Health at Every Size (HAES) is gradually circling in wellness spaces, within the body positive movement, and in recovery spaces. Since its conception, HAES has been gaining traction in the conversations of holistic health and wellness as folx are realizing that HAES is a social justice issue and that all bodies should be treated with respect. Like other radical movements that aim to challenge the status quo, misunderstanding and misinterpretation of a movement’s fundamental components are common—especially when living in a society of systems that are actively fatphobic! This blog is intended to “de-bunk” the myths of Health at Every Size by examining what the movement does (and does not) do, who it serves, and how it works. Author and researcher of Health at Every Size, Lindo Bacon, Ph.D., summarizes HAES as a movement that “recognizes that health outcomes are primarily driven by social, economic, and environmental factors, thus requiring a social and political response. It supports people of all sizes in adopting healthy behaviors. It is an inclusive movement that recognizes our social characteristics are assets and challenges the systemic forces that impinge on living well.”
Dr. Bacon’s mission is as follows:
to promote social and economic justice and help generate a culture of belonging
to galvanize a body positivity movement that celebrates the influence of our multiple intersecting identities
to provide the critical thought, inspiring vision, and practical strategies you need to celebrate and care for your own body
to help you develop your skills to educate, motivate, and inspire others, and to nurture a culture of belonging
So what does that really mean in our daily lives? HAES is designed to celebrate body diversity and to create safe spaces for all bodies regardless of ethnicity, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability status, body size & shape, language, mental/physical health, relationship status, religion or belief system, socioeconomic status, substance use, recovery status, or any other aspect of individual identity.
Now that we have an idea that Health at Every Size is for everyone in every body, what does the health component actually mean?
HAES recognizes that health is an individual and autonomous pursuit. In this context, health is not limited to physical health but includes all aspects that impact well-being. Whether attending therapy to address mental health struggles, or receiving a deep-tissue massage for sore muscles, these behaviors both fall into the scope of whole-body, whole-self, health. Additionally, HAES recognizes the existence of Healthism (ranking the pursuit of health above all else—a belief system that sees health as a direct responsibility of an individual) and acknowledges the impacts healthism has on an individual's vulnerability about showing up physically and mentally as they are. Further, HAES regards the pursuit of health as an individual choice and promotes respect for all regardless of whether or not they choose to prioritize health behaviors.
So what does Health At Every Size promote?
Celebration Of All Bodies: It is hard enough to reach body neutrality when the systems we live in perpetuate, reinforce, and praise narrow beauty ideals. HAES offers a radical alternative: accepting yourself regardless of societal stigmas. HAES depathaologizes specifications around weight as the sole indicator of health, and instead promotes the respectful celebration of size and weight diversity.
Challenging Assumptions: Through raising critical awareness that health is not a one-size-fits-all experience, HAES challenges both scientific and cultural assumptions through the valuation of individuals’ lived experiences, body autonomy, and innate body wisdom.
Promote Authentic Self-Care: HAES encourages individuals to discover what self-care uniquely looks like for them. This includes compassionate self-care based in nourishment, enrichment, and pleasure. With regard to activity and eating, it means finding joy in movement and eating in a manner that honors bodily cues and promotes attunement & satisfaction. See this blog by our team member Brianne for a more in-depth look at what joyful movement means.
Promote Equity & Accessibility: All bodies and all humans deserve the same access to healthcare and health services. From policy to conversations, HAES aims to lessen the gap in inequitable access to information and services that individuals in marginalized bodies face. In simpler terms, HAES promotes fat folx (and other marginalized bodies) having the same access to holistic, evidence-based, and respectful healthcare as thin folx!
Respect: As practitioners, awareness of HAES principles and continued reflexivity practices (checking our own internal biases) can help create safe health and wellness environments for all. Validating others’ experiences of medical trauma, recognizing that fatphobia and weight stigma exist, and bringing awareness to intersectionality all help promote positive health outcomes on macro and micro levels.
Health at Every Size Does Not:
Make Assumptions Based On Weight: Individuals are composed of so many different values, strengths, experiences, and stories that cannot be encapsulated by the number on a scale. An individual’s weight does not tell us anything about their holistic health status. By not pathologizing weights, whether smaller or larger, HAES explores an individual’s holistic health (on all spectrums) and seeks to bridge any gaps in accessibility, consequently connecting folx to appropriate resources that truly aid in promoting wellness.
Promote Weight Gain/Loss: HAES recognizes that weight is a number, and just one factor, among many other factors that encompass an individual’s health. Inherently, HAES is not anti-weight loss or anti-weight gain, as it rejects weight loss as a health strategy through recognition that weight is not a behavior. Rather, HAES recognizes that body weights naturally fluctuate, and thus, HAES encourages individuals (should they choose) to focus on behaviors that promote holistic wellness over fixation on body weight.
Lastly, we leave you with the invitation to reflect on the following quotes that beautifully encompass the spirit of HAES:
“Fat is not the killer we’ve been led to believe. Fat’s role in poor health has been greatly exaggerated. Dieting and exercise are not effective techniques for long-term weight loss. We can choose to appreciate the body we are living in...and move on. We can adopt good health habits and let our weight fall where it will naturally.”
- Lindo Bacon, Ph.D., author of Health at Every Size
”On a collective level, we support creating health-promoting environments and removing barriers to access. On an individual level, we seek to empower people to engage in those personal practices that best support health and wellbeing for the individual. There should be no judgment about what people choose to do (or not do) to enhance their well-being.”
Want to learn more about HAES and the movement?
Check out the following resources:
Visit Lindo Bacon’s website here. Lindo is also the author of Health At Every Size, which is a must-read for anyone looking to improve their relationship with food or body, and for health care professionals.
For additional resources on HAES, visit Association for Size Diversity and Health.
The HAES manifesto can be found here.
Lastly, we at Bloom have compiled an extensive list of weight-inclusive resources focused on HAES, fat liberation, & social justice here