A study recently came out of Simon Fraser University and California State University entitled:
“The (Ironic) Dove Effect: Usage of Acceptance Cues for Larger Body Types Increases Unhealthy Behaviors”
The study states that body positive ad/body accepting campaigns such as the Dove campaigns are leading people to live unhealthier lifestyles, with unhealthy food choices, lack of exercise, etc. It also states that manufacturers and advertisers using plus size women is contributing to the increase in obesity rates in first world countries.
I was recently sent the study to read, and was asked my opinion on it by CBC. I was interviewed by Dan Burritt for the 6:00 pm news and although the interview was a great platform to get my opinion out there, I left feeling there was so much more I had to say. I decided to take to my blog to express my thoughts on this study.
First of all, I’d like to ask you, the reader, for your opinion. Has seeing my photos, or photos of any plus models, average women, or body positive campaigns ever led you to live a less healthy life? Have you thought…”oh well, she’s plus size, it must be ok to eat that deep fried mars bar?” Because this has never happened to me, nor have I ever heard of it happening to anyone. What you see on TV and in the media does not go hand in hand with what kind of food we put in our bodies and how healthy we are or choose to live. Sure people have role-models they look up to, or bodies they wish they had. That is natural…but linking these ideas to obesity is as absurd as saying watching the Victoria secret fashion show leads to anorexia. Eating disorders don't come from seeing a picture, and the same goes for obesity. I’m sure there are people out there who are influenced by the media, but both obesity and anorexia or eating disorders of any kind are SO much more complex than this study makes them out to be. We all have a different idea of health and we need to take that into consideration. It’s not simply about being happy in the body that you are in, but it is also about finding out what is healthy for YOU. Everyone’s body is different. There are things we can do to be healthier and there are things that are beyond our control. Striving to be the best version of ourselves is what we should all aim to do, instead of striving to be someone we are not. We cannot all be Victoria secret models. As beautiful as they are, there are many more definitions of beauty in the world, and we need to be accepting of ALL of them.
I found this study, and the way it was conducted to be very simplistic in thinking and did not count for the many many factors that lead to weight gain or loss. One cannot simply blame the media. There are FAR too many factors that go into someone’s weight. I feel another flaw in this study is that they fail to define “plus size” or “larger body type”. Do they define this as simply larger than someone with an eating disorder? But still thin? Normal “average” size? Or clinically obese? There are a WIDE range of body sizes, and they failed to touch on this, and how they define “plus size”. Without this definition, it’s hard to prove their point.
Let’s start with the food we put in our bodies. Yes, the general population has grown in body size over the past century. But let’s also think about the food we are now eating. Sugary foods, fast food, trans fats, processed food, additives, preservatives, and GMO’s. Those are not healthy, and for the most part, were not around 100 years ago. Although we all know how unhealthy these foods are, many low income earners simply cannot afford to eat all natural, organic food all the time. Sometimes in order to simply put food on the table, it needs to be mac and cheese or McDonalds. I’m sure it’s not ideal for them, but who are we to judge? Also medications that a lot of us find ourselves on at one point or another may cause one to gain or lose weight drastically. As the average size grows, as will the mannequins we see in stores, models used, and sizes of clothing. That is just natural, normal and expected! But with that said, I try to eat as healthy as I can and I am still a comfortable size 12. When I was my smallest (a size 8, which by the way is the standard in the industry of “plus size”…anything size 8 and up) I was NOT healthy and was striving to be a size 2, which would be completely unnatural on my frame. Not everyone is built the same and to say we all need to be a certain size or shape is small minded and quite frankly, unrealistic.
In the 1700 and 1800’s plus size and Rubenesque women were considered the idealistic female form, but there is little to no evidence that the obesity rate in that era is greater than it is now! Obesity’s definition is a medical term describing people who significant medical problems caused by or made worse by their weight.
The study also speaks of BMI (Body Mass Index) quite often and how people who have a high BMI are considered overweight or obese. BMI is NOT a valid way to rate one’s health as it does not take into consideration the person’s, bone mass, muscle mass, etc. BMI cannot be used as an accurate gauge of someone’s health. It can be a hint, but not the be all and end all.
