Today’s pop culture is obsessed with weight. Television shows focus on radical body makeovers and weight loss challenges and tabloids are teeming with photographs that glamorize emaciated celebrities. At the same time, however, headlines pose the question, “Are They Too Skinny?”
What's more baffling is that the advertisements within these same tabloid and beauty magazines include models with equally “skinny” physiques, which are scrutinized by the articles within.
So, what is an ideal body weight? How can we attain what seems to be an impossible balance?
Mixed messages regarding body image have created a dichotomy. Americans are obsessed with being “Hollywood” thin and beautiful, but intrigued by criticism of the models and celebrities they aim to resemble. The result—a country that is consumed with “looking good” and less concerned with overall health and wellbeing.
Warped perceptions of our physical appearance are created from the Barbie-type, airbrushed images that surround us everyday. With these unrealistic expectations, it is no wonder so many people are dissatisfied with their bodies, self-conscious and incapable of appreciating basic good health. This goes especially for women—4 out of 5 are unhappy with their bodies. The consequences: teenage girls plagued with self-scrutiny, pregnant women depriving themselves of essential nourishment in order to limit weight gain and the new prevalence of eating disorders among women in midlife.
Even pre-teen girls in America grow up with Barbie dolls, playing out scenes for what their adult lives could be. According to Marie Claire magazine, if Barbie were a real woman, she would be 7-foot-2 and possess these unlikely measurements: 40-inch bust, 22-inch waist and 36-inch hips.
On the flip side, obese individuals are viewed so negatively by the public that they are denied the peer encouragement that is necessary for them to make behavioral or lifestyle improvements. The common notion that obese individuals are both lazy and responsible for their situation has resulted in grave social repercussions—discrimination in the workplace, biased attitudes from health care professionals, barriers in interpersonal relationships, negative portrayals in the media and compromised quality of life.
The media has an essential role in ending the “thin-is-better” epidemic and cultivating a culture that is confident and health-conscious. It is highly unlikely, however, that the television, magazines and news outlets will shift their focus to highlight people with healthy and balanced lifestyles. The sad reality is that the current unrealistic and unhealthy images attract more attention and translate into financial gain.