A society so worshipful of bodily thinness that multitudes suffer to attain it--some even to the point of death. That’s us.
And now comes a dismaying addition to the well-documented aversion to human fleshiness: The dislike is so strong, researchers report in an article in the medical journal Pediatrics, that “elementary school children have been shown to perceive obesity as being worse than being handicapped or disabled.” Describing a survey of high-school girls that found anxiety about overweight even among the underweight, the authors note: “Fear of obesity and inappropriate eating behaviors are pervasive among adolescent girls regardless of body weight or nutrition knowledge.” They add that the fear “appears to be deeply ingrained in our society as a result of the cultural preoccupation with obesity and the value placed on being slim.”
How did we get this way? The Pediatrics article states that “Television, magazines and even the classroom promote the goal of thinness with regard to both beauty and health.” Love, happiness, admiration and wealth are closely identified with a slender form.
But that observation by the researchers takes us only to the doorstep of the brazen and lucrative anti-fat industry--a colossal enterprise, spanning media, medicine, entertainment and business, all collaborating in panicking the populace into pursuit of body shapes that are impossible for all but a few.
The criteria of human beauty have varied over time and place, as can be seen in art collections that span the centuries. But never, until recent times, has a society assigned the highest value to unnatural thinness, and then idolized that shape as a holy goal for the masses. Most people, of course, don’t resemble the ideal, as any street-corner survey will confirm. And very few have any chance of attaining it, no matter how diligently they diet, which, it turns out, most people are always attempting in one way or another.
Except in rare cases of bodily malfunction--for which medical attention is appropriate--humans naturally arrive at a body weight and stay there. Expert counseling and intense discipline might bring them through the feat of dropping their weight by some large amount, but that is a formidable task. For the ordinary person, a 10% weight reduction is a challenge that few can meet. And, as is legendary, lost weight very often creeps back. For the great majority, the revered goal of unnatural thinness is simply unattainable on any permanent basis.
And that sad fact of biological reality provides the foundation and the permanent prosperity of the anti-fat industry. With TV, Hollywood and advertising proclaiming super slim as the ideal, those who don’t meet it are, by cultural definition, misfits. Magazine articles and diet books, both mainly focused on the insecurities of women, endlessly offer what are described as simple, painless ways of rapidly losing weight. More astonishing, and reprehensible, some regimens offer prospects of new body shapes. If these formulas worked as promised, there would, of course, be no need for an unending stream of articles and books on still new ways to lose weight and reshape the form. But, inevitably, waves of easy weight-loss formulas are followed by more waves, each promising success at last. Fat anxiety is a wonderland of profits for food and drink manufacturers, who promise the never-never combination of good taste, fullness, high nutritional quality and low calories. Again, if the products perform as promised, why does anyone have a weight problem?
And then the health clubs and doctors have jumped in for a share of the profits, promising the scientific route to the holy goal of thinness. As a last resort, modern medicine will eliminate body fat with knives and suction pumps. And there’s no shortage of customers.
The report is that schoolgirls are so dreadfully fearful of obesity that many undertake diets injurious to their health. Considering the barrage of thinness propaganda constantly hurled at them, there should be no wonder.