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Why We Shouldn't Body-Shame Kanye's 'Dad Bod' in the Name of Mental Health

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Haley Quinn, The Mighty’s mental health staff member, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

The media has recently brought attention to Kanye West’s “dad bod” — scrutinizing him for gaining weight and jumping to conclusions about what caused it, speculating that it “could simply be a byproduct of his alleged mental illness.” These accusations come after reports last November that Kanye was admitted to the hospital for a psych evaluation, with news stories stating West was “paranoid, hallucinating and even suicidal.”

Kanye’s hospital stay was never actually confirmed to be for mental health reasons, but rather an evaluation after suffering from exhaustion and sleep deprivation (although if he was struggling with mental health issues, we should not demonize him for seeking help).

Twitter users have been even more relentless with the body-shaming,  using the hashtag #fatkanye and posting tweets and memes like:

Assuming that Kanye’s weight gain was caused by mental illness reinforces the stigma that struggling with mental health or being overweight is somehow “bad” or “abnormal.” An article published by Men’s Health reported that West’s “dad bod” could be “a sign of a serious problem,” going on to confirm with a licensed psychologist that, “When your mental health tanks, your physical health takes a hit, too. That’s because what goes on in our brains can’t help but affect what’s going on with the rest of us.”

For some people who have mental illnesses, things like medication, heightened stress response and using food as a coping mechanism can lead to weight gain. But gaining weight isn’t enough of a sign to claim that someone is struggling with a mental illness.

In fact, a common symptom of many mental illnesses is a general change in appetite — which means people could potentially lose their appetite or eat less for various reasons and end up actually losing weight. In either case, mental illness is a real and valid health concern. If Kanye is struggling, we should meet him with understanding and support rather than tweeting about his “dad bod.”

After all, if Kanye West has a “dad bod,” then so does Ryan Reynolds, Channing Tatum and Mark Wahlberg — because guess what, they’re all dads and they all have bodies. Let’s stop making “dad bod” a thing.

There are many reasons, beyond mental health, why ones’ weight might fluctuate. Weight gain can be a natural sign of aging, as our metabolisms tend to slow down later in life. Or it can indicate that we are busy working, raising kids, spending time with families and not focussing as much on the nutritional value of our food.

We shouldn’t be so quick to correlate mental illness and weight gain. When we do, it feels like the easy way out; continuing to perpetuate the common stereotype that people who are overweight or people who are struggling with mental illness are “lazy,” “unmotivated” or “unproductive.”

Beyond having zero benefit, “body-shaming” people, including celebrities, can hurt our own self-perception. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, PBS, and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders shows that 80 percent of women feel insecure due to images they see in the media. It’s not just women dealing with body image issues, studies suggest around one in every four men may struggle with an eating disorder, disordered eating or body dissatisfaction. Whatever the reason for Kanye’s changing body, commenting on others’ bodies, even when they belong to public figures, is none of our business.

Our bodies and minds are constantly changing — we shouldn’t be ashamed of that, it is a sign that we’re alive and we’re human. By not commenting on others changing bodies, regardless of who they are — your friend, your neighbor, Yeezy — we can choose to live in a world where physical appearance takes less precedence.

Image via Creative Commons/dpwolf

Originally published: October 4, 2017
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