• Emma Green

An open letter to Tanya Gold

Updated: Jun 16, 2019

Dear Tanya Gold,

I was hugely disappointed to read your article in the Telegraph about Nike’s decision to have a larger-bodied mannequin. I’d like to deconstruct some of the assumptions made in the piece, which were not only hugely hurtful but also completely false.

‘Yet the new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 – a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat.’

You can’t judge health by a person’s weight. There is no reason to assume a person who is a size 12 is healthy or that a person who is a size 16 is unhealthy. Health (which FYI is not a moral obligation) is much better determined by behaviours. If a person is able and willing to engage in health-promoting behaviours, their body will find where it wants to be and that is a person’s healthiest weight, not some external, societally constructed ideal.

‘She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement.’

Why on earth would you think you can judge a person’s fitness level from their size? Fitness doesn’t have a size, shape or weight. Also, you’ve clearly not read the figures on pre-diabetes, which can be diagnosed in people of all sizes.

‘I would never want a woman to hate herself for what she finds in the looking-glass. But to have control over your body you must first know it; to be oblivious is not to be happy, unless you are a child.’

You’ve clearly are bought into diet culture hook, line and sinker. The idea that bodies have to be controlled is a complete myth promoted by those who want to make money from your insecurities. Choosing not to control your body is hugely liberating, giving you back the time and energy to put towards what really matters, to stop putting your life on hold and to allow yourself to experience happiness now, not in some mythical point in the future when your body is different.

‘The fat-acceptance movement, which says that any weight is healthy if it is yours, is no friend to women, even if it does seem to have found a friend in Nike. It may, instead, kill them, and that is rather worse than feeling sad. Fat-acceptance is an artifice of denial – they are fat because they do not accept themselves – and a typically modern solution to a problem, if you are a narcissist. It says: there is no problem’

Fat-acceptance is not about health. Fat-acceptance is a social justice movement that stands up for the rights of those in larger bodies. A person does not have to be healthy to be worthy. Health is not under a person’s complete control anyway but to claim that health is a moral imperative is a merely projection of your own values and privilege. It does not state that any weight is healthy but rather a person’s healthiest weight is determined by where it sits when a person engages in health-promoting behaviours, rather than being a certain size. There’s a wealth of scientific evidence demonstrating that health improvements can occur regardless of weight change.

‘What is obesity? I would say, as a recovering addict myself, that it is most often – but not always – an addiction to sugars, and a response to sadness.’

Sorry to burst your bubble but food addiction, including sugar addiction, are not valid scientific concepts. In fact the only real ‘evidence’ got sugar addiction exists in mice who have been fasted for hours before an experiment and unsurprisingly choose sugar over drugs. Between that and the few surveys where people rate their behaviour (which is more symptomatic of disordered eating than addiction), the concept of food addiction just doesn’t hold up.

The idea that those in larger bodies are unhappy is exactly what diet culture tells women, which results in them spending billions each year, trying to change their bodies, going on endless diets, punishing themselves with exercise they hate yet never achieving the ‘ideal’ because it is inherently unsustainable.

We know from the scientific literature that dieting itself makes people unhappy. It is associated with poorer wellbeing, lower self-esteem and ironically worse body image.

‘I once read a column arguing that fat people die young because doctors hate them.’

Yes, weight stigma is a well documented phenomenon in the scientific literature and occurs even among health care professionals. This means that people in larger bodies often feel more reluctant to go to a doctor because of fears about how they’ll get treated and it means that they get suboptimal care when they do go because they are denied the treatment that is given to those in smaller bodies. Weight stigma can become internalised too, resulting in poorer mental and physical health.

‘Where is the body shape between the tiny and the immense, which is where true health lives? Where is the ordinary, medium, contented woman? Where, oh where, is the middle ground?’

Finally, you decide to throw all bodies under the bus that do not fit your idea of perfection. Now those in small bodies are not acceptable either. Why must everyone look the same? Why do you think that everyone can look the same? Why do you think that health looks the same on everyone?

If there’s anything we need more of right now, it’s diversity. Diversity of body size, shape, skin colour, sexuality, gender and ability. People aren’t the same and that should not only be accepted but celebrated. By all means, Tanya, stay in your ‘middle ground’ but I think you’ll find it to be pretty lonely.

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