Monday, January 25, 2021

The Healthy Aesthetic?

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Body Image

I came across a post on a fabulous blog called the other day while researching for work. The most recent post was written about the Nightline segment, Is it Okay to be fat? that I mentioned on my blog.

To be honest, I’m tired of the “fat vs. fit”, the “us vs. them” mentality. When I read The Healthy Aesthetic? it became clear to me that Jamie N “got it.” I asked her permission to repost here words here.

I’ve had a theory brewing in my head recently: if all the women in the United States were a size 2 yet as a society we still struggled with heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers then the “health” argument would be very different. After watching the recent Nightline segment “Is it Okay to be fat” my theory was confirmed. The title should’ve read, “Is it okay for women to be fat?”; and then at least it would have been more honest.

It’s hard to debate health when what you’re really debating aesthetics. A serious debate on health would’ve seen men on the panel, since this issue is a societal problem and not something women should have to shoulder alone (though we often do).

I struggle with body image. I’m in my mid twenties and I haven’t yet found that balance of looking in the mirror and liking what I see. I think others would consider me  “healthy”: my body functions properly and I have what the CDC would consider a “correct” BMI number however I got that way eating highly processed “health” foods and the battle of body image rages inside of me all the time. I look in the mirror and dream of my pre-pubescent body when my boobs were higher and my thighs were leaner, when I more closely resembled the 16 year old fashion models that grace every women’s magazine.

I really do want to be truly healthy, so recently I’ve made a serious effort to integrate it into my life(rather than before where being healthy was admittedly, a by-product of wanting to be skinny.) Now I eat with a consciousness of being part of a food chain: eating locally grown whole foods that were raised and farmed sustainably. I cook more and enjoy my food with my husband rather than eating a separate highly processed dinner than him because it only had 400 calories.

As a consequence, I now have a different relationship with food: a relationship dictated by how healthy and happy I feel from eating it-not how skinny it makes me.

For women “healthy” has become interchangeable with “beauty” and a lot of products are marketed and sold to women this way. The blurring of those lines lends itself to misdirected debates like this Nightline one, where we find ourselves dissecting two separate issues the same way. I’m all for a healthy society that has a positive relationship to food… just not at the expense of women’s self esteem.


17 Responses to “The Healthy Aesthetic?”
  1. love2eatinpa says:

    you bring up some great points about the nightline show, jamie!
    good for you for realizing the difference between health and aesthetics and going for the health and having a more healthy relationship with food.

  2. CandiceBP says:

    “For women “healthy” has become interchangeable with “beauty” and a lot of products are marketed and sold to women this way.”

    I actually feel beautiful when I’m eating well. There’s something about the way the food fuels me that makes me feel really good – almost like I feel powerful and capable in a way that I don’t if I eat something not as healthy. But I agree that healthy-as-a-result of wanting to be skinny is mostly what we see, and that blurs the whole point.

  3. Lori says:

    I always feel like, if this were about health and not appearance, we’d have reality shows where teams compete to see which could lower their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar the most. Or ads for diets would give before and afters of people’s health stats, not their dress size. Women’s magazines would have headlines about how to get more energy in a month, rather than how to lose 10 pounds in a month.

    I think, given where our focus as a society is, it’s very, very hard to maintain the myth that our obsession with body size is really all about health and not appearance.

    • love2eatinpa says:

      really great points, lori! you should submit those show ideas to the networks!

    • Gina says:

      We had a popular TV show like that in Australia, Celebrity Overhaul. The participants spent time at a luxury resort in Thailand and did the whole healthy diet, exercise and relaxation thing.

      Not all of them wanted to lose weight. One participant is a beautiful plus-size model who was cured of debilitating migraines, another was an older woman who has never had a weight problem but wanted to improve her overall health, and I think another participant was a former athlete who wanted to improve his fitness and give up smoking.

      It was very interesting and not at all preachy. Any improvements in the participants’ health or sense of well-being were celebrated. Everyone was weighted but their weight was never disclosed, just the amount they had lost.

