Maybe Women's Anorexia-Obesity Yo-Yo Would End if We Stopped Promoting It
The High Cost of Physical "Perfection"
"You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin" (Dorothy Parker)
From 1920's flappers to Park Avenue socialites, women have been willing to do almost anything to get and keep an ultra-thin silhouette. This look was, and still is, considered the ideal in beauty by many people. It wasn't until recent years, however, that the public understood what a high price women have been paying for "perfection".
In the 1970's the media turned its spotlight on Anorexia Nervosa, and Bulimia, two (primarily) psychological diseases which affect mostly women. Sufferers have distorted body images which cause them to believe they are fat, even when they are very thin. As a result, sufferers starve themselves. Long-term affects of the conditions cause health problems or even death.
By 2012 awareness of these and other eating disorders had become big news - and big business. Even the fashion industry, famous for its ultra-thin models, came under scrutiny, with some countries even banning the use of extremely skinny models.
The resulting public awareness and media attention brought the problem of women's body images into sharp focus. After centuries of slavishly following fashion and cultural dictates, women were encouraged to love themselves just as they were.
This seemed like a positive step toward fitter woman. The logical leap from much-too-thin bodies should have been to healthy weights. However, it didn't happen that way for many women because several industries figured out how to cash in on the too-skinny backlash - simply celebrate fat.
The Opposite of Too Skinny is Not "Fat is Beautiful"
In an ideal world, young girls would grow into women who accept their height, build, and healthy weight as natural and beautiful; and it would seem that, this would be the thrust of any campaigns directed toward women's improved self images. Instead, an odd thing has happened. Right around the time extreme weight loss issues began getting attention, an obesity epidemic was identified.
It didn't take Madison Avenue long to understand that, with the average woman now wearing a size 14, they were losing a lot of money by not appealing to her vanity. So they did what they do best. They launched the "fat is beautiful" industry. and began raking in the bucks.
Even as medical statistics were coming out advising the dangers of obesity, television programs celebrating overweight woman began popping up like mushrooms. In the guise of identifying with women's body images, they very smoothly let them know they are just perfect the way they are. The message is crystal clear. No matter how near a heart attack, high blood pressure, or diabetes you are, you can still be fashionable, energetic, and have a great life. These words are music to the ears of thousands of obese women who, up until now, have received little or no media attention. The opportunity to be not just noticed, but applauded, worked like a feel-good drug and drew impressive ratings.
While it is true that there are obese women living accomplished lives, the problem is that television viewers are identifying with fictional characters. The reality is that most overweight women agonize over their looks and have at least some health-related issues. They often overcome bias, confidence, and other unique challenges in order to succeed. Obese television or movie women, on the other hand, seem to enjoy 24-7 boundless energy and radiant health. The problems they do have are resolved in an hour or less. The result is a trend which tends to glamorize the lifestyle and trivialize the problems of overweight women.
You're Great - I Love You - You Need to Lose Weight
Most loving parents work hard to build their children's self esteem, and rightly so. Both boys and girls need to feel good about themselves; but girls are generally presented with a special set of challenges. Standards for feminine beauty can be harsh and girls pick up on this early. An overweight girl may glide through grammar school without any repercussions, but it's rare that obese teenagers have an easy time. It's hard enough to go through puberty if you're physically fit. An overweight teenager can have miserable teen years.
There are a number of reasons young girls might become obese teenagers:
- They may have undiagnosed medical issues.
- Some parents turn a blind eye toward their child's obesity because they believe allowing children to eat what and when they want provides a happy childhood.
- Parents who are obese may see their plus-sized children as normal, even healthy. They are just chips off the old block.
- There are parents who believe that it hurts their daughter's feelings if attention is drawn to her ballooning weight. The parents instead affirm their child is perfect the way she is.
- Some teens begin stress eating.
- Kids often follow their parents' poor diet example.
But, even children whose parents have struggled with weight issues can still achieve a healthy weight. Pediatricians are often a good source of information, and there are some excellent books on the subject. Maybe the most effective method to help is for parents to set a good example. Younger children will mimic what their parents do.
It is more challenging to help a teen-aged girl because she is already self-conscious and will not automatically copy her parents. However, it is important to get the message across that, while you love her for who she is, there are very good reasons why she needs to lose weight. Showing by example may be the best place to start. After all, it's hard for a teenager to take weight-loss talks seriously if Mom and Dad haven't gotten off the sofa for the last 4 hours.
Some families exercise together, change the at-home menu, or eat out less. Any progress is better than none. Despite the current media blitz and the shower of positive attention directed toward famous overweight women, the fact is that obesity is physically and emotionally dangerous.
Maybe the best tool you can provide an obese girl or woman is to help her think for herself, then help her move toward a healthier body. A better self-image won't be far behind.