I was recently led by the twisting maze of "related links" to a certain site for followers and lovers of the "skinny look." What led me there was a rather rude and controversial series of their posts insulting full-figured models, but what piqued my interest was their response to criticism. Specifically, I was interested in their defense of the skinny look as being "healthy" and their assertion that they do not support or encourage eating disorders. They are just about people being healthy, folks. Who could disagree with that?
Well, I disagree with the idea of the skinny look as healthy for everyone. Here's why. Most human traits follow what's known as a normal distribution, or the bell curve. Extrapolating from this model, genetically speaking, the level of "skinny" this website supports naturally occurs in a small segment of the population. Few women are hard-wired to be a size 0 without serious effort. Those people are, in the general vernacular, skinny little bitches. Or at least, that's what us hefty size 6's call them when they aren't around.
Expanding outward statistically, you would see a larger group (no pun intended) of women who are hard-wired to be a bit bigger, maybe a 2 or a 4, but can become a 0 by force. Go further out and you continue to increase until you hit the average size, and then you drop back off towards the obese end of the spectrum with fewer and fewer women genetically inclined to that group.
Now pretend to pull a singular woman off some point on that spectrum. She will have her own bell curve... her average weight over time in the middle, with her leanest and heaviest weights bounding the curve. Still with me? Ok, pretend you pull a woman from the left side of the graph, with her average size a 2. Her personal curve may range from 00 to 6. Now pull an imaginary woman from the other end. If her average size is a 14, then her personal range probably doesn't even come close to 0. Her bone structure may not even permit it.
Oh, I can hear you arguing... "Everyone wants to say they are 'big boned' and it's a load of bull!" Yes and no. Some women are genuinely larger figured. I once had the occasion to view a plastic surgeon's "brag book" or pervious clients. On one page he showed me a picture of a slender woman with comically large implants. Several pages later, another woman looked like she had maybe a B cup. The women had the same exact size implants. So how was one of them a quadruple F and the other a barely B? The second woman was built like Dog the Bounty Hunter. Her chest measurement had to be 44 inches. And she wasn't fat... she just had a HUGE frame. So yes, big boned is for real... sometimes. The point where it's a load of bull is when women (and men) use their large frame as an excuse for carrying massive amounts of body fat and living in the MacDonald's drive thru.
But I digress... back to the point of all that mumbo jumbo statistics junk... "healthy" is not the same as "skinny." At least, not for everyone.
Supporting or advancing the skinny aesthetic is only promoting a healthy look for a segment of the population, and probably a pretty small one at that. For the rest, it's a different story, and here is where the problem begins. When you take the super-skinny look and promote it to everyone as the ideal for all and the goal for every woman, you place women in a difficult position. Either blow it off, accept defeat, or engage in unhealthy behaviors to attempt to attain a look that is not healthy for them.
Blowing it off is a tall order for most women today. Now, I'm not blaming the fashion industry. The models in the magazines are part of that far end of the bell curve, so let's assume these are healthy women. If that assumption holds true, then the industry doesn't create skinny girls, it just employs them. Sort of like saying the Wizard of Oz movie didn't create midgets, it just gave them screen time.
The problem is taking images of that small segment of the population and bombarding the rest of the population with them. It's a lot of exposure, and it's hard to ignore. It also promotes this ideal to the menfolk, and we women of the hetero persuasion have a tendency to try to impress these dudes. At least, until we hook them. Then it's back to the mean value!! At any rate, even if we don't directly respond to the influence of the magazines, we find ourselves indirectly responding to them through the men we attempt to wrangle into a contractual relationship.
Accepting defeat is dangerous, too. Giving up does not encourage getting healthy! It encourages a devil-may-care return to the Chocolate Wonderfall because who cares? I'm never going to be one of those skinny bitches anyway, so I might as well enjoy myself.
Then there's the third option. This one is so very sad, and it flies directly in the face of claims that the skinny look is about being healthy. It's also the most dangerous, because the largest segment of a bell curve population falls into the middle... where skinny is too far away to be healthy but just close enough to look possible. And getting there is not pretty.
All of this just means that if you want people to be healthy, then you can't tell them how to look doing it. Promoting a healthy ideal shouldn't be about trashing and slamming everyone over a size 4. It should be about encouraging a certain lifestyle, fitness level, body fat percentage, hell even the flawed measure that is the BMI. And those numbers would look very different on different women.