Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Thin is NOT In

Anyone who sits down and watches a half hour of American cable television will probably see numerous commercials for diet plans and weight loss products. On the surface, this seems perfectly natural given the ongoing "epidemic" of obesity in the United States. Indeed, according to two different National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, obesity in Americans aged 20 to 74 years increased from 15% around 1976 to 1980 to 32.9% from 2003 to 2004. That having been said, I don't think the growing waistlines of Americans is the only reason for the prevalence of diet plan and weight loss commercials on American television. I think the reason for many of these commercials may be an unhealthy obsession many Americans have developed with being thin.

Indeed, one need only look at the covers of women's magazines to see proof of this. Not only do the women's magazines often feature articles on various diets inside the magazine, but they often feature a dangerously skinny model on the cover. Between the articles on various diets and the ultra-thin models on their covers, these magazines seem to be sending a very direct message--to be skinny is to be beautiful.

I must confess that I have no idea how this all started. I have often heard the blame for this rage for being thin placed at the feet of men, but I honestly do not think that this is true. One need look no further than the magazine rack for proof of this. Compare the average model on the cover of women's magazines to the average Playboy centrefold and one will notice one significant difference--the Playboy centrefold will weigh considerably more than the average model. Indeed, I remember reading several years ago an article in either Time or Newsweek in which teenage girls and boys were asked what they though the ideal weight for a woman who was 5 foot 7 inches tall. The girls generally thought 100 pounds was the ideal weight for a woman of this height. The boys tended to place the ideal weight for a woman this tall at 125 pounds or more (here I must note that the government has determined a healthy weight for a 5 foot 7 woman to be anywhere from 123 pounds for a small frame to 163 pounds for a heavy frame). To me this poll proves two things. First, even then (which may have been as long ago as ten years) young girls had an unhealthy obsession with their weight. Second, boys (and most likely men as well) prefer women with some meat on their bones.

Regardless of how this obsession with being thin began, it seems to me that it must end. Ultimately, it doesn't matter that men prefer Kate Beckinsale to Kate Moss. What is more important is the individual's own health. In 2006 an ultra-skinny model died just as she stepped off a runway in Madrid. The cause was simple malnourishment. And it is well known that Karen Carpenter died as a result of anorexia nervosa. The physical consequences of not eating enough are nearly as serious as eating too much. It can place a strain on the heart and the cardiovascular system which can ultimately result in cardiac arrest. It can also compromise the immune system, making one more vulnerable to disease. Not eating can even result in the early onset of osteoporosis. The simple fact that being too skinny can be a danger to one's health.

I am not about to say that Americans should not be concerned about obesity. Certainly the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys indicate that many Americans are at overweight to an unhealthy degree. That having been said, I think Americans should recognise that being overly thin can be just as dangerous. It is time that Americans should start focusing more on being healthy than what the fashion industry or women's magazines is trying to dictate as being attractive.

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