By: Corinne Santiago, writer & Professor of English at SUNY Purchase
The association for size diversity and health (ASDAH) is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that was started in 2003. According to their website, “ASDAH envisions a world that celebrates bodies of all shapes and sizes, in which body weight is no longer a source of discrimination and where oppressed communities have equal access to the resources and practices that support health and well being.” The organization owns the phrase “Health at Every Size” or “HAES” as a registered trademark and promotes it on their platform, but the phrase has been around since the 1960’s.
HAES began due to society’s changing culture towards unattainable standards of beauty. With these changes came the development of “thin privilege” and slim bodies being the only acceptable standard of attractiveness. Losing weight became larger people’s number one goal, regardless of the way they chose to do it.
In a 1967 article written by Lew Louderback called, “More People Should Be Fat!” Louderback argued that extreme dieting is most likely temporary and causes physical and emotional damage, especially to people with naturally larger body types. By the time the 80’s rolled around, four books were published relating to HAES principles, including “Diets Don’t Work” by Bob Schwartz and “Eating Awareness Training” by Molly Groger.
While critics of the HAES movement argue that the movement may promote obesity or encourage people to ignore dangerous weight gain, they – much like critics of the body positivity movement did – misunderstand the movement’s core principles (according to the ASDAH website):
- Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
- Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
- Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
- Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
- Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.
Many detractors of movements whose main focus is inclusivity fear that acceptance of things they deem “unacceptable” will somehow take away from who they are as people. This is almost never the case. Respect, tolerance, and acceptance are hardly ever a negative thing and can impact the mental health of an oppressed person in ways only they can truly understand.
Instead of lowering the number on the scale being one’s primary goal, the HAES movement encourages everyone to make choices that will benefit them both physically and mentally, regardless of how many pounds may or may not be lost in the process. Our bodies are as diverse as our range of skin colors, genders, and nationalities. Healthy choices can be made at any and every size and shape; that is why the HAES movement is absolutely necessary.