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What This Telegraph Article Missed About Health When It Shamed a Plus-Size Nike Mannequin

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Paige Wyant, The Mighty’s chronic illness editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

In a step toward better representation of various body shapes and sizes, Nike recently debuted plus-size mannequins at its flagship store in London. Though many applauded the athletic company’s decision, one article has drawn attention for denouncing the “fat-acceptance movement” as well as Nike for encouraging it.

On Sunday, The Telegraph published a lifestyle article in which the author, Tanya Gold, explains why she is not onboard with Nike’s movement to “celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport.” Gold wrote:

[The new Nike mannequin] is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement. What terrible cynicism is this on the part of Nike?

Gold goes on to define obesity as “most often — but not always — an addiction to sugars, and a response to sadness,” reminding her readers the only person who can “save” you from your obesity is yourself. Apparently, Nike’s promotion of a plus-size body is very dangerous and misleading, because it’s completely impossible to be both fat and healthy!

Many commenters were quick to point out that athletes, too, come in all shapes and sizes. “Athletic,” “fit” and “healthy” do not equate to a certain weight or build. Even if folks on the heavier side aren’t necessarily athletes, what’s wrong with them wearing workout clothes? Whether it’s for comfort or to exercise, people of all sizes have the right to wear Nike’s apparel and see themselves represented in it.

The Telegraph article also failed to consider the many complexities involved in weight and health, especially when every single human body is different.

Here are four things Gold missed about living in different body sizes:

1. Weight does not always indicate health.

There are so many factors that determine a person’s weight, including genetics, gender, age, lifestyle, physical activity, diet, illness and other environmental and social factors. Weight is complex, but it is only one measurement. It does not give a full picture of a person’s health, and it is nearly impossible to tell just by looking at someone whether they are in good or poor health.

Obesity can put people at risk for certain diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. But healthy people come in all shapes and sizes, as do people with health conditions, illnesses and disabilities.

In this case, we are, of course, talking about a mannequin. When it comes to real people, however, it’s critical to remember their health, weight and lifestyle choices are between them and their doctor. Unless they choose to tell us, we never really know the reality of their life and any medical issues they may be dealing with. It’s best not to make generalizations or assumptions and leave the diagnosing up to the medical professionals who are familiar with that individual.

2. Illness and medication can cause weight fluctuations.

There are a number of illnesses that can cause your weight to fluctuate. Some of the most common conditions behind gain weight include hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Cushing’s syndrome, kidney disease, insomnia and stress. Many medications can also cause weight gain, such as steroids, insulin, antidepressants and beta blockers.

For many people, weight gain is either a direct or indirect result of a medical issue they have no control over. It is simply incorrect to assume being overweight is always the result of “eating too much sugar.”

Mighty contributor Ann-Marie D’Arcy Sharpe discussed this in her essay “Let’s Address the Assumptions People Are Making About My Weight.” She explained she has gained weight as a result of her bipolar disorder and chronic pain, writing:

People tend to make judgments about me based on my weight — these people are almost exclusively people who do not know me. They know nothing about my life, how I go through the world or what I struggle with. The usual assumptions tend to be that I am lazy, that I have a terrible diet and only eat junk food, that I don’t do exercise — and that I put on weight simply because of these things. They also assume that I don’t have the right to be confident in my body. In actual fact those things are far from true.

Regardless of whether a person has an underlying medical condition or not, no one deserves to be shamed for their weight. Everyone deserves respect, support, representation and comfy workout clothes — no matter their size.

3. Some people are unable to exercise due to a health condition or disability.

Not everyone is able to exercise; in fact, vigorous activity and an increased heart rate can be downright dangerous for individuals with certain health conditions. Different types of exercise can exacerbate their symptoms and lead to serious medical issues.

For example, repetitive stop-and-go workouts or running on hard surfaces can be harmful to your joints if you have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). If you live with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), exercise puts you at higher risk for symptoms like fainting and rapid heartbeat. It’s always important to talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen, especially when you live with an illness or disability.

When a person is unable to exercise, this sometimes results in weight gain, which can be difficult to cope with. They don’t need to be judged on top of the medical challenges they’re already facing.

4. Workout clothes do not have to be worn during a workout.

It’s almost unfair just how much more comfortable workout clothes are than regular clothes. I don’t know about you, but I would choose yoga pants over jeans any day of the week.

Workout apparel should be accessible to everyone — no matter their size or ability. Maybe an individual is buying the clothing to do intense circuit training or attend a gentle yoga session. Or maybe people with health conditions find the comfort, compression and flexibility of workout clothes helps them manage their symptoms.

People of all sizes deserve to buy and wear workout clothes, and they deserve to see themselves represented in those clothes, too. It seems Nike has gotten this message.

In Conclusion

It is disappointing and hurtful attitudes like Gold’s about weight persist, especially when they are based in such a fundamental lack of understanding. We can’t possibly know another person’s health situation just by looking at them, so why make assumptions and judgments?

Even if an individual is overweight due to reasons such as poor diet or “an addiction to sugars,” we should be treating them with compassion — not taking away their inherent right to workout clothes and representation.

The human body comes in lots of diverse sizes, shapes and abilities; it’s time we start accepting that.

If you are struggling with weight fluctuations due to health issues, you are not alone. To read more, check out the following stories from our Mighty community:

Lead Image via Nike

Originally published: June 12, 2019
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