The Attractiveness Trap: Why We Are Dying to Be Thin

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

     "Beauty is only skin deep" so the saying goes—but in our image conscious society it would be more accurate to say that it "goes all the way to the bone"!  Our desires to be attractive run very deep, and consciously or unconsciously, we receive the messages our society gives on what is beautiful.

From Sleeping Beauty to Jennifer Aniston
    From childhood, little girls internalize images of Barbie, Disney heroines, and the overwhelming use of thin women for T.V., movie roles and advertising.  Is it any wonder that attitudes in favor of being thin are already being formed by age three?  Unbelievably, many elementary girls are more afraid of looking fat than losing their parents, getting cancer, or a nuclear war!  This just goes to show how close to home these media images are brought to young people's minds.

BMI and Health
     Many health authorities recommend a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 for good health.  Any body type or weight above this is considered overweight or obese.  Yet, research reveals people with a BMI of 25 to 29 (approx. 5 to 50 pounds over so-called 'ideal bodyweight') are regularly amongst the healthiest and most long-lived.  Those with a BMI under 23 are actually at the most risk of premature death!  So then, why do we want to have a BMI under 23?

BMI and Attractiveness
     A few generations ago celebrities wore a size 12 (Marilyn Monroe once wore size 14!).  Today a size 0 or 2 is not unusual.  Hard to believe?  Consider this study that British researchers did with undergrad college students: 40 male students were asked to look at the bodies (the faces were not revealed) of 50 women of varying shapes and sizes.  In the past it was recognized that men evaluated a woman's attractiveness by her waist to hip ratio.  But these young men showed no concern for that.  Time and again the determinant of physical beauty in their eyes was a BMI of about 20, and this correlates with what is held up in the media of our day.  Undoubtedly, we are an aesthetic people that appreciates beauty. And there really is nothing wrong with that.  In fact I would argue that a person who does not take care of him/herself and care for their physical appearance has something wrong with them.  But that is not to imply that beauty can only come in a rail thin package –no matter what college undergrads think.

What About Me?
     But all this brings us back to you—your own self-image, health, BMI, and well being.  If your BMI is already 19 should you try to gain weight for your health? If you have a BMI of 28 should you try to lose to be more attractive to others?  Really, only you can answer those questions.  Here are five principles and realities you should consider when making your decisions:

#1. You are made in the image of God, and are therefore inherently beautiful.
#2.  A life of inactivity and junk food can cause you to weigh more than you naturally might when following a healthier lifestyle.
#3.  People have different "natural" set points for weight.  Some higher, some lower.  Those who are naturally thin can maintain a lower BMI like 20 or 21 without any particular effort on their part.  They may need to make sure they eat enough and weight train though, to keep their lean body mass from getting too low for good health.  
#4.  Conversely, some who eat and exercise sensibly may find they are still heavier than they'd like. Many times, these too, are perfectly healthy and should not worry that the added pounds will cause any health concerns.  However, any attempt to become smaller should NOT be done by consistent low calorie dieting.
#5. Very low calorie diets are a mistake for virtually all people as a fat loss method (especially women) because they prime the fat cells for greater storage when the diet is over. 

Women already have greater fat storing enzymes than men, without also priming them by very low calorie diets!

     All in all, if you will commit yourself to learning about your own unique body, feeding it wholesome, high quality foods, and exercising intelligently and hard—you may find that your questions about ideal weight and beauty simply disappear.  You'll have learned to love and appreciate the ideal "you" staring back at you in the mirror!

Submitted by: Thomas Morrison, Fitness Coordinator, Bradley Wellness Center