Another piece about America’s obsession with body image

11 Aug

It’s amazing that just a few years ago, the Atkins “diet” and the South Beach “diet” was all the buzz and fast food places were scrambling to keep their customers.  (First off, never will the words “fast food” and “diet” equate.)  Pizza places replaced crusts with tortillas.  Sub places replaced baguettes with tortillas.  Hamburger joints added salads to the menu.  (Second case in point: topping a salad with deep fried chicken strips defeats the purpose of “healthy alternative”.)

Now, just a few years later, the books are off the bestseller lists and food chains are no longer trying to bring out new products that are low in carbs.  It would seem that people are wising up.

Not so much.  The no carb fad was simply replaced by other fads.  One line of diet books looks at women (not men) from foreign countries and scrutinize why they are thin and Americans are not.  It started with the French, then the Japanese, then the Mediterranean, among countless others.  Do any of these authors take into consideration that Europeans are less stressed and exercise more?  On average, their work weeks are shorter and vacations are longer.  They don’t drive a block to the grocery store for three candy bars and a soda.  And speaking of which, do the authors make note that America is the only country who is both overfed and undernourished?

I don’t read these fad diet books.  I’m smart enough to know that eating truly healthy options and exercising is the best way to lose weight and keep it off.  And the surprising bit: I’m not a rocket scientist nor a brain surgeon.

But Americans’ obsession with body image does not only spread throughout the bookstores, but on our televisions as well.  We have reality shows dealking with the “issue”.  Celebrity Fit Club is one which I’ve never seen, but it sounds like B-list celebrities that have not only passed their prime, but passed their waistline.  One of the most popular of these types of shows, however, is The Biggest Loser, a show that, once I start watching, I cannot tear my eyes away from.  For those who have not seen it, the show consists of a big group (pardon the pun) of obese people who go to boot camp to lose weight.  Their lifestyles drastically change from day one with rigorous exercise and healthy eating.

Take a moment and imagine a reality show like this for smokers: The Biggest Hack.  Contestants come to a ranch-style home and must quit smoking cold turkey.  They are tested and tempted every day with piles of cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco.  Then, at the end of a long, smokeless week, the contestants participants go up on stage, one at a time, and see who hacks the longest and loudest, with bonus points if anything is dislodged and spit out.  I’m a bit surprised, actually, that NBC hasn’t picked up on this concept yet.

But on The Biggest Loser contestants are stripped down to the bare minimum and made to stand on a huge scale while their weight is broadcast to the world.  Could anything be more embarrassing?  The viewers at home gasp and cover their mouths when they see the huge (literally and figuratively) numbers reading from the scale.  “He’s three hundred and fifty-eight pounds.  Good god!” the viewers may say (and probably between bites of Doritos).

Why don’t we ever put a model on a scale on national TV and criticize her?  “She’s only ninety-six pounds?  She needs to gain weight!”  This would also be a good reality show: The Smallest Bulimic.  Geared toward teens and pre-teens, girls (no boys) from all over the country come to the ranch to chow down on foods and try not to throw it back up.  The person with the greatest weight gain gets the prize.  Hell, if they gain too much weight, they could just go over to The Biggest Loser.

My point being is that America has an obsession about losing weight and looking great.  Is it wrong to be healthy?  Absolutely not, but skinny does not equate healthy.  Fads are just that – fads – and will work for only so long.  The Biggest Loser is not the only show out there about body image, but certainly it is a lot better than some, like The Swan.  But the amount of energy and time focused on losing more and more weight raises questions in my head.  My questions are as follows: Why don’t we see shows on television devoted to helping smokers or bulimics and anorexics?  Why is the fad diet book section three times the size of the eating disorder section in bookstores?  Why do we publicly criticize fat people but praise skinny people when in all likelihood they are just as unhealthy?

Something is very wrong here and it’s time for a change.  It’s time for a revolution.

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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Rants



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