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Is overweight the new normal?

Most of us don’t like to use the ‘f’ word. Labelling people who are overweight or obese as “real women or men”  may make us feel more comfortable in our own skin, but could this practice actually be normalising our weight crisis?

Photography: Getty Images/SipaSunday mornings just aren’t complete without reading The Sunday Telegraph– the print version that is. With coffee in hand, I read it from front to back – the news, Insider, the sport section, body+soul, the Sunday magazine and Agenda. Skimming over Agenda last Sunday, the article The Devil Wears Lycra caught my eye. The opinion piece by former magazine insider Steve Jackson provided an insight into the “fat-hating Australian glossies” and revealed three rules that ensure big sales of woman’s magazines, just as long as you don’t say the words “fat” or “obese”. According to Jackson, sticking to the following three rules brings in the big bucks:

  1. Bigger is better: Readers love fat celebrities as it makes them feel less guilty about their own body weight.
  2. Economy of scales: Before and after images of stars that started out overweight only to have dropped the kilos exercising for hours a day or eating nothing more than lettuce leaves and soup.
  3. Skinny is scary: Skinny celebs only sell magazines if they have baby joy, a dream wedding or are miserable.

While the media has been scrutinised for putting rake thin models in magazines and on the catwalk, they are now creating a new type of unhealthy by regularly showing overweight celebrities with headlines such as “real women”. As Jackson puts it in this article, “the inconvenient truth is none of these full-figured celebrities represent a healthy body image any more than the waif-thin model” and I have to say I kind of agree with his comment. While there is no doubt that promoting the super-skinny physique promotes unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits, it’s important that we don’t tip the scale too far to the other side where we normalise overweight and obesity. Particularly when more than 60 per cent of Australians are overweight or obese and when excess body fat is linked with conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancers, reproductive problems in women, psychological problems and sleep apnoea.

While more than 60 per cent of Australians are overweight or obese, survey results show that one in six Australians who are obese believe their weight meets health guidelines and 57 per cent of those who are overweight believe their weight is healthy. This lack of reality around our larger than healthy body weights is just one of the many barriers in the nation’s growing obesity epidemic. With more overweight or obese people in Australia than those of healthy weight, it’s the people who are a healthy weight that don’t appear to fit in. After all, obesity has been found to be socially contagious, with research from Harvard Medical School finding that you are 57 per cent more likely to become obese if a close friend becomes obese. However, the good news is that just like obesity, thinness is contagious too.

So that our perceptions of what is healthy is not skewed, we need to focus on promoting body sizes that are deemed healthy. This means images of bodies that promote healthy lifestyles and positive body image. If people follow a diet based on portion-controlled whole foods and restrict processed foods, exercise daily, get enough sleep, manage stress levels, take the time out to get some sun each day and enjoy some of life’s pleasures along the way, it’s hard to maintain a body weight that isn’t healthy. It’s these messages and images that need to be promoted in our magazines, on the web and on our television screens. Problem is, these images and messages don’t bring in the big bucks.

Do you think society is pushing a new type of unhealthy by marketing overweight celebrities as “real women”?



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