Bust out the hankies and bring on the hysteria, it is the ten year anniversary of Love Your Body Day and it is coming to a university near you! To celebrate you can play body-image boosting computer games like “Feed the Model” on AdiosBarbie.com, rail about the virtues of being a “thick chick,” and listen to testimonials from women who do not like their thighs.
The ostensible purpose of Love Your Body Day is laudable-to encourage acceptance of all body types, and raise awareness of anorexia and bulimia. But while no one is proposing a Loath Your Body Day, Love Your Body Day is problematic because while event sponsors fixate on eating disorders and thin models they overlook the far more common problem of obesity. And in a land of super-sized ambulances and toilets built to withstand up to 1,200 pounds, America’s obesity problem is well, big.
The National Organization for Women recommends the following activities for Love Your Body Day: host an “indulgence party” and encourage friends to come over clad in pajamas and eat “silly snacks” and decadent foods without guilt. Or you could take a survey on body image in order to determine which “ads or images or characters most represent an oppressive beauty standard.” Lastly, you should try to find time to host a mock beauty pageant in protest of dangerous beauty standards that pit women against each other. The key to Love Your Body Day is subverting the beauty institution.
Routinely trotted out at Love Your Body Day are scare statistics like the one from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders claiming that 81 percent of ten year olds were dieters. However the survey defines dieting so broadly that essentially anyone refraining from eating anything is considered a dieter.
The extraordinary lengths we women got to in pursuit of a slim figure appear to stop short of eating fewer calories or exercise, given that nearly two thirds of American women meet the government’s definition of being overweight or obese. “Am I Thin Enough Yet?” asks Sharlene Hesse-Biber in her book The Cult of Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity. Probably not. According to a 2002 Center for Disease Control report, the average American woman between 18 and 74 stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 164 pounds. This is nearly 25 pounds heavier than the average 1960s woman.
According to Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff, despite all of the feminist fuss over the beauty industry’s harmful affect on women, thin fashion models are not responsible for anorexia. “With more than one-third of the United States population obese, there is no indication that the plethora of thin bodies around us is creating a society of thin people at all.” If there is any relationship between the weight of fashion models and that of the average woman, it is in inverse proportion to what one would expect. While 1960s models were somewhat heavier than today’s models, the average woman was thinner. Because thin fashion models are not the cause of anorexia, thicker ones are not the solution.
Despite assertions to the contrary, psychological research does not support the idea that exposure to fashion models makes women insecure about themselves for any lengthy duration. For the most part, people feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses, not the Rockefellers. Watching NFL games does not make men insecure about their athletic ability and too self-conscious to play football with their friends or family. Similarly, for most women, world-renowned beauties in fashion magazines are in a different league. Instead most women judge themselves according to the standards of the neighborhood beauty contest, not a world-wide one.
This isn’t to say that many women don’t put too much emphasis on their appearance and waste time obsessing about weight loss. Many women diet unsuccessfully, compare themselves unfavorably to models, and feel dissatisfied with their body. But feeling self-conscious about one’s body should not be confused with a serious, potentially deadly, psychiatric disorder. The problem of anorexia is real, but so is the problem of obesity, and it is far more widespread and also deserves more attention and resources. Love Your Body Day places a disproportionate amount of attention on battling models and eating disorders. If healthy minds and bodies are our ultimate goal, the main focus should be the battle of the bulge.
Arrah Nielsen is a former junior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.