“According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 70 percent of men are overweight, compared with 52 percent of women.” –Salon.com
It’s no secret that women suffer the most from media perception of “beauty.” I’m definitely one of them. Every time Lady Gaga gets half-nekkid or Giselle Bundchen is featured in yet another commercial, I just want to stop eating. But the truth is I couldn’t be anorexic if I tried and I’m never capable of vomiting, so bulimia has always been out, too. (Not that I’m saying I would or ever wanted to, but it’s something that crosses every teenage girl’s mind at some point.) I’m the type who’s more likely to head to the kitchen and poor myself a big glass of wine and grab for the vegan chocolates when I see super sculpted hot chicks on TV and in magazines. Even as I watched Kate Middleton and her sister Pippa Friday morning during the royal wedding with their super-fantastic and enviable figures did I look down at my post-breakfast balloon belly and pout.
I don’t need any of you to tell me that’s a horrible way to think; I’m well aware. But it’s not easy to change the way you think. That’s like telling someone to just get over a relationship immediately after a break up. But I’m not writing this to talk about how the media kills girls’ self-esteem. Well, not entirely.
Here’s an interesting statistic: “Women are much more likely than men to develop an eating disorder. Only an estimated 5 to 15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are male”—this from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. From this, I’m going to draw, for the sake of this piece, the conclusion that women are more negatively affected by images of women in media than men … Or are they?
Salon.com published a piece last week called “Why the fat guy should lose his privilege.” It stemmed from a recently revealed Weight Watchers marketing plan to target men. But the Salon.com piece poses a very interesting question: why is it more acceptable for a man to be overweight? It’s a question I often ask myself, especially when I see so many more large men on the subways than I do fit, built men. There are way more hot women in New York than hot men, and not just because the ladies outnumber the fellas in general (9.61% more females, to be exact).
We see female actresses persecuted in the media for being overweight (like Kirstie Alley) and celebrated for dropping pounds (Sara Rue and Valerie Bertenelli for Jenny Craig and Jennifer Hudson for Weight Watchers). Not because they’re going to be healthy, but because they look good. Success stories like Kelly Osbourne and her 50lb drop should be celebrated, but not because she looks awesome, rather because she did it in a healthy way: hitting the gym and changing her diet. Doing it right and living a healthy lifestyle should be the takeaway.
We don’t really celebrate the weight loss of male actors like we do the females. Remember when Wayne Knight of “Seinfeld” and Jurassic Park lost 117 pounds, and declared that he did it all through eating better and steady exercise? No? Because it was generally ignored in the media. Even if you do a Google search for it now, there aren’t any major pieces that come up. I think Al Roker’s gastric bypass weight-loss got more media attention. (I’m generally opposed to gastric bypass and its relative procedures, except in do-or-die situations). A celebrity losing weight and doing it the healthy “old fashioned” way is really something to applaud and promote.
“The real explanation for the gender disparity is found in a chauvinist culture whose double standards demand physical perfection from women while simultaneously celebrating male corpulence.” –Salon.com
So why do we revere these overweight men? No one ever questions or criticizes their looks. People love Chris Christie and James Gandolfini. These overweight men exude power. I mean, who would you rather go hand-to-hand with? Mike Bloomberg or Chris Christie? And it’s not just politics and it’s not just actors. According to the Salon.com article, “55 percent of Major League Baseball players are overweight” and “56 percent of National Football League players are obese.”
I’m sorry, but that is unacceptable!
What kind of health standard does that set for the kids who look up to these guys? It’s no wonder baseball players have to hit farther out into the field: they can’t run fast enough to get to first base on a short hit!
It’s not just the lop-sided weight-image battle of men vs. women, but the general acceptance of body extremes in this country! It’s no secret that I’ve said some cruel things about fat people in the past, but my perception of bodies has changed. My primary concern is people’s health; how can you not want to take care of your body? We digest the information that we’re the fattest nation in the world, and we all know that being overweight can lead to myriad diseases, health problems, and early death, yet we do nothing to help solve the crisis. All of our weight loss propaganda leads to looking good and doing it in the easiest possible way, rarely ever focusing on being healthy during or after the process. The correlation of “losing weight and looking great” is what leads so many women to eating disorders. Eating disorders kill and obesity slaughters.
We are fortunate to live in an age where it’s medically proven what works for the body and what doesn’t: Exercise and a healthy, balanced diet. What is so difficult about that? (Okay, the former I understand is tough—for me, too—but the latter?) It comes down to simple, basic health and nutritional education. And sadly, that’s not something we value in our public education system, which means that it’s up to parents, almost exclusively, to teach good eating and exercise habits to their kids in a positive way, and set an example by living a healthy lifestyle. That would include exercise and eating, and not decrying “I’m so fat!” “I’m so ugly!” in front of your mini-yous, because healthy lives include healthy bodies and minds.
“So powerful is this double standard that America barely flinched when the morbidly obese [Rush] Limbaugh criticized the svelte Michelle Obama for ‘not project(ing) the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.’” –Salon.com
Venerating large men and super-thin, sculpted women sends kids and teens the message that it’s okay for boys to be fat and that girls should strive to be thin. He can be physically lazy, guzzling beer and mowing down three pizzas, but she needs to deprive herself of all things delicious and hit the gym three hours a day. In fact, Little Girl, take this fashion magazine and start comparing yourself to all the models! My most recent media boner-killer hit my mailbox just last week in the form of Allure magazine. The largest text on the cover read, “How to Look Better Naked.” Beneath that: “Blast Your Belly Fat.” And then the third largest text: “Scary Skinny.”
So, basically: “You can get a great body by following our tips, but you also might die trying.” Eff. That.
Here’s my bottom line: The acceptance of large men and the demand for thin women is harmful to everyone. The larger the man, the more likely he is to have severe health issues from being overweight. The tinier the woman, the more likely she is to have severe health issues from being underweight.
This is a serious problem.