There has been a lot of talk about weight in the media lately. How could you not notice? There’s always talk about weight, I know, but this past week it’s been all about former supermodel Tyra Banks, her recent weight gain, and current fashion models and their skeletal bodies.
It’s everywhere. Who’s fat? Who’s thin? Who’s lost weight? Who’s put on a few extra pounds? Who cares? Obviously many do or our media outlets wouldn’t spend so much time (and therefore money) on this topic.
We are a people obsessed with weight. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about fat or thin, obesity or anorexia – we are talking about it. Not to mention spending money on it: over $30 billion a year on diet products.
It’s all about image. We don’t want to buy into it. We remind ourselves we should know better than to try to size up to the images that we see on television and in the movies and magazines, but still we do. We look at these images and then take a good look at ourselves, only to be left feeling insecure and inadequate. It’s not like I’m making this stuff up by projecting my own personal issues onto the page. By the time American girls enter into their teenage years, over 50 percent of them are not happy with their bodies. Within five years, that number grows to nearly 80 percent.
As a mother of a young girl, I am constantly reminded that a child’s mind is greatly influenced by what they see, hear, and experience. It doesn’t help that my daughter, at the mere age of four, has a collection of Barbie dolls that would rival any serious connoisseur (her grandparents’ fault) or that the bodies of every princess and female cartoon character she adores have not one ounce of fat on them (Disney’s fault). To her, these images are perfect. But what is perfect, and who got to decide that they were perfect in the first place?
Where are the images of the average person with the body type that we want our children to emulate? More importantly, what does the healthy body type even look like?
Believe it or not, Tyra Banks is a good example of someone with a healthy body type. At 5-foot-10 and 161 pounds, using a Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation — which, while far from perfect, is the best measurement we have these days — she has a BMI of 23.3. She is well within her healthy or "normal" weight range. When she was perfect enough to grace the covers of magazines worldwide (a time when she has said she weighed 30 pounds less) she had a BMI of 18.8. Considering that anything below 18.6 is underweight, I'd say she was pretty darn close to being unhealthy. And that's a woman who claims that she always weighed 20 to 30 pounds more than the other supermodels.
There is nothing average about the thinness we idealize. Today’s models weigh 23 percent less than the average woman. Runway models average 16 years of age, are 5-foot-11 and weigh 120 pounds. The runway model has a BMI of 16.8. The average American 15-year-old girl on the other hand is 5-foot-3.8 and weighs 134.5 pounds. She has a BMI of 23.7. The average American girl has an ideal weight, the model does not. The average girl is healthy, yet still, she wants to be model thin.
The biggest problem I have with the most current media attention on weight is that, while there is talk about obesity and anorexia, about what constitutes being overweight, and what’s classified as an eating disorder, we hardly ever hear reports, read articles, or see images focusing on what’s “normal” or better yet, what's healthy. Instead we are bombarded by images of overweight children when being warned of the prevalence of obesity and pictures of skeletal models when being lectured on the problems of anorexia.
We should stop focusing so much on the extremes — let the doctors and experts handle those — and start focusing instead on promoting healthy bodies, healthy living, and healthy images.