Obesity has become more than just an obsession with food. Americans have become obsessed with our problem, from lawsuits to reality TV shows, America's addiction to talking about food has become a social problem.
For the last few years weight has become a national concern that has intrigued people more than our own presidential elections. One would think that since we now know about our problem and it has become an issue worthy of national media coverage that we would see a decrease in the number of eating disorders in our country. Unfortunately, this has been proven incorrect.
Obesity has increased over the last few years. The media and doctors have studied the issue in every way possible. Economic factors, racial factors, cultural factors, etc. However, no one has turned the finger back onto themselves. While it is speculation on my part, I think something has to be said for the fact that we are giving too much attention to the problems and creating an unhealthy lifestyle with our obsession.
Every major network has its trademark weight loss show. Shows like NBC's The Biggest Loser, VH1's Celebrity Fit Club, and even The Food Network's Weighing In, are you teaching America poor diet and exercise habits, as well as turning a very unhealthy lifestyle into exhibits.
While these shows are entertaining, and I am sure have inspired many to lose weight, what are they telling us about how to do it? Should Americans adopt their outrageous dieting techniques, and more importantly, can the average American change their lifestyle like many of these contestants do?
Take the popular show, The Biggest Loser. The contestants are separated from their daily life completely. They are given a special diet and personal trainers, something most Americans couldn't afford on their own, and then in a matter of weeks transform their bodies completely.
While many overweight people would love to see their body change so quickly, it is unhealthy and unrealistic to do so. Also to be noted, when the contestants don't have a dramatic weight loss (or perhaps they may need more help to lose the weight) they are eliminated from the show. What kind of message does that send to people? If you can't drop seven pounds a week, you should just give up?
Often times, when the contestants return to their homes, before the finale, they gain some of their weight back. This show is counterproductive to the average overweight American trying to get healthier.
I think this obsession with trying to lose weight is also affecting our youth. More and more people are being treated with eating disorders. Fat is becoming viewed as a disease. While it is dangerous, so is being starved. It creates just another reason for someone to be insecure about weight gain.
Self-image is never so sensitive as it is as a teenager; this is also the age group that is most susceptible to media messages. Pages of magazines are covered with women looking like dilapidated skeletons. Girls, of all sizes, are killing themselves to look like Twiggy or Kate Moss.
I know as a young woman myself, that I have had many friends and classmates turn to eating disorders to try and cope with their distorted self image. All in hopes to look skinnier and more desirable. One of my classmates suffered so badly that she had to go to a rehab facility to save her own life. She was a cross country runner, and she would put weights underneath her shirt when weighing in, because she was terrified the coach would make her stop running.
I have also seen the other end of the spectrum, I had one friend that was very overweight and became obsessed with losing it. I watched her try diet after diet, watching her crash each time, just ballooning up after each unsuccessful diet trend promoted by the media.
After seeing my friends suffer with these disorders I began to wonder what made them think that skinny was so beautiful, and more directly and importantly, why they thought that skinny was the only way to beautiful. I looked at our mothers, grandmothers, female teachers, and the other women in our lives. None of them fit this image of beauty that my friends sought.
If none of the women in their life represent what they wish to see in themselves, then who could they be modeling themselves after?
I asked one of my friends what she wished she looked like, she told me "I think Shakira is beautiful, or Paris Hilton." I wasn't really surprised, in high school you hear girls talking about pop stars and celebrities all of the time. I don't think the women like Paris Hilton or other pop stars are the reason for these problems; that is an old complaint. I think the problem may be lack of options.
I can't think of a single successful celebrity woman who is raved as beautiful that is anywhere close to the size of the average American, which is about size 14. I understand the argument that we shouldn't promote or encourage people to be overweight, but at the same time we shouldn't encourage people to be underweight.
The media, after much ridicule, has become more diverse in the coverage and the people and races represented. This doesn't stand true with size diversity. With the exception of the Dove Campaign, I can't think of a single instance when I have seen someone, about a size 14, represented as something other than a Mom, or someone older, and not seen as a symbol of beauty.
It has become rare in our society to value the norm, the healthy lifestyle that is somewhere in the middle.
Our obsession with our unhealthy lifestyle is creating an even more unhealthy lifestyle. I would love to see the media begin to either begin to show lifestyle changes that could lead to permanent progress in someone's life, and show a more diverse group of sizes to represent more people, or not show anything at all.