Body Image of the Day

beauty

“Does this mirror make me look fat?”

Body image and weight are extremely controversial subjects. On the one side we have a fashion and entertainment industry that feels that even celebrities, professional full-time good-lookers, need improvement. On the other side we have a vicious pushback against the prevailing body image ideal, encouraging people (women in particular, as is always the case) to love their shapes.

Now, I believe that today’s prevailing body image is a little warped, and I’m strongly against retouching models to create an artificial, unrealistic standard of beauty. But I’m going to have to come out against the “fat pride” movement here, for a few reasons:

The “fat is beautiful” body image is the one that’s warped. Fat has been a luxury throughout most of human history. The average person could hope to have enough food to survive, maybe even live healthily. Today’s widespread obesity in the first world is an aberration caused by the availability of cheap food in abundance, the prevalence of unhealthy food in larger-than-life portions, and sedentary lifestyles with little-to-no physical activity. Being fat is as unnatural as being rail-thin like the much-derided size 0 models.

Fat equals unfit and unhealthy. Comparing body image isn’t just a question of aesthetics. A fat-celebrating ideal is objectively inferior because it promotes an unhealthy and incapable lifestyle. Now, there are healthy, fit people with love handles. I’m not talking about that at all; that’s just another shape of fit. I’m talking about having a shape that inhibits health and fitness, and that includes being too thin. Whatever shape we strive for should be healthy and in good physical shape.

Being fat is indicative of a character flaw. Pro-fat advocates often to paint an overweight body as “just the way I am,” and play the persecution card when criticized or made to feel less than ideal. Being fat isn’t a birth shape. It’s a choice, one that reveals a character flaw. Lest we forget, gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, conceived far before obesity became a widespread phenomenon. An inflated physical shape can reveal a lack of discipline, self-control, and self-respect, or deeper issues such as eating as a form of escapism from past trauma or daily struggles. Judging someone based solely on what’s on the inside is perfectly fine. Let’s just not forget that the outside can reflect the inside, and some outside symptoms can only exist if something inside is amiss.

Ideals are by definition outside the mainstream. A common complaint is that models don’t represent normal people. While I would like to see a greater range of shapes and sizes reflected by fashion models, I’m fine with them looking like something outside of what’s normal. That’s the point. Models represent an ideal, an ultimate goal to strive for, and forcing them to look like the average person removes the goal. One way or another, human society will esteem certain people as more attractive than others, whether or not it’s politically correct to do so publicly and openly. We should makes sure our ideal is a noble and healthy one, not try to dismantle the concept of an ideal altogether.

Now that I’ve risked coming off as a hater of the average person who has never had to deal with the real-world problems and insecurities plaguing the overweight, I should probably come clean and mention my struggle. Ever since I was a small child I’ve been overweight and out of shape. Part of it was due to a slow metabolism and a body that matured much later in life than the average person, but most of it was the simple, hard truth that I ate too much and exercised too little. I’ve struggled with my weight for decades. Been called cruel nicknames, the worst of them being Jabba the Hutt. Felt like a total failure for being unable to succeed at any sport. Lost a romantic partner of many years. After crying myself to sleep over it one too many times, I decided to change that. Now I’m finally in good shape, but my daily struggle isn’t over. It never will be. But it’s one that needs to happen. One must always struggle against one’s failings. Not celebrate them, and expect the world to join in the great lie that being fat is good.

Beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes. Society may have overreacted to the obesity crisis by worshipping unnaturally-thin models, but it is readjusting now. We as a society need role models to look up to and aspire to imitate in every area of life, and physical fitness is no exception. Naturally, we should always scrutinize this ideal and make sure that it is worthy of imitation. But we should never seek to destroy it when we fail to live up to its standards, even if it causes us to feel less than ideal from time to time. After all, is recognizing our flaws always a bad thing?

Joël Valenzuela
Joël Valenzuela
Editor at The Desert Lynx
Joël Valenzuela is the editor of The Desert Lynx. He is also the founder of the Rights Brigade, a mover for the Free State Project, and a martial art instructor.
  • Peter

    Um… Just one or two things.

    First, it is said that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, a sentiment that is as true as anything, by evidence of experience. So your first point, that “The fat is beautiful body image is the one that’s warped” is only true as a statement of what YOU believe, dear Joél, and cannot be applied to the standard of beauty for this or any society, as that standard is clearly an individual thing.

