By Garrick Hoffman
Liberal Arts Major
Many of us are becoming disillusioned to how the media both continually and criminally portrays women: they’re almost invariably thin – too thin – and alarmingly glossed in cosmetics. But lately another approach has been employed to combat the media’s status-quo with women. Unfortunately, it too is flawed, and some of it rejects scientific fact.
“Plus-sized” models – a vague euphemism used to circumvent the use of the words “fat” or “overweight” – are now being incorporated into magazines, television shows, and advertisements to showcase fashion products or to serve as characters on the opposite end of the weight spectrum. Although the intent behind this approach might seem admirable – combating the typical use of ludicrously thin women – it still promotes the wrong message: complacency, and the emphasis on beauty over health.
Although many of us extol those who use “plus-sized” models and are aware of the sinister implications in using skeletal models, we often fail to ask: What happens when you convince overweight or obese individuals that they should be content with their condition? If using pencil-thin models can gnaw into the subconscious of women by telling them they “should look this way,” thus cultivating troubling insecurity – something we should all detest – what does using overweight models do? Might it instead cultivate a complacency with one’s unhealthy condition? If we are telling overweight or obese people to embrace the mentality, “I love the way that I look and I am not going to change for anyone,” like overweight photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero says and promotes, is this not a slippery slope than can lead to destructive health conditions? Furthermore, if we are saying, “You’re beautiful no matter what,” aren’t we still placing inordinate emphasis on beauty rather than on health and well-being?
According to the CDC, an alarming 69% “of adults age 20 years and over…are overweight.” This same figure also takes obesity into account. Furthermore, the sub-header of the “Risks” page on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website proclaims, “Being overweight or obese isn’t a cosmetic problem. These conditions greatly raise your risk for other health problems.” The risks, as presented on the same page, include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, abnormal blood fats, metabolic syndrome, cancer, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS), reproductive problems, and gallstones.
Complacency can be the nefarious result of the Health at Every Size (HAES) and fat acceptance movements, two leftist crusades that have come under attack from the science community and aim to end fat shaming and to promote self-love “at every size.” Although the movements do indeed have a noble cause, they also, perhaps indirectly, encourage people with visible weight issues to “Love the way you look and not change for anyone,” a proclamation we consider bold. Ironically, those who accept this doctrine end up not mitigating their health because of people, because they don’t want to appear as conformists to media propaganda or to those who fat-shame. They don’t want to succumb to those who judge and discriminate. They essentially wave their middle fingers and become placid with their health merely just to contradict others, and because they are disgusted with discrimination. One can change for people’s opinions, and likewise, one can not change because of people’s opinions.
So if those who are overweight or obese loved themselves, shouldn’t they instead esteem their health and take the right measures to ameliorate their condition (within their capacity to do so, when considering hypoactive thyroids and other factors that can resist weight loss), rather than just rebel against those who judge and shame by remaining placid with their condition?
The movements, despite whatever merit they may have, nonetheless send a dangerous message. The message implies that one can be healthy regardless of their weight and that everyone should accept what they are, even though anyone with any rudimentary understanding of the science pertaining to the human body could recognize the fallacy in this. Surely, the scientific community condemns this message, and as reported in an article in TIME, “it’s simply not possible to be fit and obese,” indicating numerous studies to support this declaration.
The media’s “You can still be beautiful at any size” message is also flawed in that it’s still magnifying beauty rather than health, an incredibly counterproductive maneuver that doesn’t allow for the shattering of America’s obsession with the superficial. Although promoting self-love is indubitably of the essence, we should also be promoting good health, proper eating habits, and regular exercise proclivities. Showing only “plus-sized” or dramatically thin women is, respectively, showing acceptance on one hand, and showing obscene and unrealistic expectations on the other, both of which comes at the expense of the audience.
Let’s also remember that, according to the same article in TIME, “It’s also possible to be thin and unhealthy, and people can be at risk for the same metabolic problems at any size if they do not take care of themselves.” So essentially in this case, when you’re thin and unhealthy, your exterior says “healthy,” but your interior screams “help me.”
Indeed, we should absolutely not be shaming anyone for their weight; this belies any respect we have for each other, and it’s incredibly disparaging. But we shouldn’t be placing beauty on a higher pedestal than health, and we shouldn’t be saying, “You’re healthy the way you are; don’t let people tell you otherwise,” just to eschew offending people or to sugarcoat the truth. Rather, we should dismiss the media, be conscious of body diversity (including those who experience difficulty gaining or losing weight), and embrace, in the words of Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Plum Village, the Buddhist Mindfulness Center:
“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society…”
With this mindset, beauty will become a byproduct of effort, rather than the singular goal.