BMI, Witch Hunts, White Duplicity and “Changing the Perfect Picture”

Lucy Aphramor
4 min readApr 16, 2021

The UK parliament report ‘Changing the Perfect Picture’ shares findings of research into the causes and consequences of ‘negative body image’.

Body image is their term, not mine. I don’t think it’s helpful. Well, it’s helpful if you want to stabilise the idea of personal pathology and not be seen as a feminist kill-joy. But helpful for disrupting individualism, healthism, ableism, neoliberalism, and derailing binary thinking? Not so much.

One recommendation is that the use of BMI-based healthcare is scrapped. An approach called ‘health at every size’ or HAES is proposed instead. (BMI stands for body mass index. It measures the relationship between our height and weight and generates a number. In BMI-based healthcare this number is wrongly used as an indicator of personal health.)

It is essential to use safe, effective metrics in healthcare. And BMI-based practice falls way way short of this. It is harmful. It cannot accommodate the health impact of trauma, oppression, surviving war, or make sense of epigenetics, for instance. It co-constitues fat stigma. You can read more here if you like.

BMI-based healthcare asks us all to uphold the neoliberal delusion that says there is no such thing as society. So yes, we need to understand what is wrong with BMI and work to put things right.

Meanwhile, let’s not be waylaid by this one useful observation about BMI. The report is a headf*ck. It talks about distal (at a distance) causes of ‘body image’ problems without naming the root cause of harm.

That’s like lamenting the gendered nature and high incidence of non-accidental death by drowning and burning in 17th century England without using the terms witch hunt or Christianity.

Like I say, a headf*ck.

The root cause of fat stigma, body image dissatisfaction, eating disorders and body shaming is white supremacy. Giving rise to other inter-linked causes of like domestic violence, trauma, displacement.

To prevent white supremacist oppression — and hence reduce human suffering and disease and reduce a sense of alienation from our own bodies — we can use a framing of health justice. A test of usefulness is to ask “how does…

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Lucy Aphramor

Lucy Aphramor is a radical dietitian and performance poet. They are Associate Professor of Gender, Power, and The Right to Food at CAWR, Coventry University UK.