Parent, Teacher, Author
In the article linked below from Adios Barbie, Claire Mysko talks about the down side of celebrity weight loss. What she points out that I think is interesting is that several female celebrities who have recently lost quite a bit of weight seem to feel a bit uncomfortable with all of the attention that their weight loss has created. In an interview with PEOPLE magazine, Raven Symone said about her weight loss, “I thought I looked fabulous before and nobody else did, so, whatever.” In the same interview, Symone points out something else that is important for us to think about, she says “Actually, now I wear bigger clothes because I don’t like the way people stare at me. I liked it before. Now, you’re just looking at me for the wrong reasons. Before, you were actually looking at me for a real reason (emphasis mine).”
This is similar to the thoughts that Jennifer Hudson has been expressing about the attention that her own weight loss has created. Hudson is an amazing singer and Academy Award winning actor, and yet, the thing most people care about right now is her dress size. The Culture of Celebrity that promotes appearance and sex appeal as the most important thing about a female does care more about dress size than talent. Who cares if you can sing, let us see you in a bikini, then we’ll decide if you’re worthy. We’ll put you on the cover of a magazine and circle all your cellulite.
There are serious female singers and actors who seem to opt out of this scrutiny, often by making an effort not to be a part of the Hollywood culture of celebrity. Take Meryl Streep for example, perhaps it’s the fact that she’s over 40 that allows her to be immune from this kind of physical examination and expectation. Whatever the case may be, the entertainment industry has begun to put such a heavy emphasis on the Thin Ideal that it’s difficult for female artists not to be impacted. I’m all for being healthy and strong, and this hyper focus on thinness for females is not healthy. In the book Reality Bites Back, Jennifer Pozner talks about how in many reality TV shows, especially those such as America’s Next Top Model thinness is equated with health. Pozner talks about how in that show healthy women are labeled “plus size” while those who are clearly underweight are called “healthy.” A body mass index below 18 is considered underweight by medical professionals, and yet many, many celebrities that are praised in the media for their “healthy” figures clearly fall below this.
As someone who works with children, I believe that it’s vitally important to talk with them about health. Yes, obesity is on the rise and is a clear threat to health. But instead of focusing on thinness as the door to healthy, we need to be talking about strength. Being able to do the things one enjoys most in life, like running and playing, should be the way that we frame health for our children. Our bodies are like amazing, complex machines that provide us with the ability to get so much joy out of life when they’re working in the right way. This is what we want to promote, not thinness for its own sake.
Our children also need to be hearing from us about their talents. At one point, one of my daughters got involved in a sport that she loved and began to play quite often. Though she wasn’t overweight before, she did start getting comments about how thin she had gotten. Her reaction reminded me of Symone’s above. She was excited about her new-found talent at this sport and how fun it was, not about her weight. In fact, she didn’t care about that at all, but about the fact that she had gotten faster and stronger. When you’re talking with children and adolescents, be sure that you compliment them on things other than their appearance. Notice and mention their humor, their beautiful singing voice, their talent in basketball or basket weaving, whatever it is that they love and are good at, talk with them about it. If you need to approach the issue of healthy weight with a child, when they know that you see so much more in them than their size, the conversation will be easier. The Thin Ideal is toxic because it focuses us on all the wrong things. Let’s move our focus onto all of the strengths and talents that we and our kids have and how we can use them to make this world a better place.