The Weight-Equals-Health Myth

The Weight-Equals-Health Myth

This commentary originally ran on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “On Second Thought” on April 1, 2016.

My commentary for GPB’s “On Second Thought” explores how the American equation of health = weight is misinformed, as inspired by Cheryl Tiegs’ ignorant comments about supermodel Ashley Graham, the first size-16 model on a Sports Illustrated cover.

Click here to listen or read the transcript below.

Celeste Headlee: Supermodel Ashley Graham wears a size 16. And that makes her unconventional in the world of fashion — but totally normal in real life. Still, Graham has faced criticism from consumers and others in her industry. That kind of backlash doesn’t sit well with Michelle Khouri, a freelance arts and culture editor in Atlanta. Her advice: don’t judge a book by its cover when it comes to health and beauty.

Michelle Khouri: Like Ashley Graham, I am 5’9” and wear a size 16. I was bullied about my size in elementary and middle school, and have spent most of my life working through body image issues because of it. I played water polo in high school, cycled several times a week in college, and swim, walk and bike today.

Not only did I gain weight uncontrollably throughout my life, but I also spent years feeling chronically sick and fatigued. Tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills ultimately bought me a slew of misdiagnoses blaming my weight or level of stress. It seems doctors in modern American society use body weight as a scapegoat when a diagnosis doesn’t reveal itself in the usual battery of tests. I know first-hand how short-sighted and malignant this can be.

I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease three years ago. As it turned out, my lifetime of uncontrollable weight gain was a symptom. My diagnosis changed my life almost immediately. I’m still a size 16, but I’m healthier, more fulfilled and stronger than ever before. Externally, my body looks the same. Internally, I’m healing and thriving. My diagnosis led me to realize the faultiness of the weight equals health equation.

We have to finally recognize the complexity of the human body. Health is important. But it’s time we recognize that “health” looks markedly different from person to person.

Let’s engage in dialogue that’s productive and informed. Stop dictating that women conform to unhealthy beauty standards. And we MUST shed light on the cracks weakening the foundation of American health, like making whole foods more accessible, and protecting ourselves from dangerous toxins in food and cosmetics. And perhaps most difficult: loving our singular selves.