Sometimes I feel like I'm living in the Goldilocks fable. This one is too fat…that one is too thin…is anyone just right? "Just right" is a narrowly defined precarious space in which women teeter on the brink of falling into “too fat” or “dangerously thin” territory. For celebrities, it barely takes an indulgence at In-N-Out burger or a nasty bout with the flu to tip the scales out of "just right" territory and into tabloid headlines like “I can’t stop eating!” or “Anorexic?”
We are damned if we do, damned if we don't. We have created a culture in which barely any body is acceptable. The pressure on women is intense to contort and mold our bodies chasing an ideal that few will ever attain. Even the few women who do embody this narrow ideal are seldom satisfied. Like the rest of us, they too often feel that their body is not good enough and focus in on perceived flaws. Others live in fear of losing their ideal body status if they stray from a punishing regimen of structured eating and exercise.
While the media has continued to bombard us with the usual fat shaming messages, I’ve also been noticing a lot of skinny shaming recently. Not all of the shaming messages are malicious; some are well intentioned, yet misguided, attempts to prevent eating disorders. On April 3, 2015, French parliament passed a law making it illegal to use underweight models in advertising campaigns. The law is part of ongoing efforts to curb anorexia in France and was bundled with some more laudable provisions including making websites that glamorize and promote anorexia (“pro-ana” sites) illegal and requiring photographs that have been digitally altered to be labeled “retouched.” The problem with the first part of this law is that simply being underweight does not indicate an eating disorder. The law promotes the message that certain body types (in this case, underweight) are bad and unhealthy. These messages encourage women to change their body, often by engaging in unhealthy behaviors. Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric condition characterized by a grouping of behaviors and emotional symptoms. It should be diagnosed by a mental health or medical professional, not by a bathroom scale. Unfortunately, the DSM (the guide that lists the diagnostic criteria for anorexia) does include a weight criterion. In my opinion, including weight as a diagnostic criterion for the diagnosis is misleading. It causes us to focus on weight rather than health. There are many people whose body mass index (BMI) falls into the underweight category who are not suffering from anorexia nervosa. Conversely, there are many people who are not underweight who engage in destructive eating behaviors characteristic of anorexia but do not receive the help they so desperately need because their BMI is classified as normal or overweight. We can’t diagnose emotional or physical health by looking at someone’s body size. Health is based on factors that are not so easily visible, such as nutrition and physical activity. And that can happen at any size.