What are you willing to do to keep your family from becoming fat?

 

Anything to be thin!

I want to be thin. You want to be thin. He wants to be thin. She wants to be thin. We want to be thin. They want to be thin. Doesn’t it feel like everybody wants to be thin, and that everybody is scared of gaining weight?  Rings a bell? If it does, you are not alone! In fact, a very recent poll in Québec [1] has suggested that up to 93 % of people try to control their weight one way or another, including trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight. Another study [2]  stated that 73% of women want to lose weight, 50% of which are of normal weight. Looking at teens, the numbers are not reassuring, with 70% of them trying to modify their weight [3] . And there is no reason to believe it is different in the rest of Canada and US. This is a lot of people being preoccupied and unsatisfied with their physical appearance! This is a lot of people spending a lot of time thinking about controlling something they in fact, can’t control.

There are all sorts of valuable people. Same for body shapes and forms!

 

What is driving that desire of being thin?

Why is it normal to want to be thin, and to control our weight? Seems like it is the natural way of being. The way we all act without even thinking about it. When we ask people why they want to be thin, there are 3 mains answers:

  • Well-being / self-esteem
  • Health
  • Appearance

But those are the reason we give ourselves. In a way, aren’t they our justifications, our rationalizations? Let’s push the question a little further: Why do we think that thinness equals well-being, health and beauty? That’s the real question ! And the answer to that is complex and multifaceted.

How did we start believing that beauty = thinness = health = success?

Are we all victims of the social norm?

Here’s an important element of the answer : the social norm. The social norm emerges from different environmental influences and becomes accepted by people, often without them voluntarily doing so. In a way, we are the victim of it until we consciously realize that it exists. Not only do we need to realize it exists, but we then have to honestly question the norm, and our values and beliefs related to it. Generally speaking, a social norm suggests the way we should conduct ourselves to fit in society. It suggests we adopt the society’s values. The social norm includes a moral facet [4], as it refers to the “good” or “bad” conduct that we should morally adopt or not.

If we don’t make a conscious decision, we risk having the social norm imposed on us!

 

The social norm of thinness and beauty

The social norms of thinness is no exception. It refers to “the cult of the body which suggests that the human body is entirely manageable according to the individual will. It refers as much to thinness as to supermusculature, and affects both women and men” [5]. It implies that being thin is desirable and morally good. We assume thin people take care of themselves, control their impulsion, are strong and determined. We also assume that people with excess body fat (or not pursuing thinness) are morally bad, are lazy and weak willed, and are not taking care of themselves. It’s outrageous! Don’t you too find it is absolutely unjustifiable to stigmatize people, and classified them as morally good or bad based solely on their corporal envelop? But let’s be honest, too often that’s how it works. No one is really to blame, yet everyone is. It is a societal problem… Until we choose to be brutally honest with ourselves and decides it’s enough!

Social norm implies a moral facet. When it come to the social norm of thinness, this moral is just dead wrong!

 

How is the social norm of thinness and beauty formed?

To become that impactful, a norm has to emerge from different angles at the same time. Here are the main basis for the norm of thinness:

  • The industry of weight loss who has mercantile interests in making us believe that our body is easily malleable, and that thinness is desirable and accessible.
  • The world of modelling and fashion who present thinness like the only acceptable shape of beauty and esthetics.
  • The fame and jetset world who always associates success with the same kind of body and beauty.
  • The media and the marketing business who sell illusions and dreams all the time, retouching photos, using all kind of makeup and lightning techniques, and presenting it like it’s the girl next door.
  • The ambient speech about obesity, depicted as dangerous, undesirable, and driven by people’s laziness.
  • The medical speech about the risk of illness and the individual responsibility.
  • And finally, us! Us who adhere to the norm, propagate it, follow it, accept it, and conform to it.

 

The social norm of thinness is routed in a web of powerful influences. One of those is us who conform and propagate it!

 

Things that make you go hmmm…

Are the choices we make regarding our body weight deliberated? How much of it depends on predetermined cultural criteria? The answer is certainly somewhere in between. Since the concept of social norm implies a desire to conform (where non-compliance leads to social penalty [4]), it is certainly prudent to ask the question. Beyond our personal values and preferences, what part of our choices regarding weight, thinness and beauty respond to the social pressure?

Do we really choose to want to be thin or do we unconsciously conform to social pressure?

 

What can we do?

From generation to generation, the social norm does its thing and our children conform to it at an early age. For example, a study reveals that 45% of children aged 9 are unsatisfied with their body shape [3] . 9 YEARS OLD! Isn’t that horrendous?! That is why it is important to fight the norm of thinness, so our children and the next generation redefined a new norm. A much healthier one! Fortunately we, as parent, can do something about it as soon as we realize what’s going on! Let’s lead by example:

  • Do not conform to the norm, let’s not value or blame any body shape
  • Reject the idea that thinness = health = success = well-being = good self-esteem (anyway, it’s false)
  • Acknowledge the individual beauty of uniqueness, and foster body love
  • Call out the industry of weight loss to stop mislead us in thinking what they present is natural
  • Be inclusive
  • Stop judging people by their appearances, and stop commenting on their physic
  • Educate yourself about health and weight (you’re doing it right now! Way to go!)

Let’s reflect on ourselves:

  • Stop wanting to control our weight, stop pursuing thinness
  • Take care of ourselves out of love and kindness instead of hate, denial and punishment
  • Be physically active as a way to embrace what our bodies are able to accomplish, rather than to burn calories, lose fat or punish ourselves for some reasons
  • Eat for nourishment, health and pleasure instead of as a mean to try to manipulate our bodies to change, to be something they aren’t

So, how do you feel about what you just read? Does that sound like a lot of work to you? What challenge do you face in front of this social norm? Any other suggestion to fight back?

References

[1]   ASPQ. Habitudes des Québécoises et Québécois quant à la consommation de produits, services et moyens pour la gestion du poids (PSM-GP) Projet 15667-001. Sondage Léger 2017.[2]  Survey IPSOS REID (2008). Canadian Women’s Attitudes Towards Weight, Survey for Dairy Farmers of Canada.[3]  Enquête québécoise sur la santé des jeunes du secondaire 2010-2011.[4]  G. Baril, MC Paquette, L. Mongeau, J. Laguë. (2012) Normes sociales, poids et image corporelle au Québec : deux exemples d’actions préventives. INSPQ.[5]  Organisme Équilibre. (2002) Bien dans sa tête bien dans sa peau, guide d’intervention sur le poids et l’image corporelle auprès des adolescents en milieu scolaire.

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