In the most recent edition of Vogue, New York socialite Dara-Lynn Weiss shares her experience of putting her 7-year old child on a weight loss diet. Her intent: for her daughter, Bea, to shed pounds after discovering that she “had grown fat.”
Obesity is a worldwide epidemic; the World Health Organization (WHO) describes childhood obesity, in particular, as one of the most significant health challenges of the century. Health, as defined by the WHO, is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It is crucial that efforts be made to encourage the adoption of lifelong health behaviors in men, women, and children which, by this definition, encompasses so much more than merely losing a few pounds. It involves making efforts to improve health and well-being at all levels – emotionally, physically, psychologically, and even spiritually. What Weiss fails to understand is the toxic message she is passing along to her child, and all those influenced by her essay: that appearance, or the attainment of a thin stature by any means necessary, is more important than whole-body health and wellness.
Research indicates that over 80% of young girls are afraid of becoming fat, and many of them strive to be thinner. Such dieting behaviors increase the risk of developing serious issues with food and potentially eating disorders. With the third highest chronic illness rate among adolescents and the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition, eating disorders are to be taken seriously. Weiss’ story is irresponsible; it further perpetuates this detrimental trend and there is no doubt about the damage this story can do if its views are subscribed to. The outrage resulting from the publication of this article is justified; media outlets such as Vogue should be mindful of what they are promoting.
However, it’s not until a story such as this appears that we are truly horrified, and begin to take notice of the way health is promoted in society. What Vogue and hundreds of other media outlets do each and every day by airbrushing, promoting weight loss plans and products, and praising overly thin celebrities is just as toxic, yet does not receive nearly as much backlash. In fact, most of it is overlooked.
So why don’t we notice? In my (albeit very jaded) opinion, we just aren’t shocked anymore. In fact, we are much more taken aback when we open the pages of a magazine and see a ‘real’ woman: one with curves, perhaps a little extra weight, and maybe even some cellulite. When the iconic picture of plus-size model Lizzie Miller was published in Glamour magazine, people were stunned. Miller was photographed sitting naturally, smiling as if she were actually happy, and not retouched. Yes, she isn’t a size 2 and we are all very well aware that she has curves. So what? She looks like most of us reading this article. In fact, Lizzie is closer to the average North American woman, who is a size 12. However, the reason we are so in awe is clear: it is no longer a social norm to be ‘normal,’ and we have bought into it. The media presents what they, and what society has decided for the time being, is beautiful: thin and tall. Every day, media influences are causing us psychological and physical harm, pushing us to strive for an idea of perfection that we know is unattainable yet aim to achieve.
Sadly, Weiss has been offered a book deal, and will almost certainly further promote her damaging agenda. The good news: we don’t have to buy into her views, or those of any other media outlet that promotes an ideal of ‘health’ that is fundamentally flawed. By our own rejection of these dangerous societal norms we can help to reshape the philosophies of the newest generation of girls and women, so they can live long, happy, and healthy lives, and recognize ‘normal’ for what it really is.
Photo credit: Mageca via the Creative Commons License.