This article may be a bit controversial, but I’d like to share my mixed feelings on a cultural phenomenon that is happening all around us. Let me start by telling you a story. On a hot summer evening a few weeks ago, my family and I went to an outdoor concert on our town green. There was a group of young women enjoying the show and having a picnic on the grass in front of us.
Every one of these young ladies was significantly overweight, and two of them were well within the category of “morbidly obese” (a BMI over 40). They were all dressed in very revealing clothing, “letting it all hang out,” if you will. They were comfortable and confident in themselves and having a great time. It was a great show and everybody had a blast.
My experience that evening left me with strongly conflicted emotions. On the one hand, I felt proud. Proud for those women… and proud to live in my community where they could comfortably be themselves without worrying about being shamed for how they look. These were confident young women who were not afraid to dress the way they wanted. They were comfortable in themselves, accepting of their bodies, and that was a beautiful thing to see.
A few days later I came across this article published by the The American Psychological Association, which validated the source of my pride. Based on research performed over the last 31 years, they found that women have been getting more and more accepting of their bodies over the years. This is encouraging news, as poor body image is associated with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. What I saw in front of me at the concert that night was a perfect example of what this research found: more comfort, confidence, acceptance, and positivity around body image. It’s wonderful that women are more accepting of their bodies as they are, without feeling the need to cover up, as was the case throughout much of history.
I have no question that this finding is a positive social trend… but there is a serious downside as well. Being overweight or obese is not normal and not healthy, and although body positivity is a wonderful thing, we should not allow obesity to become our new normal. More than two thirds of American adults are now overweight or obese… it has become an epidemic that is out of control and is strongly associated with the risk of chronic disease. We should not be proud that obesity has indeed become our new normal. I am concerned that the women in front of us at the concert felt more comfortable than they would have twenty years ago because these days… they are just like everybody else.
Obesity has become so common that we have gotten to the point that we’re almost blind to it now. This has a positive effect on body image, but it is an otherwise dangerous societal trend. Everyone should love themselves and be comfortable with who they are: I just wish that we had a healthier reason to be confident than dangerously escalating obesity levels. It’s a touchy subject, but our nation’s health is in serious danger, and that’s something we must address.
I have decided to leave the conversation about what those young women were eating at their picnic for another post… but I’m sure you can imagine that the solution to this dilemma starts with changing what’s in that picnic basket.
– Dr. Joshua Levitt