Around the lunch table the other day, a few coworkers and I discussed food, healthy eating, and body image (brought on by an amateur analysis of trans- and partially-hydrogenated fats and their banning in NYC). Yesterday while scanning my iGoogle (I love that thing), I ran across this Alternet article on a similar topic. The article spends a decent amount of time talking about deceptive lures and health risks of diet pills (has anyone seen Requiem for a Dream?) as well as some interesting points regarding the myth of obesity, a section about other countries’ diets, and the “set point weight” of our bodies.
It is important that we figure out a way to advocate for healthy bodies (not just thinner bodies). A high point of the lunchtime conversation was our distinction between approaching nutrition from a “good/bad” perspective versus what is healthy, and presenting alternatives of how to better utilize what our bodies have and need. For example, we talked about “good cholesterol/bad cholesterol” and “good fats/bad fats” versus all cholesterol is good and all natural fats are good, and it is the amount, ratio, and source of each that we put into our bodies that matters.
In regard to the media’s manipulative depictions of health (read: thinness) and the idea of skinnier = happier, while the equation is hooey, it often does play out in an individual’s social circles and even their own psyche. Though damaging, distorted, and deceptive, I have found some real-life experiential evidence for that equation. After I dropped 35 pounds in about a month during my senior year in high school, there was a significant increase in the attention that I received (as well as it being much friendlier). I also felt better about myself (self-confidence, success, and good-feeling neurochemicals = a synergistic boost to the self-esteem) and enjoyed the positive reinforcement I was receiving from those around me. You really do feel “happier” sometimes – proud of yourself. And if you do not internally feel happy (but instead distressed, irritable, anxious, consumed), other people are telling you that you should be happy through their constant affirmation.
Further, in contrast to the feminist critique that women are told “to be less powerful, less emotional, less hungry, and to assume less space in the world,” from my experience and conversations with friends, this criticism is not always widely felt. By more recent ideals for women, we are expected to be successful, professional, and to excel at everything; we are to be the best, to be noticed, and to be thin and beautiful. This is the unattainable perfection we have been charged with.
In addition, I am a little wary of the “love your body day” mentioned in the article because of the way these types of reactions to an unjust point of view are often perceived by the masses. Instead of “I love my body and thus do not need to listen to people who tear me down, but at the same time realize the importance of taking good care of my body,” it is usually, “I’m just fine the way I am even if I’m at risk of a heart attack because I starve myself while binging and purging or because I am obese and stressing my body, so screw you,” and nothing is accomplished.
All of these things together contribute to a false idea, even a false reality, of what women should be and are, what health should be and is, and how both can be and are achieved. I would like to see a more holistic approach to body acceptance and love, nutrition, and overall physical, emotional, and psychological health. It seems obvious, but here in the United States we seem to be having a rather hard time at achieving such a healthy state.
Katie Van Loo is the marketing and circulation assistant for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.