It was really timely that I opened CNN's homepage today to see a commentary about an Australian "plus size" model who is a size 12. The author of the article was complaining about the fact that in this day and age, a size 12 is considered "plus size" for a model, saying that this model looks like she's no different in size than a trainer at a gym.
I loved the article because it fit right into this blog that I have been writing about how the media influences our image of ourselves and our bodies in particular.
I like to think that most stuff that I see in the media, in particular but not limited to junk media like celebrity magazines and websites, rolls off my back. But some stuff is just so pervasive, and so ridiculous, I can't really hold my fire.
I'd also like to think that people who read tabloids and celebrity gossip rags or even at times more serious media have a higher level of insight which helps them understand when they're reading and seeing trash, so they shouldn't take any of it seriously.
I know I'm wrong though, and that people -- a lot of the time young women and men -- are actually taking cues about how they should look from these dubious information sources. This angers me, because repeatedly I am seeing stats about how the media's portrayal of celebrities and their bodies makes ordinary people feel dissatisfied with their own bodies. Some rags even have a "body" section, where they openly criticize celebrities' bodies. Even if someone has put on a few pounds, it's sort of grossly intrusive to point that out. Why should we even care? It's an accepted way to fat shame people -- because celebrities are people with feelings too -- but this entitled attitude about having a say about how people look trickles down to us, too.
Don't think that it's only women who are affected by this. Having flown under the radar for years, men are similarly portrayed in the media as either "fat" or having washboard abs, the former not at all acceptable. Poor Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, and even Steven Tyler, who is far too cool to give a crap about what people say about him, are all in the latest 'worst beach bodies' articles.
The glorification of the thin body is not only found in the media, but among even some of my nutrition colleagues who promote being "skinny" or "eating skinny" as a way to attract clients for weight loss. Shouldn't we as healthcare professionals understand the value of the strong, fit body and try to elevate that ideal over being thin and preoccupied with trying to fit into a mold that may not even be healthy? Everybody wants to look and feel good, that's understandable, but should we not stand apart from the gossip rags and magazines in what we promote to our clients?
I feel like certain phrases and words that are commonly used in the media are particularly offensive and perpetuate the "thin is best" perception. The following three really need to disappear forever:
What exactly does this mean? A body that you are proud to show off in a bikini?
The term "bikini body" seems to imply that only svelte women can pull off a bikini. Otherwise, all you non-bikini body women better grab your one pieces or your muumuus. Wouldn't want to pollute the beach with your embarrassing cellulite!
I think people need to get over the fact that women are built in all shapes and sizes. A true "bikini body" is just that. A body, in a bikini. Done.
Skinny girl booze. Skinny desserts. Skinny jeans. Skinny snacks. I can't take it! What in the world is so delightful about the word "skinny" and what it implies?
Should skinny be the ultimate goal of every person who desires to be healthy? No, it shouldn't. Because skinny isn't necessarily healthy, even though using the word as a descriptor for food implies that it is. You know what's healthy? Fit. Strong. Confident.
Skinny sounds weak. Weak isn't healthy nor is it enviable.
Body After Baby:
This one kills me. As the mom of two kids, I know very well how it feels to have just given birth and not fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes. One thing about that though, is that it's a normal state. Many women don't realize that it's 100 per cent normal to take up to a year to fit into your pre-baby clothing size, and that's okay! So why does the media glorify celebrities who fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes 3 weeks after giving birth? I guess because it sells magazines!
These "post-baby body" stories also help to make women feel bad about themselves. Normal women, who end up feeling inadequate because their lives don't happen to revolve around how they look. They have other things to do, like, you know, nurse a baby and try to survive on two hours of sleep?
If you walked out of the hospital in your pre-pregnancy jeans a day after giving birth, that's really not the average woman's experience. Stop glorifying rapid weight loss after pregnancy, because many of these celebrities who lose all their pregnancy weight quickly are doing it by using drugs, over-exercising, or extreme dieting. Three things that women are not supposed to do ever, but especially not right after giving birth.
In an aside, I have to say that I find the fact that magazines are commenting on women's bodies a bit disturbing. What about that practice is okay?
The truth is, being too thin or being over fat can both be examples of unhealthy. Even if someone is an ideal weight, it doesn't mean that they are healthier, because there are several factors involved in health. The true ideal, I think, results from eating whole, fresh foods, moving your body, and having a positive attitude. Your weight ends up where it ends up; by virtue of the best diet you can give yourself, and the activity. The sense of entitlement that society has to criticize something as intimate as a stranger's body is hurtful and disturbing. Be kind.
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