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Body Size Diversity

Updated: Mar 14

Adapted from: The Inclusion Revolution

Posted by Na Shai Alexander, Jan 28, 2021

When young girls get together for fun, they often turn to the subject of how they look. They’re bombarded with the ideal look from social media, fashion and diet industries, movies and TV, friends and family. Maybe the friends will make a pact to get skinny, to look more like the thinner, more slender girls in all the ads. This would be the new, improved version of ourselves.

There’s no discussion of eating more healthy foods, spending more time outside, or how they are all unique, growing and developing at different rates. They do not think to celebrate the differences and diversity among them.

One dimension of diversity that is left out of the current Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) conversations is body size. Like other aspects of diversity, body size, composition, type, and shape are all characteristics that make each of us unique. In much of our society, biases and stigmas influence what is acceptable and what is not.

For women, the perfect body is slim, slender, and fair-skinned, with curves in all the right places. Men are expected to be fit, muscular, and lean. Bur these narrow ideals fail to consider the diversity of genetic makeup, other cultures, ethnicities, or backgrounds.

While discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender identification, sex, disability, and age are all protected by federal legislation, there are currently no protections for body size and shape. Research shows that people with higher body mass indexes (BMI) are more subject to bias, stigma, and negative stereotypes.

These biases impact hiring, training, and promotion opportunities, as well as performance evaluations. Women are more likely to face these biases than men.

Despite these adverse realities, body size is rarely present in DEI discussions and corporate pledges. Weight and size are often mistakenly thought to be under an individual’s control, not taking into account unique genetics and systemic inequalities such as food insecurities, disparities and discrimination in medical care, and access to public health resources. And trying to conform to unrealistic ideals can lead to disordered eating and other health issues.

But the dialog is starting. DiversityInc included further discussion on body positivity in its “21 Issues that will define 2021.” Representation of a wider range of body types has increased in social and mainstream media. Movements such as Health at any Size (HAES) encourage a more inclusive view of health. Research suggests that larger bodies and higher weights are not by themselves unhealthy. Conversely, smaller bodies and weights do not necessarily guarantee health. While excess weight is linked to risk of chronic disease, so is lack of exercise, excessive stress, high alcohol intake, smoking, a poor quality diet, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Why can’t we celebrate our diverse and unique bodies for simply being the amazing machines that allow us to live and breathe?

When we exclude body diversity from DEI, we run the risk of excluding entire segments of our communities and unintentionally signaling the superiority of certain body sizes and shapes over others. DEI becomes less diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

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