The title of this post is the verbatim text I received from a loved one when I suggested to her that overall health is more important than being thin. What was I thinking? This person is young, female and lives in Manhattan. Every woman she comes into contact with is either skinny and/or obsessed with her weight.
Besides, we all know our culture in general likes it thin. No matter where we look, big or small, still or streaming, paper or digital, the images underscore that truth. The message is always the same; desirable women are thin. The only overweight woman we see are talking about their weight in shame or are being shamed for their weight, like the TV commercial for a diabetes med that is rife with larger women. Apparently, those fatties bought their disease for the price of a candy bar. Every once in a while there will be a portrayal in the media of a heavier woman who valiantly overcomes her weight to live a happy life. But the point is always that being over 120 pounds is unhappy and more than likely unhealthy. Have you noticed that on the rare occasion that a heavier female is highlighted on a TV show as happy with herself, at some point down the line she loses weight?.(Hello Jennifer Hudson, Oprah Winfrey, Rosanne, I’m looking at you.)
Did you see the TLC show, Fat and Back, in January? It was about the painfully skinny British correspondent Katie Hopkins who gained and then lost over forty pounds to prove that “fat” people lack discipline. Granted she admitted to gaining a deeper insight into weight issues after the experience yet at the end of the day, she came away still feeling superior for being underweight. The program was fascinating in an uncomfortable way to me. (Click on the above for more info on Katie and the show. Let me know what you think.)
I worry about how young woman in this country fare in all this. They have to negotiate the landmine ridden landscape of body image. C’mon, those of us females brought up in this culture live the body dysmorphic disorder story: we are bombarded with the message that thin is best from childhood and when we get to the angst filled adolescence ages, our self-esteem is inextricably tied to how we think we stack up to the physical ideal. Coming to sexual maturity when you already have a distorted body image is a recipe for long-term agony. And it’s not just a psychological problem. How can we tell a teenage girl it’s her imagination that boys aren’t asking her out and other girls are being mean to her because she’s packing extra pounds, when we know it’s not her imagination? By the time young women reach their twenties there are two groups; one group obsesses over being overweight and feels miserable and the other, of which my loved one is a member, obsesses over staying skinny and feels relived yet constantly fearful. Both groups spend an inordinate amount of valuable time thinking about how much they weigh and that’s sad. Vinita Nair of CBS This Morning did an excellent piece last month on the ideal body image as it is manifested in models and how that affects what young women see in themselves. Nair states that there is a “push to regulate appearance and size in magazines” but juxtaposes that with stats on eating disorders. She also asks the question, “what size is realistic?” Good question. Realistic for who, where and at what stage in their lives?
I’m not thin and I’m not a kid anymore. I’m also not naïve. I know that its human nature to make assumptions based on how a person presents physically. So I know that we older women don’t get to leave the problem behind once we reach a certain age. For a long time I wondered why I wasn’t getting any hits on the old folks dating sites. It finally dawned on me that even the few older men who want older women want beautiful and skinny older women. Also, I talked in my last post about losing my primary care doctor. She admonished me at every visit about my weight and sternly ticked off the health problems my extra poundage would cause. I always felt that I was being finger-wagged by a skinny woman. My new doctor didn’t mention my weight once at my first appointment. Instead of fat shaming me, she talked to me about the medical issues I already have, like high blood pressure, and how my weight factors into addressing them.She is not as thin as the other doctor but she isn’t overweight either. Interestingly, she is African-American and I wonder how much cultural factors play into ideal weight perception.
In this society the prevalent standard of beauty is of a Caucasian. The blond, blue-eyed, thin women were the cream of the crop for a long time.
After all this thinking about it, I’ve decided to leave my skinny-and-loving-it girl alone because she’s just calling it the way most people in this country see it. And, full disclosure, I’m on a diet right now. I’m using one of the many fitness apps designed to remind me of what my ideal body should look like . I tell everyone I’m doing it for my health.