One of my favorite shows to watch on the Internet is on YouTube and it’s called “Taboo.” Essentially, the show takes cultural taboos across multiple nations and interviews residents of the nations so as to document their perspectives.
I happened to be watching an episode last night on what defines beauty. The documentary began with a buxom woman named Shayla, who has had over 30 operations in order to conform to a standard of beauty not necessarily her own. I couldn’t help but marvel over her looks, but not in a particularly beneficial way. Her breasts were, as she said in interview, the size of basketballs and that’s not an exaggeration.
Midway through the documentary Shayla had gone for yet another cosmetic surgery, but while under the knife her surgeon found that the skin around her enhancements had infected lesions. When she was told that the size of her breasts would have to be reduced, Shayla broke down in tears, sobbing that she could not possibly part with these attributes as her entire worth as a human being was tied up in the fetishizing of her body.
Shayla, as the reader may have surmised, has body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is a mental disorder that affects one in 100 individuals according to the National Health Service of the United Kingdom (NHS UK). People with BDD often have extremely low self-confidence. They often exhibit extreme interest in comparing their looks to others, spend innumerable hours trying to conceal what they perceive as a defect and become fixated or distressed by a particular area of the body. Ultimately, sufferers of BDD seek medical treatment for their perceived defect.
So, why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this as a preface to a larger social movement I’d like to talk to about. This movement is the body positivity movement that has swept through and is still permeating industrialized nations, including America. I say industrialized because it takes an industrialized nation that consumes billions of dollars in cosmetics, clothing and “beauty” propaganda to adopt a movement centered around rejecting these cultural norms. Recently, over various social media sites, the idea of body positivity has become a new phenomenon. And honestly, this is fantastic. I’m all for this movement that floats affirmative messages in the digital ether. But, as always, I worry about the all-encompassing message that these agendas and campaigns foster.
Body positivity’s underlying aim is to reclaim the body and reject the notion that Westernized beauty must always fall under the categories of Caucasian, able-bodied, heterosexual and thin. Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree with this tenant. The way America defines beauty is strictly by the male gaze and completely disqualifies critical attributes that actually do have meaning, like intellect and empathy. From our billboards to our magazines, the concept of the bleach-blonde, tropically-tanned, blueeyed, anorexic is force-fed to us whether through objectification or sublimation. As someone who religiously tries to look the other way when these cookie-cutter ideals are pushed to the forefront, I will say that every now and then I find myself feeling sad that I lopped off my long blonde hair or spent hours forcing myself to run mile after exhaustive mile to attain a figure I wouldn’t maintain after the first delicious bite of a Van Houten doughnut.
The thing is, I limited how many doughnuts I consumed. I decided to go to the gym once or twice a week, albeit begrudgingly. I learned that life was a balance and that my happiest, healthiest self, was one that compromised and reconciled desires with antipathy for sweat. I learned to love my body in a society where my thighs are considered too thick, my height too average and my fashion sense too quirky for Seventeen magazine. It’s my sincere hope that both women and men will find happiness with their own bodies, but there’s an exception I think we, as a society, need to accept. The exception is that body positivity shouldn’t be inclusive for those who are morbidly obese.
I feel this is a topic no one wants to breach because it’s obviously, pun intended, the elephant in the room. Obesity is a disease and should be treated as such. In America, we trail one nation in obesity, Mexico. Our health problem in America has grown so voraciously that it’s now been labeled an epidemic. Receiving the title of epidemic is no easy feat. For a disease to reach epidemic proportions it must effect the majority of the general public’s health in detrimental ways, as well as posit a threat to the longevity of health in both quality of life and financial expenditures. In obesity’s case, the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are all statistical threats to people who do not actively try to make lifestyle adjustments.
Allowing the body positivity movement to encompass the morbidly obese is allowing a large section of our society to not only accept, but also embrace their disease. I often receive quite a bit of flak for voicing this opinion, but I feel that this is often misdirected. I am not saying that people who are overweight are unattractive, or that they should not accept themselves for who they are as a person regardless of their weight. I am saying, however, that they should not accept and embrace a body that is predisposed to have high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, and high LDL (bad cholesterol) and wait complacently for Type 2 diabetes.
If the physical side to obesity is not alarming enough, consider the mental health detriments to being obese. According to thestateofobesity.org, obese adults are “more likely to have depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions than healthyweight adults.” In the study, the odds of experiencing any mood disorder rose by 56 percent among obese individuals. I think it’s safe to say, we need to stop encouraging the 34 percent of our population that is obese to embrace their current physical state.
Our generation, the millenial generation, is the first generation in which the projected majority is not expected to outlive our parents. It’s interesting to me that the world we live in is one in which the dichotomy between the Shayla’s and the Kim Kardashian’s are beginning to be starkly contrasted by women’s rights advocates and selflove propaganda. Though this propaganda is likely exclusively a marketing ploy, at least the gimmicks of our corporations are now aimed at inclusivity and rejecting conventional beauty.
Our nation has a long way to go before it begins to accept that there is a vast disconnect between the images on our television screens and the lives we should be living, but for now I think the best option has been laid out before us: Accept and love yourself as much as you can, but always note where there could be room for improvement.
Emma Giering is the voices editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.