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How The Dangerous Lie Exposed By Nike's Plus Size Mannequin Keeps Fat People Stressed & Depressed

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How Nike's Plus Size Mannequin Breaks Fat-Shaming Stereotypes About BMI & Obesity That Cause Depression & Stress

In a strange twist of irony, Nike was called out by critics after featuring a plus-size mannequin wearing a sports bra and leggings in their London flagship store for the first time.

An opinion piece published in The Telegraph UK insists that Nike’s mannequin "is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat. She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement."

In joining forces with the body positivity and fat acceptance movement, the writer states, Nike is perpetuating what she believes is a dangerous lie — that you can be fat and be healthy at the same time.

Is she right or can fat people be healthy?

What if the real lie here is the one perpetuated by the myths of a "healthy" body mass index (BMI) and the billion dollar diet and fitness industries that hinge on fat-shaming, concern trolling and a belief that there’s only one way your body can look if you want to live a long, healthy life?

RELATED: Concern Trolling Is A Real And Painful Thing — From Someone Who Knows

Here's the truth about Nike's plus-sized mannequins: they aren’t selling anything other than clothes.

That’s what mannequins do. They don't run and they don't heave with fat — or anything else.

Nike has good reason to feature plus size workout and athleisure lines.

Statistically, the US and the UK both have high rates of obesity among both children and adults.

Health At A Glance: 2017, a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), states that the UK now has the sixth-highest rate of obesity out of its 35 member countries, which also include Mexico, the United States and Australia.

An article in The Independent explains that "around 27 percent of the population are now clinically obese and another 36 percent are overweight, making the combined figure among the highest in the world," noting that the obesity rate in the UK is "increasing by 92 percent, compared to 65 percent in the US."

In other words, there are a lot of people in the US and UK who identify as fat and/or can be classified as obese.

What is considered overweight or obese?

According to the CDC, people with an adult BMI (weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) of under 18.5 are considered underweight, those with a BMI between 18.5 and less than 25.0 are considered normal, those with a BMI between 25.0 to under 30.0 are considered overweight, and those with a BMI of 30.0 or higher are classified as obese.

Obesity is then further divided as follows:

  • Class 1: BMI of 30 to < 35
  • Class 2: BMI of 35 to < 40
  • Class 3: BMI of 40 or higher (Class 3 obesity is sometimes categorized as “extreme” or “severe” obesity.)

I haven’t seen any articles about an epidemic of fat people running around naked, so I’m assuming that we fat people are also buying clothes, which is probably why Nike is selling plus-sized workout gear.

Nike, like any sports or athletic company making products for the plus size market, is simply recognizing that fat people exist, fat people are active, and fat people are in desperate need of clothing to wear while being active.

And they, like everyone else, want clothing that fits, clothing that’s flattering and clothing that’s (gasp!) fashion-forward.

The absurdity of the anti-fat position taken in the Telegraph's article would be laughable, were it not so common.

Body-acceptance advocate Melissa A. Fabello and Dr. Linda Bacon, an authority on weight and health, co-authored an article about the phenomenon of concern trolling people's bodies and weight for Everyday Feminism.

"Concern trolling — which is the act of a person participating 'in a debate posing as an actual or potential ally who simply has concerns they need answered before they will ally themselves with a cause' — is something we see all too often," they say. "And to be honest, it’s disheartening to see feminists ... rush to quote sketchy research and throw oppressive ideologies around all in the name of, supposedly, 'health.'"

When someone insists plus size models or mannequins are somehow unhealthy or bad for people, it's clear what's actually happening.

They're attempting to disguise their overt fat-shaming by masking it with the more subtle abuse of concern trolling.

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More to the point, the statements made about Nike's plus sized mannequins are clearly based on assumptions about the health of any woman who wears the same garment size as these mannequins, which means these are assumptions based purely upon how someone looks.

Can you be fat and healthy?

The truth is that health is far more complex than what you can see when you look at anyone of any size.

And as it turns out, BMI may just be as poor an indicator of health as your own eyeballs.

A 2015 study of nearly 20,000 people placed participants in two groups — those with healthy obesity (HO), "defined as those meeting all three indices of blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood lipids" and those with unhealthy obesity, who "crossed the risk threshold for all three criteria."

"Body mass index (BMI) is widely used as a population‐based tool to assess adiposity and is also used in individual patients as a basis for therapeutic decisions according to guidelines for obesity management," the researchers state. "However, BMI does not directly reflect the degree of excess adiposity or how it impacts health risks in individual patients."

In conclusion, they found that "people with HO have lower risks for diabetes, CHD, stroke, and mortality compared with unhealthy subjects regardless of their BMI status. Obesity did not affect risks of CHD, stroke, and mortality but did increase diabetes risk, although cumulative incidence remained low in healthy people."

In other words, people who are classified as obese can be metabolically healthy, just as people considered to be at a “normal” weight can be metabolically unhealthy.

RELATED: Men Who Marry Chubby Women Are 10x Happier (According To One Study)

“You cannot tell anything about a person’s health by looking at their size,” says Chevese Turner, fat activist and Chief Policy and Strategy Officer for the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). “You can’t tell whether they have an eating disorder, whether they have any health condition. You can’t tell by looking at a person — and if you think you can, you’re making assumptions.”

In fact, a study of more than 6,000 people from a variety of backgrounds, all age 50 or older, found that "Weight loss of 15% or more from maximum body weight is associated with increased risk of death from all causes among overweight men and among women regardless of maximum BMI", even when adjusted for factors like age, race, smoking, health status and preexisting illness.

