August 12, 2011

Weightism Epidemic

We have all heard of the obesity epidemic and how Americans’ weight continues to rise. In this form the word epidemic is used to gain attention and intensify the issue in order to ignite fear.  If asked though, most people would say their concern is really for the health of the obese individuals. Additionally, the increase in media coverage and scientific research also appear to have a theme of obesity related health-conditions. If health is really the issue, why then, is there so much focus on obesity and consequently weight?

BMI stands for body mass index and is calculated from a person’s height and weight. More often than not when someone is referring to obesity or presenting research findings on obesity, the BMI has been used to distinguish someone’s label, for example: underweight, normal, overweight, obese, morbidly obese. Although the BMI classification of obese is only taking into account height and weight, the word obese evokes an image of a fat person. Additionally someone who is overweight or obese is believed to be unhealthy. In truth, the label of obese could apply to people of all shapes and sizes and health (BMI project). BMI does not include body fat percentage, cholesterol, blood pressure, diet, or exercise in the calculations. With all this being said, an obesity epidemic is not really an appropriate description for a movement that is really supposed to be about health. According to Esther Rothblum (2009) “the only thing that anyone can diagnose, with any certainty, by looking at a fat person, is their own level of stereotype and prejudice toward fat people” (p. 295).

So, why all the focus on obesity? Is it more likely that the epidemic is really one of weightism? Weightism is the discrimination of someone due to his or her weight. Examples of weightism are: fat adolescents being teased and bullied by their peers, a medical doctor spending less time examining a fat patient than they would a normal or thin patient, a school counselor not providing encouragement and college planning skills to any fat student, or an employer whose presented with two equally qualified candidates and chooses the thin candidate over the fat candidate. Weightism also takes the form of ostracism, discouragement, and sometimes violence.

Since focusing on weight has become socially acceptable, weightism has also become more tolerable. Not too long ago it was commonplace to treat someone different based on their race. Race used to be an indicator of intelligence, income, health or disease, and morality. Now, weight is used in alarmingly the same way. Being fat is associated with being stupid or uneducated, poor, unhealthy, and self-indulgent.

As the diet industry has continued to boom and make billions of dollars in profit, Americans have not lost weight; they have gained weight. This paradox shows something is not working. A diet and weight focused society is not leading to healthier Americans. Consider if overall health and well-being were promoted instead of weight-loss and fear of fat and obesity. There would be more programs about healthy self-esteem, body acceptance, healthy eating, and fun movement. Instead, we have calories on restaurant menus and advocates for BMIs on student report cards. Something is terribly wrong.

Rothblum, Esther (2009). The Fat Studies Reader (Kindle Locations 295-296). NYU Press reference. Kindle Edition.

June 19, 2011

The wedding diet

Summer is fast approaching here in La Jolla and San Diego. The gorgeous venues are booked solid, the best photographers have packed schedules, and the tailors are working hard on those white dresses; wedding season is upon us. Planning a wedding can easily become a stressful endeavor for anyone, so why is it that so many men and women add another stressor to their plate and invite dieting into their lives?

Two people go through life; they meet, date, fall in love, decide to spend the rest of their lives together, and then, after all that, start a diet to change their body size. Why do people want to change their appearance after they have already won somebody over, after they have a committed partner who loves them unconditionally, after they are engaged? Something is just not quite right with that picture.

Most often, it is the bride-to-be that is dieting. Women choose to count calories, restrict their intake, and increase their exercise for various reasons. Some are choosing to slim down for those timeless wedding photographs that hang on the walls forever. Other women have purposely bought a wedding dress that is too small in order to motivate their selves to lose the weight. Some women may say they are dieting in order to be healthier, but the majority of women are attempting to lose weight in order to achieve the ideal standard of beauty: thinness.

American society perpetuates the idea that thin is beautiful, while fat is ugly. It is no wonder that a woman, who is trying to look beautiful on her wedding day, is anxious to lose weight. Having one set standard for beauty is not in a woman’s or a man’s best interest; the only ones who benefit are the companies who have just the product for those interested in a pre-wedding diet. There are bridal boot camps, bridal fitness DVDs, diet pills, and the typical, everyday diet products that are marketed to the newly engaged.

Countless studies have shown that 95% of dieters who lose weight, gain the weight back within the year. Losing and gaining weight through dieting leads to yo-yo dieting, where a person goes on and off diets. This cycle of weight loss and weight gain is unhealthy and can lead to something even more unhealthy and severe: an eating disorder. Some form of dieting behavior typically precipitates anorexia nervous, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders. With the right combination of risk factors, a man or woman could end up developing a full blown eating disorder after engaging in pre-wedding dieting.

So what are men and women to do about all this pressure to look their best on their wedding day? The answer is to continue as is. People do not propose so they can get to their wedding day and stand across from a physically different person and say, “I do,” despite what shows like Bridoplasty try and tell us. People propose because they want to spend their life with someone else, not the smaller version of that person. To combat the ideal standard of beauty, people can speak against unhealthy dieting behaviors, promote body acceptance at any size, and buy a fabulous dress or tux that fits them and looks great on them at their current size. Beauty comes from self-acceptance, confidence, and happiness. These are the things to aim for on your wedding day. And better yet, that self-acceptance, confidence, and happiness will not be lost within a year.