Cultural Bias For Prejudice
American culture has a long and sad history of taking physical or perceptible signals like racial characteristics, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, national origin, or disabilities and assigning moral judgment to them. You don’t need to look too deeply online to find resources that detail how racial traits are often viewed as code for laziness, lack of trustworthiness, and other moral judgments. The same goes with sexual orientation and perceived degrees of lack of manliness, cowardice, and other negative personal judgments. As for religious affiliation, who isn’t familiar with sinister pairing of Islam and ‘dangerous’ foreigner or extremist behavior. The list goes on and on.
Make no mistake about it, American society trains people to equate outer signals with deep moral judgments that may be completely inaccurate and, in the case of body size and body image, leads to serious mental, emotional, and medical harm. As the Australian video below makes clear, other countries (particularly those exposed to American media) often deal with the same issues
“Fat People” Aren’t Overweight Due To Moral Failings
As American society slowly begins to get enlightened about the dangers physical trait-based moral judgments bring to the table, many people who engage in this type of labeling, blame finding, pigeonholing, stereotyping, and judging can gain some comfort in the fact that ‘being fat’ isn’t a protected class like sex, religion, (increasingly) sexual orientation, disability, race, or ethnicity.
Many people routinely explain why obese people are obese because of sheer laziness. This type of moral blame-finding serves only to destroy the self-esteem of people who have body types that don’t conform to the American ideal. Not only is this not helpful, it’s counter-productive.
Blame Instead of Facts
Many people think people are fat because they just like to eat too much, or they are addicted to food. They don’t realize that large body types are just as ‘natural’ as thin body types. They fail to realize the arbitrariness and cultural bias of prizing and desiring slim or athletic bodies instead of more beefy or large body types. They are certainly unaware of the potential genetic, hormonal or other medical causes of weight gain.
The sad reality of all this is the fact that there is a Great Hypocrisy at play in how Americans address the issue of body image.
The Disconnect Between American Ideals and Reality When It Comes To Obesity
The big hypocrisy in American attitudes about obesity and large body types is the fact that Americans, increasingly, are becoming more obese. The majority of the adult population is overweight or obese.
Thanks to many factors, including the combination of low food prices, a more sedentary lifestyle, and too many foods infused with waist-expanding high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), more and more Americans are overweight and this has led to higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular health issues, and a rise in certain forms of cancer.
“Never before has the ‘perfect’ body been at such odds with our true size.”
– Journalist Maria Meltzer
Yet Americans, on the whole, still believe that being fat is a moral failing, rather than a sign of modern living in the US.
Towards A Healthy Body Image
The good news is that, much as Americans have warmed to the idea of diversity in terms of racial, ethnic, religious, disability, and sexual orientation, we are increasingly becoming aware of the need to welcome body type diversity.
We all can’t have Kate Moss or Justin Bieber bodies. And that’s okay because in a diverse America, it is not the flatness of your abs or the tone level of your muscles that count, but the content of your character.
In fact, the relentless pursuit of the “media-perfect” body can result in anxiety, anorexia nervosa, and other health issues.
The faster Americans embrace this notion of diversity, the sooner we can effectively address the high levels of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression of our population. Many women in particular fail to live up to the publicized societal ideal of slim body types. The faster we embrace a more welcoming American attitude towards a diversity of body types, the sooner all Americans will have a healthier body image. Then we can get focused on what’s most important – choosing to build healthy bodies, not “model-slim” ones.
How Do You Get a Positive Body Image?
You may want to read the follow up to this article on choosing a positive body image.