, and to celebrate the things you like about your body. For a lot of women, curves can be something they really love because it makes them feel womanly and feminine.

"The body acceptance movement is about loving the skin you're in, and I think that's really worthwhile and important. But there is a differentiation between body love and healthy behaviour."

Lewis argues that while it is important to love and respect our bodies regardless of outward appearance, it doesn't give us an excuse to abandon our health. She stresses this is for men and women of any size -- just because you're slim, it doesn't mean you're healthy. Likewise, if you're overweight, it doesn't mean you're not fit or not looking after yourself.

"You can be comfortable with your body at any size or shape, but that shouldn't stop you from pursuing health goals," Lewis said.

"People who are curvier, for instance, what you're trying to do is get those people to be happy with themselves and content with themselves while still pursuing health goals. It could have nothing to do with their appearance and everything to do working towards reducing your cholesterol, for instance."

Australian models Kate Wasley (left) and Georgia Gibbs have been vocal in their belief that beauty knows no boundaries.

There's also the point that no two women (or men) are the same, which drills down to the very essence of what campaigns such as 'love the skin you're in' are about.

"It's really difficult because I really believe that obesity has a very strong genetic and hormonal component, whereby it's easier for some people to lose weight and for others its very difficult," Accredited Practising Dietitian and a Spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Melanie McGrice told HuffPost Australia.

"I don't think people should be victimised because of their size, and I believe you should eat healthily no matter what your weight.

"Loving your shape or size doesn't mean we should try and give up trying to lose weight altogether [if it's necessary]. The food that we eat and our lifestyle, how much sleep we get and how much physical activity we do certainly plays a role."

The focus should really be on a healthy lifestyle; getting a bit of exercise, eating your fruit and veggies, getting outside. That should be the public health message we're focusing on.Professor Timothy Olds

The importance of pursuing a healthy lifestyle regardless of body shape is again stressed by Professor Timothy Olds from the Alliance for Research in Exercise Nutrition and Activity (ARENA) at the University of South Australia.

"From a medical point of view, you don't want people to be obese or grossly obese. But if you are in the overweight range, so let's say a BMI of 25 – 30, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Just focus on getting enough exercise and making sure you eat reasonably well," Olds told HuffPost Australia.

"If you are obese, then yes. You really should start losing weight if you are obese. But about one third of the population is overweight and one third is obese. In the overweight range, I think the risks have been over-hyped."

In Olds' opinion, the potential stresses associated with body loathing are much more harmful than someone who is carrying a bit of extra weight but is otherwise fit and healthy.

"The other aspect is the stigmatisation [of being overweight] which is something I think has been under-hyped," he told HuffPost Australia. "It causes an enormous amount of stress and anxiety and depression, particularly in women.

"I believe that we are ignoring the mental cost by focusing on the physical, and my take on the balance is we've gone a bit too far in the anti-obesity campaign. The focus should really be on a healthy lifestyle; getting a bit of exercise, eating your fruit and veggies, getting outside. That should be the public health message we're focusing on."

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