Opinion Blog: The Pressure to be Thin

May 2, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Posted by Caroline Foster
cfoster@smu.edu

Whether SMU women are sharing diet tips, experiencing remorse after eating anything “unhealthy” or idolizing super-skinny celebrities, the pressure to be thin on campus is anything but tiny.

With summer just around the corner, swimsuit season is on the radar and the pressure to look perfect increases. I know many girls who are changing their diet and exercise routines in ways that could be potentially harmful.

In a world where the average consumer is exposed to more than one thousand advertisements each day, it’s no wonder many feel the need to look a certain way. The unrealistic beauty ideal the media constantly shows can affect our self-esteem and contribute to an obsession with being thin.

In a recent study by Glamour Magazine, 97 percent of those surveyed said they had at least one “I hate my body” moment per day. The media’s constant presence can attribute to this. Especially when it typically shows the image of a thin female with large breasts, light skin and perfect features. Open any magazine and nearly every advertisement and editorial features a model with this look. It is this ideal that we as women strive to attain. We hope with insane amounts of dieting and exercise we can one day look like this.

But the media’s portrayal of the ideal model does not just affect American women. One of the main exports of the United States is the media; whether it’s television shows, movies, or magazines the U.S. media affects other countries as well.

In South Korea the trend is to have a surgical procedure on the eyes that makes them look rounder, more Western. In India skin lightening is all the rage, and one of the best selling beauty products is a lightening cream called Fair & Lovely. In Hong Kong weight loss centers litter the streets. Women flock to these establishments for procedures that decrease fat. These are just some of the examples of the western media’s effects around the world.

Fashion and fashion models are also prominent outlets for this body ideal. Many countries in Europe are taking positive steps in the fashion industry. In 2006, Madrid fashion week banned models with unhealthy Body Mass Indexes (BMI) from participating in the shows. London fashion week followed suit, and France tried to pass a bill banning media, including blogs, that promoted “excessive thinness.”

Researchers agree that the effects of the media are real, especially on body image. The images can contribute to body dissatisfaction, or in extreme cases, to eating disorders. But as the effects of the media are strong, why is it that other countries are being more proactive than the United States in showing healthier models?

The United States is taking a passive approach to the problem. The Council of Fashion Designers of America have recommendations for supporting a healthy atmosphere back stage at shows, but no regulations against using scary-skinny models.

Since it’s the Western media that affects millions of women, I think it is also their responsibility to use positive images as well. Advertisements like Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” are helping lead the way, but it seems other companies are slow to follow in Dove’s footsteps.

The majority of the media seems to show no concern for the images it shows, and the body ideals it is responsible for shaping. It seems the media is resistant to change and the images will continue to be shown. So, as women faced with pressure to look our best, remember the images you see in the media are not real, hours are spent photoshopping, airbrushing and perfecting them.

Obesity Increasing Among Americans

November 19, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Elena Harding
eharding@smu.edu

Have you seen an overweight person today? Chances are you have, and if current trends continue, the majority of Americans may be overweight or obese in 20 years.

According to the Sept. 23 study “A Heavy Burden” from George Washington University, half of all Americans will be obese by the year 2030 if the current trajectory continues. Another organization that operates out of George Washington University is Strategies To Overcome and Prevent, Obesity Alliance, or STOP. STOP predicts 100 percent of Americans could be obese by 2048.

Todd Whitthorne, president and chief executive officer of Cooper Concepts, Inc., and executive director of Cooper Wellness Program, a division of Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, said being overweight or obese is a side effect of modern society. Whitthorne said today in America people do not have to move if they do not want to, and they eat more then they need to.

“Then you factor in stress, you factor in comfort food and all the different things and the next thing you know you have a population where 68 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese,” Whitthorne said.

Not everyone agrees with the predictions. Cynthia Odgen, who studies the causes and controls of epidemic diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Maryland, said the increase in obesity has been stabilizing in the last decade.

“We know that the prevalence increased rapidly in the ’80s and the ’90s and then in the last decade there has been a slowing down, if not even a plateauing, in the prevalence,” Ogden said.

