A Skinny-Obsessed World – Is ‘Fat’ Really the Worst Thing We Can Be?

Paige, at ‘Mastering the Art of Life’ recently wrote a post called ‘My Life as a Number’. She talks frankly about women’s obsession with their weight and dress size, and how those two numbers, if they don’t fall within the criteria dictated by society, can overshadow all the other characteristics that truly describe a person. Paige ends her piece with a quote by J.K. Rowling from the J.K. Rowling Official Site.

In a post called ‘For Girls Only, Probably’  J.K. says in part:

“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.”

“I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons. Let them never be Stupid Girls.”

The Media Awareness Network describes what is at stake for women in a post called Beauty and Body Image in the Media. The quest for an image that is unattainable for all but a few can have devastating effects. This post ends by saying:

Women learn to compare themselves to other women, and to compete with them for male attention. This focus on beauty and desirability “effectively destroys any awareness and action that might help to change that climate.”

On a recent vacation, I watched as a skinny 8 year old girl in a bikini bathing suit interacted with a group of pre-teen little boys by saying to them, “How do you like my new bathing suit?”  She proceeded to model it, but she was quickly abandoned by the boys who had no interest in her bathing suit, or her, apparently.

In reality, she just wanted to join in the game they were playing, and once she resumed normal child broadcasting, she was welcomed into the fray. But somehow, somewhere, she has already started to be programmed by the Beauty Industry, and I find that very unfortunate.

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22 comments

  1. I think we get it worse, but it’s not just girls and women who are subject to appearance anxiety.

    I heard of a poll taken of junior high kids that asked: if given a choice, would they rather be fat or unable to walk and wheelchair-bound. The overwhelming majority chose the wheelchair. Frightening.

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    • Hi Pegoleg – That is a disturbing answer.

      I just read that in 1998, the U.S. National Institutes of Health brought U.S. definitions into line with World Health Organization guidelines, lowering the normal/overweight cut-off from BMI 27.8 to BMI 25. This had the effect of redefining approximately 25 million Americans, previously “healthy” to “overweight”.

      The entire definition of who is normal, overweight or obese isn’t very accurate at the best of times because it doesn’t take into consideration muscle mass, frame size, water weight, etc. Overweight people and normal weight people have similar risks of mortality, while obese and underweight people have higher rates of mortality. All it all, I think the ‘obesity epidemic’ and societies fear of fat is being blown way out of proportion.

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  2. Hi Margie,
    It is terrible these days I feel for young girls especially when the weight thing seems to take over a lot of these young girls lives. For some it is very dangerous, with bulimia, or anorexia, it is a terrible worry, and I can only hope that this “trend” will see an end one day.

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    • Hi Mag – I think the media is doing a terrible disservice to women. It was good to see the UK banning two makeup companies from using ads that were misleading in terms of what the products could actually do.

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  3. Seems to me that we men deal with the “skinny obsession” in a different way than do women. We men will put on a few (or more) extra pounds, and allow that situation to go on for months, or even years. Then, all of a sudden, we’ll become determined to “do something about it.” And then we go on a diet — often a path of diet and exercise. Bill

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    • Hi Bill – I don’t think most men have a ‘skinny obsession’. Men are not usually the targets of ad campaigns that are designed to make them feel inferior because they are a few pounds overweight! Most men are much more secure and confident about their bodies than most women are.

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      • I think men feel pressure, but it’s more along the lines of being fit or toned, not skinny.

        The difference in the situation between men and women is that there are men in the public eye who are smart, powerful, charismatic and they are valued for that regardless of their appearance. Women instead receive reinforcement that it’s okay to be none of those things as long as you are pretty. Or worse, being smart isn’t even an asset in a woman if she isn’t also pretty. Just my two cents! Great blog!*

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  4. As a father with a teen daughter this scares the shit out of me although thankfully, so far, she seems to be adjusting well. I also have a niece that went through a battle with bulimia several years ago so we saw it first hand. On the other hand, I do believe that a large portion of the U.S. at least, is epidemically overweight and doesn’t seem to realize or care or have any concern about health and exercise. I think these health problems run the gamut from one extreme to the other.

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    • Hi BRC – Statistics for 2010 state that: About one-third of U.S. adults (33.8%) are obese. Approximately 17% of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese.

      I don’t understand why most statistics lump overweight people and obese people in the same category. The health risks for overweight people are not significantly different than for those who are normal weight. Obese people and underweight people have the most health problems, as you suggested.

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  5. But by all means, we do have an obesity epidemic in the U.S. and type 2 diabetes rates continue to rise. Healthcare costs associated with obesity and diabetes will put a serious drain on resources. That said, we have a continuing, ridiculous obsession with beauty and thinness, made worse because people seem to LOVE reading about the celebrity who lost a lot of weight or looking at magazines containing photos of all the skinny stars posing for the camera. We can’t seem to find a healthy medium. I hope that more and more parents will start seeing the peril inherent in what their little girls see and hear in the media and offer up better messages than be thin or you won’t be popular.

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    • Hi SDS – I agree that obesity has increased in many countries of the world, and it is not a healthy trend.

      A poor diet and little or no exercise are the two biggest culprits in the rising rate of diabetes. I know lots of somewhat overweight people who eat well and get lots of exercise and don’t have diabetes or other health problems, yet they are stigmatized for being FAT!

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  6. If you want to read something along these same lines, try Peggy Orenstein’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter—Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.” It’s an eye-opening account of how girls are being manipulated to buy into the “princess” mentality. Ack…

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  7. Such an excellent post! This is a great concern of mine when it comes to my daughter. I want her to be loved for her own beloved zanniness rather than how she looks to others. She is an incredibly creative child, and my husband and I do are very best to support her in any venture she would like to take on. She has very little fear, if any, which has led me to believe I will probably be having panic attacks for the rest of my life…lol. The one thing that I try very hard to accomplish with my daughter is just letting her know each and every day that who she is inside is beautiful, and to never allow anyone to tell her differently. We do not need to fit into the molds of society. We simply need to feel good about ourselves just the way we are. Thank you for sharing this. It is something that we definitely need to be more aware of.

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  8. Youth is such a fleeting time period. Most people can remember vividly their high school years that at best lasted three or four years and yet we live decades past that. The things we become seem to be negated by the pursuit of being skinny. Good article.

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    • Hi Amanda – I have never been skinny – I just don’t have a body type that could be skinny. I can never be tall either. Both of these factors saved me from aspirations that were never going to happen!

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  9. Wonderfully written, Margie. We’ve been aware for years of the problem of girls wanting to be skinny because it is reinforced in the media, but I haven’t seen any great progress to change that. It’s not just young girls; all women are targeted. On nearly every women’s magazine I pick up, whether it is Prevention, Health, Women’s Day, etc., the front covers scream “Lose 10 pounds in two weeks,” “Flatten those abs with these amazing exercises,” and so forth. Every one of them!

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    • Hi CE – I agree that mass media just fuels the problem. I don’t see how anything will change unless the media chooses to shift the perception of what is cool. And I don’t see them saying it is uncool to be skinny.

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