If there’s one topic that all women can relate to in one way or another, it’s weight. And yet, even in these supposedly enlightened times, there’s still a lot of stress, confusion and conflict around the whole business of body mass. I’m neither a doctor nor an expert, but as a long-term eating disorders veteran (the word “survivor” evokes far too many memories of bad 80s music for my taste), I can say with confidence that every person is extremely unique, and we all need to figure out what works best for us as individuals if we wish to stay healthy and happy.
So why is it that so many of us are still looking for universal solutions? Why is it that in 2014, people are still preaching about diets—like the Paleo—which advocates say will work for everyone? Why can’t we—as intelligent, complex beings—accept that taking care of ourselves isn’t easy, and that there’s no cookie-cutter solution to good health?
Now before I go any further, let me say that certain choices—smoking cigarettes, abusing alcohol and drugs, etc.—are never good. If you want to live a long, happy life, please avoid those things. Another universally bad choice is shaming people for their appearance. If you know someone that you think may be too heavy or too thin, please don’t make them feel bad about themselves. Instead, if it seems appropriate, perhaps you can suggest that they talk to their doctor or see a therapist who may be able to help.
OK, so let’s get back to the other stuff. First of all, it’s a fact that obesity is an epidemic in America, as is diabetes. These diseases destroy countless lives every year and cost millions of dollars in healthcare spending. It’s also true that many of the bad eating habits associated with these illnesses begin in childhood, so I applaud Michelle Obama and the thousands of health professionals who’ve worked tirelessly on initiatives to combat youth obesity. Their work is seeing good results, and that’s a great thing.
Unfortunately, another serious health problem is also quite prevalent among American youth (especially girls): anorexia. One statistic I found on the website of ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) states that the mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females between the ages of 15 and 24. And yet, as our school cafeterias eliminate foods high in fat and calories, kids at risk of becoming anorexic are receiving messages that are quite detrimental to them. Trust me: as a former anorexic who knows several young women currently suffering from this disease, not all kids need to limit fat intake, nor should they be instructed to do so. I know this is a complicated situation and that everyone’s doing their best to make the country healthier, but I urge parents and guardians concerned about their children’s weight—especially if they suspect eating disorders—to make an appointment with a physician, therapist, or certified nutritionist. These people can assess a child as an individual and give advice specific advice. And with any luck, the child will listen.
And speaking of listening, it’s hard not to listen to pop music and the various messages we receive from it every day. Hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written on that topic, but I’d like to focus on just a couple of the songs that are popular right now, and look at the messages they convey about body image.
The first is Meghan Trainor’s infectious hit “All About That Bass” celebrates those of us who “ain’t no size two.” Ms. Trainor strikes me as an intelligent, healthy woman, and a sharp, talented songwriter. I’m certain she’s helped a lot of larger women feel sexy and positive about their bodies with her song, and that’s a magnificent achievement. But every time I hear it, I can’t help cringing at the line, “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” Come on, now! Let’s not worry about what the boys like. Women’s bodies aren’t here for boys and men to enjoy. Our bodies are the containers in which we carry around our hearts, minds, and souls, and they need to work for us, first and foremost. So just as we shouldn’t worry about a bit of extra weight, our goal shouldn’t be adding pounds so that men will have something extra to squeeze.
Similarly, Nicki Minaj’s song “Anaconda” pays tribute to curvaceous women, and I commend her for that. Ms. Minaj is an incredibly gifted songwriter and rapper, as well as a beautiful woman who appears healthy and extremely comfortable in her own skin. All of which make her a strong female role model for young girls. She has also spoken out about downplaying sex appeal and focusing on using intelligence to get ahead in life. So does she really need to include the line, “F*ck those skinny bitches?” in her song? How does that help girls who weren’t blessed with curvy bodies?
I guess what I’m saying is that although I’m glad we’ve got both government initiatives and pop culture working to engender healthier bodies and attitudes in America, we’ve still got a way to go. Certainly, there’s no one solution to our “weighty” problems. What works for one person probably won’t work for another, so I hope people will take the time to discuss their health, weight and related issues with qualified professionals.