A study published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which Ogden co-authored, found that there were no significant differences from 2003 to 2008 for men once the analysis was adjusted for variables like age, racial and ethnic group. Similar conclusions were found for women from 1999 to 2008.

An obese person is defined as someone with a BMI, or body mass index, of 30 or above. An overweight person has a BMI greater than 25 but less than 30. Normal weight is a BMI over 18.5 and under 25. Underweight is anything under 18.5.

Find out which category you fall under here. Type in your height and weight. The website will calculate BMI from this information as well as ideal body weight, fat mass and other related information.

Although there is disagreement about how fast the obesity rate will rise or whether it is stabilizing, experts agree that the current rate is still too high. Texas experienced a statistically significant increase in adult obesity last year according to F as in Fat, an annual report from Trust for America’s Health, a tax-exempt advocacy organization.

Albert Lang, communications manager for Trust for America’s Health, said Texas tied with Ohio and was ranked the 13th most obese state in the nation. The obesity rate among adults in Texas is 29 percent. Texas ranks seventh in the U.S. for childhood obesity with 20.4 percent obesity among Texas children.

The study showed racial, regional and income disparities among the nation’s obese population. In 40 states, whites had a lower obesity rate than both African-Americans and Hispanics. People are also more likely to be obese in the south, which has 10 out of 11 of the highest adult obesity rates in the nation.

Income is another important factor in obesity. Adults who earn less than $15,000 a year are 10.8 percent more likely to be obese than adults who earn $50,000 or more.

Lang said there are many factors that contribute to the obesity of Texas. The high cost of food, unsafe neighborhoods and adult activity are big contributors. He said people who live in low income neighborhoods without services like their wealthier counterparts face additional challenges to maintaining a healthy weight and eating right.

“A person who lives in a neighborhood that doesn’t have access to a grocery store makes it really difficult to get the fresh and healthy foods,” Lang said. “You’re turning to the more processed foods which are not the best for you.”

In addition to a lack of access to healthy foods, a lot of communities do not have safe sidewalks or playgrounds, which give community members the opportunity to exercise in a safe manner without having to worry about crime or traffic.

On top of the health problems associated with obesity, including chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, it costs individuals more money to be obese or overweight than to be a normal weight.

‘A Heavy Burden’ from George Washington University estimated the annual costs of being overweight and obese in the United States. After analyzing factors like health costs, work-related costs and personal costs, the study approximated the overall tangible costs of being obese are $4,879 for women and $2,646 for men.

When the value of lost life-5.2 years for white males and 4.3 years for white females-is factored in, the cost jumps to $8,365 for women and $6,518 for men. The costs of being overweight-$524 for women and $432 for men-are much lower than the costs of being obese.

Medical bills are the most obvious cost associated with the overweight and obese. The study found that for overweight people, medical expenses make up $346 of the increased cost for overweight women (66 percent) and men (80 percent). Medical expenses make up the bulk of costs for obese men, at $1,474 or 80 percent. However, the same amount only makes up 30 percent of the costs for obese women.

The disparity in the cost of obesity between men and women is largely due to lost wages. Wages make up the second-largest cost for obese women of all races at $1,855 annually. This cost is even more significant when compared to men who lost no wages due to their extra weight. Other work-related costs, such as disability, sick leave and productivity, cost obese women $1,408, mostly due to sick leave, and obese men $1,028.

Because there are no published academic studies on consumer-related costs other than gasoline costs, they are an approximation. According to ‘A Heavy Burden:’ “anecdotal evidence suggests these costs could be significant.”

Susan MacGray is a Weight Watchers ambassador, diamond leader and member in Dallas. Weight Watchers is a weight loss program that includes a support group and assigns point values to food to make it easier to stay within healthy caloric intake each day.

She became a lifetime member three years ago when she reached her weight loss goal and has maintained that weight ever since. MacGray speculated that additional costs may be associated with assistive devices, like a bar to aid getting in and out of a bathtub, sold at specialty stores.

“Specialty stores for larger women are going to be more expensive than if you just went to Target,” MacGray said.