    You are, however on to something important. Today’s widespread obesity in the first world is not an aberration caused by the availability of cheap food in abundance, the prevalence of unhealthy food in larger-than-life portions, and sedentary lifestyles with little-to-no physical activity, it is a natural consequence of those phenomena. Add to that the fact that food has been engineered to sell itself through the introduction of addictive chemicals like sugars, caffeine, sodium, MSG and certain fats, and the outcome is downright predictable.

    I also can’t agree that being fat is a character flaw. I will take myself as an example. As you know, a year ago, I was almost killed doing a warm up on the mat at the dojang. Kidding of course, but to be sure, I spent 45 minutes working out with you and Mark and could barely muster the energy to walk the .3 miles home. At that time, I was in the process of transitioning jobs, working hard to be a good husband, father, friend, and finish the 3-year long project of remodeling our house (which was an abandoned wreck when we bought it). I was creating a home for my family, facilitating their lives, volunteer work and study by maintaining their access to shelter, food, clothing, healthcare and some degree of comfort. It hardly seems reasonable that during that time I should also have made my exercise and diet the priority that I wanted to at the risk of being judged to have a character flaw.

    I believe my problem is that I have been poisoned by the aforementioned abundant and addictive substances that are engineered to make me want more. I have spent the last year white-knuckling it past the convenience and dollar stores, scratching my insatiable itch for sweets only during times of duress where I just don’t think I can make it. My job is more routine now, my family settled in, the house is almost done and consequently, my stress is lower. So am I a stress-eater? Yes. Is that a character flaw? I don’t think so.

    Of the sin of gluttony, I can only say that the gluttony of the people who over-indulge and create bodies that are slowly killing them, their gluttony is an effect, not a cause. The culprits are the USDA, FDA and the food companies that lobby to create laws that allow them to flood the US market with abundant, inexpensive, tasty poisons that are, quite simply, UBIQUITOUS. Where is the accountability for what they have done in the name of commerce? Sure everyone has accountability for what they put in their mouths, but if you want health food, you have to seek it out and pay a PREMIUM for it!! Isn’t that the complete opposite of the way it should be? Let’s recognize THAT flaw. It’s a major issue in this society and with the latest Monsanto victory, it is clearly getting worse.

    For what it’s worth, I am very glad that both of us have found our groove for the time being. But since I am twice your age (or more), I will let you in on something that terrifies me. I have lost 30 or more pounds 4 times. In the short 6 years that we have been acquainted, I have lost 72 lbs, gained 60 of it back and then lost 50 again. If there were better options available to me as I travel the country, I would be better at choosing them, and so would everyone else.

    Still, I don’t think we should celebrate our obesity or our anorexia, we shouldn’t judge people about their bodies at all. We each have to live in the body we have, and that will be reward or punishment enough.

    • Thanks for the input!

      Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder, and the collective beholders’ eyes have decreed that fat isn’t beautiful. The “fat is beautiful” movement is a pushback against the collective consensus, claiming that said consensus is warped. If it were a consensus it wouldn’t be a movement.

      You seem to confuse “character flaw” with “being a bad person.” While I know firsthand all the hard work and other considerations that go into staying in shape, at its root it all boils down to eating too much. One can be a phenomenal and overworked person and still not eat too much. I’ll be the first to admit, when my weight gets too high, that “I’m not perfect.” No one is, and weight is only an imperfection. I’m just making the point that it isn’t a physical imperfection. That’s just the symptom. It’s a character imperfection.

      I certainly will agree that American society’s poor diet and exercise norms are partially to blame for the whole thing. When I lived in Europe I noticed that almost no one in France, even old folks, was overweight, or even had a small gut. The French can thank high staircases, frequent walking/biking, small portions, and more balanced diet for that. Here it’s admittedly a lot harder. But there are still skinny people.

      Societal trends are swinging back around. People are getting less extreme in the skinny obsession, and Marilyn Monroe figures are back in still. At the same time, healthy living and eating is coming into style with a vengeance. I’m opposed to the “fat is beautiful” movement for two big reasons: one, it risks stalling a national movement towards greater natural health and happiness, and two, because it attacks people for their free choices and value judgments. It’s just as destructive, perhaps moreso, than the whole anorexic model thing.