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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Researches claim plus-size models are bad for our health

April 25, 2011 10 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

plussize2 Could seeing images of individuals with larger frames be bad for our health? The answer is yes, according to University of Bologna researchers, Davide Dragone and Luca Savorelli.

In a recently published paper, “Thinness and Obesity: A Model of Food Consumption, Health Concerns, and Social Pressure,” the study’s authors claim that societal attempts to increase the ideal body weight could be harmful rather than helpful.

Drs. Dragone and Savorelli focus on the governmental interventions in Europe – Spain, Italy, and Germany, in particular – to increase the culturally defined ideal body weight through regulations on modeling. Recent bills and policies throughout the world have sought to address the prevalence of very thin models on the catwalks. The goal of these initiatives is to counter the damage done by portraying unrealistic and unhealthy images in the media.

But now these researchers are telling us that such policies serve to hurt us. They claim that if we are surrounded by images of people who look heavier, it “induces people to become more overweight,” and thus impairs their health. They warn that this trend will only worsen the “obesity epidemic.”

Interestingly, the authors do make the argument that increasing the ideal body size would be good for our pocketbooks and mental health. They recognize that our “welfare” would be improved if we could avoid the negative feelings associated with feeling the ideal is out of reach, and that discrimination might decrease as well.

The authors remark, “Since the healthy weight and ideal weight do not usually coincide, [people] have to trade off the health and social consequences of their food intake.”

Well how’s that for an awful choice to have to make?

Fortunately, we don’t have to buy into the idea that we really have to make that decision between our social health and our physical health.

For one, there isn’t the one-to-one ratio of physical health to weight that the popular media would sometimes have us believe. In fact, it is possible to be healthy at many different sizes and shapes, and it’s our own internal bias that prevents us from considering that a larger person could be healthier than a smaller one. Studies indicated that most health indicators, such as blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, can be improved through changing health behaviors, even if we don’t lose weight.

In addition, if we believe that seeing images of larger people breeds over-eating and resultant poor health, than perhaps we need to focus on the triggers for our eating. It would be naive to say that our eating habits aren’t impacted by social cues, but if a plus-size Vogue cover girl is going to impact my waistline, then I need to be thinking about whether I’m eating based on my body’s needs and my hunger and fullness cues. If we are truly eating based on the signals of our body, with the occasional influence of a night out with friends, then our bodies should stay at or around a weight that is healthy for us. That weight not be the “ideal” as defined by society, but it will be healthy.

This study is concerning less due of what it actually says and more due to the way that it is already being interpreted and disseminated in the media. My own fear is that hearing that images of larger women will make someone fat, without understanding the intricacies – and fallacies – of the article will serve only to reinforce the weight-bias that the authors lament in their paper.

What are your thoughts? What impact do you think seeing images of larger people in the media would have on your health and welfare?

NTS-Medium{Image Credit :: Pocket Rocket Fashion}

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  1. Mckella
    4 years ago

    Groan. I read about this last week on Healthy is the New Skinny (great site by the way) and just shook my head. First of all, do these researchers understand that when people try to diet themselves down to an unrealistic size, they eventually snap and start eating again and gain the weight back plus some? That shaming people about their bodies opens them up to all sorts of disorders? They even acknowledge that it’s unhealthy for most women to try to look like a typical runway model!
    I don’t think this claim has any scientific base at all other than a couple narrow experiments, like noting that people meat more after viewing pictures of heavy people. Of course they’ll eat more, they might have been dieting for years!
    I think allowing people to feel good about their bodies (this means including all shapes and sizes in the media) opens the doors to body love, acceptance and eventually health, because with body respect comes a desire to be healthy and feel todos. It may not work right away, but ultimately I think it’s the only way to tame the “epidemic”. Also, enough about the obesity epidemic! Overweight and obesity are signs of a bigger problem, let’s focus on solving those shall we?
    Mckella recently posted..Untying Creative Knots


    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      You make an EXCELLENT point about the eventual negative health effects of dieting – both when people develop diagnosable eating disorders or experience the health effects of dieting itself. It’s definitely unhealthy – and unrealistic – to try to look like a runway model for most of us – at least as they stand right now.


  2. Mckella
    4 years ago

    Sorry, eat more! Not meat more:)
    Mckella recently posted..Untying Creative Knots


  3. Katie @ Health for the Whole Self
    4 years ago

    I’m glad you point out that the health/size correlation is a fallacy. In addition, the majority of “plus-size” models are far below the medical community’s definition of “overweight” or “obese.” In actuality, when we see plus-size models we’re seeing average weight individuals who would be deemed healthy even by a traditional doctor’s standards.
    Katie @ Health for the Whole Self recently posted..Body Confessions- Sharing It All


    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      Great point, Katie. What is defined as plus-sized is in and of itself very distorted.


  4. Kat
    4 years ago

    I think another thing that should be noted is that “Plus-Size” in the fashion world does not equate to a Plus-Size clothing size…

    Plus-Size in the fashion world is not overweight by any stretch.

    Also, I’m surprised the study didn’t look at COE and BED as those are both mental illnesses which lead to obesity in some cases, and… aren’t they caused by a different reaction to similar problems with self esteem due to never measuring up to impossible standards? I’m not saying that that’s the whole reason for those two disorders to develop, but just like with anorexia, bulimia, and ed-nos — one cannot deny that it is a contributing factor.

    Besides we are so much more than our bodies. Looking at my body would not tell you that I love farmers’ markets, am a good listener, that I love dancing in the rain, or that I have a pumpkin addiction ;)
    Kat recently posted..Why Not You – and a giveaway


  5. Margarita @ Weightless
    4 years ago

    Honestly, I think this is ridiculous. The last accepted form of prejudice is really weight discrimination. There’ so much hysteria over the so-called obesity epidemic and I think it’s really this hysteria that’s fueling such research or at least the spin in the media.

    I’m glad that you emphasized the fact that people can be healthy at any size. With the exception of extremes, you can’t tell a person’s health by looking at them. And it’s refreshing to see someone in magazines, ads or whatever who isn’t a stick-thin model, and who isn’t on a “before” picture for a weight-loss add.

    It’s just really frustrating to me what’s happening in our society and how we’re demonizing people; and that we can’t simply spread a message that promotes health for everyone.

    I totally agree that this only serves to encourage weight bias. Thanks so much for providing insightful – and sane – commentary on it!
    Margarita @ Weightless recently posted..Body Image &amp Self-Reflection- Complete These 15 Sentences


    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      You’re totally right that weight bias is the last accepted form of prejudice. It’s really heartbreaking and personally makes me very angry!


  6. Good health is the differents between living a good or bad existence!
    4 years ago

    Living a healthy life style can add years to your life. With all of the different chemicals in our environment that we have to experience on a daily basis it
    is very important that we do all we can to maintain a healthy life style.


  7. Austin Bariatric
    1 month ago

    I really adore those plus-size models who managed to show off despite the so used mentality of the society that modeling is only for those skinny and sexy ladies. Just because you don’t weight below 40 does not mean you are not healthy.
    Austin Bariatric recently posted..Waco, Texas


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