A new movie (remaking an old movie and broadway production) is in theaters this week, called “Hairspray.” The plot synopsis given by IMDB is: “Pleasantly plump teenager Tracy Turnblad teaches 1962 Baltimore a thing or two about integration after landing a spot on a local TV dance show.”Regrettably, though I’m sure the movie’s fun and the musical numbers are entertaining (and it could be one of the first times John Travolta’s actually been watchable in years), I’m not so sure the movie has the right message.

Society’s got a love-hate relationship with body image. On the one hand, the weight/shape standards for women have become increasingly unrealistic; two cases in point would be Marilyn Monroe and Angela Lansbury, who were highly attractive actresses in their time but probably would be considered “fat” by producers today (Monroe was 5′ 5.5″ and around 120 pounds, which is pretty darn healthy but sure ain’t a size 0; the “in-crowd” these days are 5’8 or higher and under 90 pounds).

On the one hand, the film gives the message that a fat girl can still achieve her dreams, get the cute guy, etc. On the other hand, it does nothing to show the girl taking control for herself – regulating what she eats, exercising, showing some self-restraint. And I’m sorry to say that the words “pleasantly plump”, regrettable as it may be, are a euphemism for “a girl who needs some medical help before she develops obese-onset diabetes” in the case of this actress.

For point of reference, my household was not filled with skinny people. My family background is germanic and celtic for the most part; short, relatively plump people. However, even if none of my family will ever fit into small-size clothing, they were all active. My father was very reliable about a morning volleyball group and running; my mother taught aerobics and water aerobics; my grandfather is an organist and trombonist in addition to his own walks; my grandmother (before a tragic accident that cost her the use of her legs) walked with my grandfather and participated in aerobics and water aerobics as well. Fast food meals were the exception rather than the rule in our house.

Does everyone need to be a supermodel? Of course not. On the other hand, should the message be to children/teenagers who are seriously overweight that it doesn’t matter, or should it be that they need to control what they eat, exercise responsibly, and speak with their doctor if the weight doesn’t come off?

I would hope that the second message is what we should be teaching. Alas, instead of the healthy middle ground, we’re stuck oscillating between girls who drive themselves into sickness (anorexia/bulemia/other eating disorders) in pursuit of an unattainable Size 0 goal, or giving up so far that they destroy their own bodies, causing all sorts of other health risks with binge eating and lack of exercise.

And then I remember a fundamental shift – reading one of my dad’s old comic books (I think from 1971) I saw an ad for a product I considered unthinkable: a product advertised to young women who were too skinny to be considered attractive.

How far we’ve come!

(Addendum: yes, I am aware that young boys are taught unhealthy things too – everyone wants to be the overly muscled football star, etc. However for some reason, the “unhealthy weight” aspect is drilled into girls a lot more than into boys, probably because men don’t spend nearly as much time watching nearly-naked men prancing down a runway in fashion shows or seeing nearly-naked men on the cover of fashion magazines, as opposed to the myriad products marketed towards women this way.)

Category: Coffeehouse

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3 Responses to Weight, Fitness, and Self-Esteem

  1. Peter says:

    There’s a very simple, low-tech method by which a man can determine whether his weight is a threat to his health (it doesn’t work for women): stand up straight and look down. If you can’t see your toes, your health is in danger.

  2. trumwill says:

    Sweet! No health risk here!

  3. David Alexander says:

    Nikki Blondski is kinda attractive, IMHO, but she’s still larger than the chubby girls that I find attractive. She’s nearly the same size as railfan girl, except railfan girl was taller, but yet, I find Madamoiselle Blondski more attractive. Maybe it’s because of the make-up, hair styling, and “Hollywood” wardrobe that she sports.

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