Technology has enabled the creation of false, unhealthy images of beauty.
Pictures in many magazines today are not real. They are altered depictions of people that often are no more accurate than the portraits produced by caricature artists.
Thankfully, in recent years there have been efforts to educate the public about the distorted reality depicted in advertisements in order to promote more realistic, healthy body images.
Dove, a leading manufacturer of skin and hair care products, began a body image campaign in 2004 that continues today using various initiatives, including a self-perception versus other-perception portrait campaign in April 2013 to help women see themselves in a more positive light.
Making the public—especially the young and impressionable—aware that celebrities and models are not as flawless and svelte as their pictures suggest is important and to be applauded.
Hopefully, such education efforts will curb eating disorders, plastic surgery, Botox and other efforts taken by persons seeking to make themselves into the false images they are presented and to alter the natural aging process.
In February, NBC’s “Today” show began a campaign to help viewers become more comfortable with their appearance by airing segments related to body image, many of which have been productive, helpful.
In their most recent effort to counter the flawless images found in magazines and the overly thin bodies of clothing store mannequins, the “Today” show commissioned mannequins for people with body types different than those seen in most stores.
These included a woman in a wheelchair and a man with prosthetic legs, for example.
This should be applauded, as they sought to challenge a “one-size-fits-all” conception of what is normal, average and beautiful/handsome.
Nevertheless, the segment concerned me because they also commissioned a mannequin of a woman who was clearly overweight.
In a culture that defines beauty by how thin men and women are, this might seem to be a positive, praiseworthy action, and the hosts presented it in this manner.
Yet given the segment’s underlying theme of “you are perfect just the way you are,” I wondered if this message should be communicated to someone whom a doctor would likely advise to lose weight for the sake of their overall health?
Affirming the value and beauty of every person is to be lauded. Yet it is possible—even essential for the well being of someone who is unhealthy—to affirm them while not overlooking the areas that they might need to change.
Praise devoid of prophetic truth-telling is no more accurate or helpful than the doctored images in magazines.
Addressing negative self-perceptions is essential to health, but so is a balanced diet and regular exercise.
Telling an overweight person that they are beautiful does not preclude encouraging them to lose weight for the sake of their health, even though healthy body image campaigns sometimes portray these as mutually exclusive statements.
To be clear, my concern is not with the “Today” show including someone with a larger-than-average body type. Everyone is unique and different, which should be celebrated.
A healthy weight will be different for each person as there are unique factors that need to be considered when determining an ideal weight, diet and exercise regimen.
Nevertheless, affirming that a person’s worth and value is not tied to their appearance—particularly to how skinny they are or flawless their skin—must be informed by a proper understanding of a healthy weight and lifestyle.
Countering an unhealthy image of someone who is too thin by praising someone who is overweight isn’t a solution.
It is no more helpful to tell someone who is overweight that they are fine remaining as they are than it is to say the same thing to someone who is too thin.
The “Today” show—and other organizations enacting similar campaigns—should be applauded for addressing unrealistic perceptions of beauty.
Educating the public about revisions performed on magazine images, overly thin mannequins on which even the smallest clothing sizes must be pinned to fit, and “being different-than-average is negative” attitudes is necessary, helpful.
Nevertheless, what should be encouraged is the attainment of a positive sense of self, coupled with a balanced lifestyle that combines proper diet and exercise to attain a healthy weight.
In this way, you avoid the twin dangers of false images causing some to be too thin and “you’re fine how you are” statements encouraging others to remain overweight.
As is often the case, the virtue is the mean between two extremes or vices.