Health reforms should focus on unique bodies, not just skinniness, perfection

America has often been joked about as being one of the fattest countries in the world.

Obesity rates always seem to be rising, and it appears that no country loves fast food more that the United States. The government has pushed for more information about portion sizing and healthy eating habits, and while a health reform may be beneficial, it’s possible that the one currently sweeping the nation is doing as much harm as it is good.

There’s a fine line between pushing people to “get healthy” and pushing them to “get skinny.” Throughout childhood and young adulthood, kids are constantly being shown perfectly proportioned role models, and somewhere in between mass media and government outreach, the message is getting skewed.

If we look at the media that children are tuning into, it’s obvious that even at a very young age, they’re still being exposed to unattainable beauty standards. A quick look at popular Disney princesses proves this: most have waists that are the same size, if not smaller, than their necks, while many others have wrists that are smaller than their eyes (I’m looking at you, Ariel, Anna, Elsa and Rapunzel). And as always, it’s clear Barbie isn’t a great health role model.

While it can be argued that children aren’t trying to construct a body image from these characters, it’s undeniable that they unconsciously absorb stereotypes from these protagonists. Female heroes are skinny. Male heroes are muscular. Villains, who are all depicted as undesirable in some way, are the only characters that break the “perfect body” mold. Cruella and Jafar are “too boney,” Ursula is “too heavy,” and any type of evil witch has a large nose and imperfect skin.

As children grow, this skinny propaganda worsens. As a preteen, I babysat often. I can still remember when a few kids turned on Disney Channel to see a commercial about proper portion sizing, brought to them by a politician and a few Disney stars. At such an impressionable age, these kids were listening to characters they knew and trusted telling them not to eat until they were full, but to eat until they were perfect.

While the “perfection” in question was supposed to be speaking about health rather than beauty, the message seemed a bit muddled coming from stick-like celebrities with unattainable beauty standards who all seemed surprised when the large portions they served themselves were nowhere small enough to be considered a “proper” serving size.

The young girl I was babysitting wondered aloud how the stars were so skinny if they had been eating so much more than the appropriate amount before they were told what was right. I couldn’t explain that it was their job to be prettier than us, so that was the skill they had mastered.

The lunches being served in cafeterias across the country went through a reform in the past few years, and kids’ relatively small lunches shrunk even more. Though arguments say that the calorie intake is much healthier for students, it’s impossible to stick a perfect calorie number on kids of all different shapes and sizes. What is filling for a petite young girl might not work for an older male athlete. This causes many students to grab fast food for a more fulfilling meal, or snack on unhealthy foods to tide themselves over, which causes more health-related issues than does a larger lunch.

In high school, physical fitness begins with your teacher calculating and describing your body fat index to you, or, if you’re unlucky, to everyone within earshot. I still remember my male teacher (which was difficult for a lot of female classmates) telling us to step on a scale, then explaining what the “proper” amount of body fat was for people of our various heights.

Meanwhile, we had girls throwing up in the bathroom so they could fit into the prom dresses they had already bought a size too small while others declined food in the cafeteria, saying they “just weren’t hungry” and wondering how long it would take them to be skinny enough to be pretty.

Teenagers are already comparing themselves with everyone else. At a time when it’s very important to fit in and be accepted, they are being told how their weight doesn’t coincide with the average.

While a health reform is a good idea, much of the skinny propaganda going on in the world is not. We need an increase of celebrities and movie stars of all shapes and sizes, not more people with “ideal” figures. Educating people about healthy eating habits is good, but much of the emphasis on restricting calorie intake and falling into a perfect weight category is skewed towards the negative.

“Perfect” weight is unique for your lifestyle and body type, and should be something discussed between yourself and a health care physician. Realistically, we need a reform for weight-shaming.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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