And a 2018 study published in Clinical Obesity found that people who were classified as obese, but who had no metabolic risk factors such as high blood sugar or high blood pressure, did not have an increased risk of mortality (death). The authors explain that their study concluded, "Elevations in metabolic risk factors are much more strongly associated with mortality risk than obesity."

And as far as the relationship between thinness and health, a 2017 study showed that people who are of “normal” weight but who are metabolically unhealthy have three times the risk of mortality than a person without those metabolic conditions.

In other words, a person’s size tells you literally nothing about their health.

You can’t do a medical assessment at a glance; that’s not how health works.

RELATED: We Need To Respect Fat Women Even When They Aren't Funny

Back to Nike (or any other brand) — featuring plus-sized actors, models, or mannequins dressed for or engaging in exercise does not encourage unhealthy behavior. That simply doesn't make sense.

Research supports that exercise is beneficial for people of all sizes, and in particular, people who are medically categorized as obese.

For example, a York University study found that "individuals with severe obesity who are fit have a similar health profile to those who weigh significantly less than them."

Another study of almost 11,000 people in Denmark found that fit people had less inflammation, a contributing factor in numerous health conditions.

And as a report on the NHS website explains, "Researchers found that people with better fitness levels (measured using an exercise test) were likely to have lower levels of inflammation and smaller waists, even if they were overweight or obese."

So, can fat people run?

The broad-sweeping stereotype that fat people can’t run is completely untrue.

Mirna Valerio — ultramarathon runner, author of a blog titled "Fat Girl Running", educator and one of National Geographic's Adventurers of the Year — says “I’m good in my big body ... I think that people are really having trouble grappling with the idea that fit comes in many forms and that people can still participate in athletics no matter what kind of body they have.”

Latoya Shauntay Snell, the woman behind the blog Running Fat Chef and The Long Run Podcast, runs marathons and ultra-marathons.

Of course, there’s more than one way to be athletic and fit when you're fat.

There are powerlifters like Becci Holcomb and Sarah Robles.

Holcomb is an award-winning powerlifter and Robles is an Olympic medalist. These are two of the strongest women in the world, and both have a striking resemblance to that plus-size mannequin (and I mean that in the best possible way).

There’s Amanda Lacount, a fantastic dancer and choreographer who was featured in Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” video, as a cast member of Dancing With The Stars and performing onstage with Lizzo at Coachella.

And Jessamyn Stanley, yoga teacher and body positivity advocate. She is fat, fit and incredibly flexible.

People of all sizes run. People of all sizes are athletic. People of all sizes are fit. We’re not all diabetic and on the way to a hip replacement.

RELATED: What It's Like To Be A Fat Woman In the Era Of So-Called Body Positivity

Even beyond debunking the myth that fat people can't run, the idea that anyone who cannot run — for any reason, regardless of size — is somehow less worthy of respect, representation in the media and comfortably fitting clothing is flawed to the core.

It’s ableism, plain and simple.

Size and health are nuanced. But there is one thing that is guaranteed to make health outcomes worse for fat people — fat shaming.

The stigma we face in public, at the doctor’s office and from our families leads to delayed treatment, making our health outcomes worse.

According to the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy And Obesity, weight bias has clear physical and psychological consequences, including depression, physiological stress and higher blood pressure.

"The social consequences of obesity," they state, "include discrimination in employment, barriers in education, biased attitudes from health care professionals, stereotypes in the media, and stigma in interpersonal relationships. All these factors reduce quality of life for vast numbers of people with overweight and obesity, and have both immediate and long-term consequences for their emotional and physical health."

NEDA's Chevese Turner elaborates: “We know that we know the impact of stress on the human body and weight stigma and weight bias definitely increase stress among, people in higher weight bodies. And so the theory is that just by increasing that stress, we're doing harm to people in overweight and higher weight bodies.”

Fat people are regularly discriminated against in the workplace, and it’s perfectly legal in every state except Michigan.

Families may use a shame-based approach to try and get loved ones to lose weight, which can lead to binge eating.

In a study of 1013 women members of a national, non-profit weight loss organization, "Participants who believed that weight-based stereotypes were true reported more frequent binge eating and refusal to diet in response to stigma experiences compared with those who reported stereotypes to be false ... These findings suggest that obese individuals who internalize negative weight-based stereotypes may be particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of stigma on eating behaviors and also challenge the notion that stigma may motivate obese individuals to engage in efforts to lose weight."

Fat discrimination alone causes stress, but for many, fat-shaming and concern trolling are layered upon additional types of discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity and so on.

Honestly, it’s exhausting.

And what’s one of the best ways to deal with stress? Exercise!

This is true for anybody, with any body type.

Representation matters.

And representation of fat people exercising or simply living happy, healthy lives does not sell a lie. It shows their lives.

The Nike mannequin that made fatphobic people so upset is not selling a lie. It’s selling clothing.

Those clothing fit people who want to see them, buy them and wear them. Not all people, since they only go up to 3X, but more people than you may realize.

People who just want to live their lives wearing comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing as they go about their day, heaving with fat.

People like me.

RELATED: A Woman Fat-Shamed Me On The Subway And I Actually Fought Back

Melinda Sineriz is a freelance writer and fat positivity advocate whose work has appeared in Medium, SFGate, Inquisitr, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and more. For more of her musings, for more, find her on Twitter.