Just the other day, a photo was posted of me 4 years ago, and about 30lbs lighter. One comment was made how I have ballooned in weight since then and it must be a thyroid condition. We need to all remember that health and weight do not go hand in hand. A person who is a size 0 can be just as healthy as someone who is a size 22. On the other hand, the same goes for being unhealthy. You cannot judge someone’s health by their weight. Only a doctor can do that, and it is certainly no-one else’s business. For example…for me, 4 years ago, and 30lbs ago, I was NOT healthy. I would go days without eating, and was doing some self-destructive things (smoking, etc.) to prevent me from gaining weight. I was depressed, anxious, and going through some seriously stressful times (we all know what stress can do to the body). I am healthier now than I ever was then. I am on medication for my depression (which lead me to gain weight but I am ok with that, as my mindset is much better), I eat healthy, but indulge when I want. I work out, but don’t stress about it, and quit doing things to myself that were compromising my health. I’m much happier, less stressed, and although I am 30 lbs heavier, I am MUCH healthier!
Me 4 years ago, and me a few months ago. A size 8 vs a size 12-14
Although I don’t feel this study was done with malicious intent, the root of it is still body shaming those without the “ideal” shape. They failed to take so many things into consideration, as stated above, and one cannot simply determine someone’s health by looking at them, or, in the study’s case, seeing how many chocolates were eaten when watching an ad. That simply isn’t the basis for conclusive argument. For example, there are MANY factors that may have gone into why the chocolates were/were not eaten. Someone may hate chocolate, someone may love it, someone may have just eaten a huge meal and wasn’t hungry, or someone might have not eaten anything yet that day. Also, I don’t know about you, but if I’m snacking while watching TV (or in this case, and ad) I’m not paying attention to how much I’m eating. The same could be said about the second part of the study where participants were asked to create their ideal meal out of the given choices after watching said ads. Some may have dietary restrictions; some people may have a certain craving, or perhaps weren’t feeling great and didn’t want much food. There are so many factors that go into these decisions, that it is nearly impossible for this study to put the sole blame on ads and media.
At the end of the day, plenty of naturally tiny girls are healthy, and many naturally bigger girls are healthy, so the message is, be who you are and be healthy. If you're a size 0 because you have a diagnosed eating disorder then you should seek help. If you're a size 22 and your doctor has told you you're morbidly obese and in danger of diabetes, then you should seek help. I don’t feel that I am promoting obesity being a plus model, I am simply trying to promote acceptance and show the world that the spectrum of beauty is broader than size 0-4. My message is to help people be happy and healthy. This means showing a new standard of beauty that is most often represented in the media.
I'm sure that eating disorder experts would scoff at the idea that developing an eating disorder is directly correlated to the size of models in the Victoria secret fashionshow. Plenty of people see beautiful size 0's and don't suddenly develop an eating disorder! Plenty of people see beautiful size 22's and don't seek to put on weight! The great thing about size 0 - 22 (or whatever size!) models is that every one can find their place on the beauty spectrum. Health is a non-negotiable. Everyone should be healthy, but that looks different for everyone. Saying that a size 8 is the best, most healthy size is unreasonable because every 'body' is different. It should be stressed that saying that being plus size automatically means you're unhealthy is just wrong. I see plenty of people running marathons that have nothing close to a thigh gap and have taped their chest down to keep it from making them uncomfortable for them as they run.
I would like to finish by saying that people are worth so much more than their body, and looks. As I go into the New Year, my resolution will be to compliment people on things OTHER than their appearance. There is so much pressure in the media and society to be “pretty” and “perfect”, but to me, that’s not what makes a person. I didn’t choose my friends or fiancé by how they look. I chose them because of their hearts, their brains, how they make me laugh, and how I feel good when I’m around them. The world needs to stop putting such an emphasis (especially on women) on how they look. In the future, at my funeral, I would hope people have more to say about me than “she was pretty”.