I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.”
– Andrea, The Devil Wears Prada
Are women becoming thinner or being made to feel fatter?
Research has shown that the bodies of Playboy centrefold’s became increasingly thinner between 1959 and 1978, a trend that continued until ‘88, levelled off around the 80’s, and then slightly reversed between 2000 and 2014. More recently, advocacy by large corporations such as Unilever, and legislation banning underweight models in France, have made small moves toward countering the trend toward thinness.
But “fat panic” continues. “Obesity is the terror within,” decried America’s Surgeon General, Richard Carmona “Unless we do something about it,” he continued, “the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9/11 or any other terrorist attempt.” Just imagine the Surgeon General’s words cast in metal type, the kind used in a printing press. Now imagine this type being pressed into your memory. This is how stereotypes work. And stereotypes about obesity have been at work for a long time. Professor Elena Levy-Navarro’s book demonstrates that, as long ago as the 16th century, physical attributes gradually became discriminatory in some cultures. Such attributions are plain wrong, scientifically and aesthetically. When popular discourses focus on the morality of our body frames, they devalue everything else that makes us beautiful and that gives meaning to our lives. Obsession with our shape and weight distracts from things that are much more important to a healthy life: love, play, work, nutritional soundness. There is a whole branch of psychology dedicated to conducting research with this goal.
As part of a natural experiment, be observant the next time you pass by a rural Indian village or in your own home. The vibrant women (and men), especially those working non-stop in the field, in a factory or as house-help come in all moulds. If under-nutrition is a big problem amongst the Indian lower classes, by popular reasoning they should burn more calories than they consume. It therefore follows, that they should all tout ‘to-die-for’ figures. That obviously isn’t the case. You see heterogeneity before you. This mix does not reflect how healthy or happy these individuals are.
Cultivate the need to primarily understand and unconditionally accept the root cause of your suffering. A mirror does not reflect who you are. How attractive you feel is not measured by that number you see on your weighing scale. You can be sexually formidable and live fully and meaningfully irrespective of your body-frame.
Hercules And the Beautiful Omphale by François Boucher via Wikipedia Commons
The Learning Curve
1. Tell yourself that there is no wrong way to have a body. Your size does not measure your beauty or your worth. If people judge you morally using your body weight or type, this is “body shaming.” It is usually followed up by well-meaning (but unsolicited) advice on your diet, weight and lifestyle.
2. Overemphasis on and dissatisfaction with your physical features can lead to feelings of sadness, inadequacy, low self-worth and unattractiveness. If you feel this way often, get in touch with your psychologist. He/she may be able to help you.
3. A body image is an emotional image that you have of you weight and shape – It is the thoughts that accompany how you “feel” you look. It is the behaviors (and neuroticism) that accompanies your beliefs about your body weight and shape. Oftentimes it has little to do with your actual weight and shape.
4. Ask your psychologist about “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” (ACT) – a form behavioral therapy that is known to be effective and evidence based in helping you feel better about your body shape and frame