Australian health and fitness expert Ashy Bines said obese or underweight “role models” should not be praised and warned of the health risks and negative messages being portrayed to the public.
Bines, who is also founder of one of the world’s fastest-growing online food and exercise programs, Ashy Bines Bikini Body Challenge, posted an image of an underweight person side-by-side with plus-sized model Tess Holliday on social media on Monday night.
The thin model appears to be Brazilian Ana Carolina Reston, who died in 2006 of kidney failure, after living on a diet of tomatoes and apples.
But a University of Western Australia (UWA) eating and weight disorder specialist told The New Daily that comparing a serious mental health eating disorder – anorexia – with someone who had a body mass index (BMI) above the “healthy weight range” was wrong and role models should be about the whole person, not just what they weighed.
“There’s a big difference between someone with a psychiatric illness to someone who has a BMI of 22 and may or may not be totally healthy, mentally and physically,” UWA school of psychology’s associate professor Sue Byrne said.
“People who suffered from eating disorders mostly judged their self-worth on their weight, rather than how good they were at their job or what a great parent or friend they might be.
“It’s not a lifestyle choice, that’s for sure.”
Associate professor Byrne disagreed with Bines’ post and said she witnessed fat and skinny shaming regularly in her line of work.
“I think the whole thing just narrows the focus down to someone’s weight, which isn’t helpful when you’re talking about role models. Life is about much, much more than what you weigh and a role model is someone who has a well-rounded, balanced life that isn’t just based on what they weigh or what they look like,” she said.
“I think this idea that you can have the body you want if you work hard enough is wrong … because genetics plays a big part in that and we don’t have total control over our body shape, but we can still be healthy not matter where we are.”
But Bines, 27, from the Gold Coast, said despite being role models, these people were actually, really unhealthy.
“I think it’s FANTASTIC she feels comfortable but at the same time I don’t think it’s a healthy body image that should be applauded,” Bines wrote on her social media post.
“I’m not saying either are ‘ugly or ANYTHING like that’ just don’t think either are healthy role models and shouldn’t be given praise.
“Thin girls are slammed ALOT these days but females who are carrying more weight than what they should for there [sic] bodies, organs, moods, bones, cells etc to be “healthy” are now inspirations because they are confident in their swimsuit?”
The post caused a stir with people for and against Bines, who has more than 646,000 followers on Instagram and more than one million supporters on Facebook.
“Beauty is not based on size but by how healthy and happy you are. If your size affects your organs by being to [sic] skinny or obese it’s not healthy or beautiful in my opinion,” Nikki Hepburn wrote on Bines’ Facebook post.
Meanwhile, Laura Rose Freise responded with: “No words of hate here but just a reminder that it is physically impossible to know whether a person is ‘healthy’ or not just by looking at them.”
“Everybody’s body is set at different naturally healthy BMIs and though the girl on the right might look larger, she might have a very healthy diet and exercise regularly. It’s no one’s call aside from a doctor’s.
“So with the ‘unhealthy’ point out of the way… What’s the argument here?”
Amelia Jacobi posted: “You’re so right !!! This whole curves are great b******t has gone a little to [sic] far!!! I mean yes curves are great I have curves but I have also worked my arse off eating well and working out to get out of the “obese” weight range!!
“I have an 8-year-old girl who is very easily influenced and is already pointing out skinny people as beautiful !!! I have to be so careful what I do and say around her with loosing [sic] weight it’s all about being fit and healthy and strong!!
“But curves should not be classed as overweight / obese !!!! It’s our job as parents to educate our kids as to what is normal and healthy and what foods they should put into their body to be that way!! Good on you for speaking out about this.”
‘Eff your beauty standards’
In 2015, Holliday made her mark as the largest model represented by a mainstream agency.
Within 12 months she went from an Instagram sensation to international celebrity, featuring in Italian Vogue – and vowing to change the perception of women for ever.
Representing UK-based agency Milk Model Management, she wears an Australian size 26 and weighs more than 110kgs.
Holliday was also featured on the cover of People magazine’s body issue, and is a model in H&M’s sustainable fashion campaign.
“I’m a plus-size model and body positive activist, which basically means I talk about issues with body image, and how media and society play a negative and positive role in our lives and relationships with our bodies,” she told the ABC at the time.
“I started my body positive movement Eff Your Beauty Standards as my ‘Eff You’ to the ‘rules’ of what plus women are told we should and shouldn’t wear.”
‘I’m not perfect either’
Bines continued in her post on Monday night saying that she wasn’t perfect, but it was sad to think some women who were “obviously eating a lot more than what they need and not moving their bodies to be fit, strong and healthy are getting praise”.
“I know this may cause people to get upset,” she wrote.
“The girl on the left is obviously underweight – yes she maybe genetically small but it’s pretty obvious she is not healthy and has not been eating a well balanced diet and would be on 500 or less calories a day to achieve her body – nor is she a good role model for young women.
“There is no ‘perfect’ body and no two bodies are the same BUT it is obvious when someone is living an extreme lifestyle one end or the other and I hope girls find other role models to help them achieve a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s always my goal for women to FEEL and look their best and teaching them balance and a healthy active happy lifestyle.”