    • Simone says:

      I wish this were facebook, so I could “like” you comment! XD

  4. Nikki says:

    Meme Roth did make a good point about the BMI, it is the easiest and most non-invasive way to assess health. A person can calculate their BMI from home, without having any bloodwork done. Also, in terms of assessing childrens’ health the best place to do that is at school, since not all children receive medical care from a doctor. It is very quick and easy to take down a child’s height and weight for this purpose.

    Would it be more accurate to look at cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.? Yes, but it’s not quite as efficient. In terms of *preliminary* health assessment, I think the BMI is not an unreasonable starting point.

    • Lori says:

      I’m not sure she’s right about that, actually. BMI is less correlated with health status than things like race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status. But, I hope Roth would consider it absurd to think that taking down that kind of demographic information would reveal anything significant or meaningful about an individual’s health. But if we need a quick-and-dirty starting point, that kind of demographic assessment would still yield more useful information than BMI, as limited as the information might be.

    • Meems says:

      There are so many problems with BMI that it’s been rendered totally useless, particularly with children. Any good pediatrician knows that BMI has essentially no health correlations in children because they are growing and constantly changing, so a child who is technically obese one month may not be 6 months later after going through a growth spurt.

      Besides, blood pressure or glucose levels really aren’t that much more difficult to test at school, particularly blood pressure, which is a totally noninvasive test.

  5. Annie says:

    I think the BMI is an impractical test of how ‘healthy’ you are. My fellow volunteer firefighting was termed obese after having his BMI calculated by the doctor (a requirement for our 3 yearly re-accrediation in breathing apparatus), he happens to be a short man carrying lots of muscle, quite some eye candy actually, no extra fat on him anywhere- and he’s obese!!
    Shouldn’t there be a measure that is actually practical and doesn’t have these sorts of results?

  6. Yeah, I think it’s pretty well established that BMI is total BS.

  7. Carmel_m says:

    Unfortunately, the longer the myth perpetuates that fat automatically = unhealthy, the longer most of the population will believe that thin must therefore = healthy.

    We can’t tackle one side of the equation without the other.

  8. attrice says:

    I don’t know where I’m going with this, but one of the things that infuriates me is that women are constantly fed these images of ultra-thinness to the point where someone who’s a size six and has boobs is lauded as ‘curvy.’ At the same time, we’re told that the only good reason for wanting to lose weight is health and we’re shamed (by society, not this blog post) for being shallow if we admit that part of us wants to fit into the ideal that we’ve been given all our lives.

    It’s the same way that in the media even a ‘natural’ look is heavily made up and airbrushed and yet women are told they’re high maintenance if it takes them more than 10 minutes to do their hair and makeup.

    Anyway, the conflating of health with size allows that much more shame to go around. It makes me furious.

  9. Jen says:

    I read two great books this past year that once and for all shattered my own personal media-fed conviction that working for a thinner body would make me healthier. “The Obesity Myth” by Paul Campos and “Rethinking Thin” by Gina Kolata changed my life. I recommend them to anyone who wants to explore the issue pointed out in the above blog in further detail. Its so much easier to pursue health when you don’t have to attatch that to a number on a scale anymore! Also, I hear “Health At Every Size” by Linda Bacon is great, but I haven’t read that one yet myself.

    • Meems says:

      I haven’t read “The Obesity Myth” or “Rethinking Thin” (though both are on my “to read” list), but I have read “Health at Every Size.” It’s a fantastic book, and definitely changed how I think about health, food, and my own body. I passed it on to my parents, and it has made a huge difference in how my mom thinks about my weight and health.

      • Simone says:

        The Obesity Myth is gold. Campos’ medical reporting is a little sketchy at times, and I wanted take him entirely at his word on the relationship between weight and health. But he does an amazing job of exposing the zillion layers of distortion between scientific facts and the popular understanding of obesity. His sociological analysis is brilliant, and he peppers his account with poignant personal anecdotes. Totally worth a read.

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