This, of course, is a recipe for producing an epidemic of eating disorders, which is precisely what we've managed to do. Indeed, the current panic over "obesity" resembles nothing so much as the projection of a classically eating-disordered world view onto an entire society.
And, increasingly, we're successfully exporting this worldview. For example, until a few years ago, anorexia and bulimia were unknown in the western Pacific. But with the advent of cable television and programs such as "Baywatch," adolescent girls in these cultures have begun to act like so many of their American counterparts as they learn that they have the "wrong" kinds of bodies.
Recognizing a golden marketing opportunity, companies such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig have begun to target their advertising at African American and Latina women because, as Laura Fraser points out in her book "Losing It," most white women already "can't make it through a day without getting disgusted with themselves for not having a better -- meaning thinner -- body."
You claim that nearly four out of every five black American women are "overweight" or "obese," yet studies generally find that African American girls and women have much more positive views of their own bodies than white girls and women do. Is it a coincidence that studies also record no increased mortality risk associated with even very high levels of body mass among black women?
Needless to say, both diet companies and obesity researchers are doing their best to change this unacceptable situation. Thus we have researchers advocating "the development of culturally sensitive public health intervention programs ... to encourage black youth to achieve a healthy and reasonable (sic) body size." Translation: Let's make black and brown girls feel as bad about their bodies as we've managed to make the average white girl feel about hers.
Indeed, as long as they're fat, it's possible for even a double-plus good-thinking liberal in a magazine like Harper's to express the kind of horror and disgust at the sight of nonwhite poor people that would be considered somewhat problematic in any other context. Thus, after a stroll through downtown Pasadena, during which he encounters the horrifying and disgusting spectacle of fat black and Latino working-class people, Greg Critser asks, "For what do the fat, darker, exploited poor, with their unbridled primal appetites, have to offer us but a chance for we diet- and shape-conscious folk to live vicariously? Call it boundary envy. Or, rather, boundary-free envy."
Perhaps all we "diet- and shape-conscious folk" ought to put down the white man's (or more precisely, the white woman's) burden and stop inflicting our neuroses on everyone else. At the least -- to echo another narrator who traveled into the heart of darkness -- we ought to consider the possibility that, like Mr. Kurtz, our "methods have become unsound."
Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado and syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard. His most recent book is "The Obesity Myth."