The False Idol of Thinness

As I was doing one of my public-transit-induced, absent-minded scrolls through facebook the other day, glazed eyes scanning the same 50 or so posts, one New York Times story caught my eye. Using recent observational studies that show a correlation (NOT a causation however! Important distinction.) between extended life expectancy and being “overweight,” according to currently accepted medical measurements, the article pokes holes in our cultural obsession with thinness.

A raging feminist, I’m fairly used to seeing think pieces and blog posts in my newsfeed combating the prevailing narrative of (feminine) beauty being reserved for the chosen “thin” and “skinny” and “small.” This particular article, however, caught my attention because it attacks the problem of the “waif-beauty” ideal from a different angle.

And this new angle is radical in this discussion. Rather than appeal to our emotions, a tactic which has arguably oversaturated the conversation on weight, the author calls upon statistics and scientific studies to loosen the vice grip of the False Idol of Thinness. The grip of this false idol, masquerading to the general public for decades as Health, has ironically been strengthened by many doctors who seem to see weight loss as a panacea to all ills suffered by anyone with a BMI of 25 or higher. 

Personally, I feel vindicated by this revelation within the scientific and medical communities, that to be “healthy” is not always synonymous with being “thin,” as I have felt the impact of this conflation in very real ways.

Between the ages of 16 and 17, I began rapidly dropping weight as the result of developing an eating disorder. As the pounds seemingly melted away at an ever increasing rate, my doctor expressed neither concern nor confusion, but rather offered me her congratulations. To be fair to this doctor, I was a master of deception when it came to my eating habits. But her reaction reveals a larger issue. Because I launched into my love affair with self-deprivation from a position comfortably within the BMI range of “overweight” or even “obese,” the doctor was blind to the far deadlier, and perhaps even realer affliction, that was causing me to waste away.

Now I am by no means advising anyone to ignore or discount the advice of their doctor. But I am saying that Health is a state of being, a careful calibration of dozens of aspects of a person’s life, and that the ideal tuning is something that only that individual can identify. There is no singular BMI, or even a narrow range of BMIs, that will magically make every single person “healthy." Doctors are experts in medicine, but you are the only expert in you. Only you can know what healthy feels like for you.

Over the intervening years between 17 and now, I’ve come to the conclusion, however slowly, that searching for “Health” amongst numbers, be they pant sizes or pounds, though seductive in its simplicity, is far too reductive. And it seems that Medicine and Science may finally be catching up. 

  • Contributed by Amy Fleming, Comfy Fitness client extraordinaire