I’ve begun work at my new job. The first week was a series of meetings including a day on diversity. I was very pleased with how the diversity day was handled: no lip service here, instead we really dove into the issues of difference in our community.
For me the most profound meeting was about body image. My new job is at an independent school and, in keeping with statistics about weight and affluence/education, there are not a lot of plus-sized folks there, either as students or as faculty. Our leader spoke eloquently and personally about the challenges that causes. The conversation focused on two concerns: one, our concern for children and the pressures they face given our media-saturated culture’s focus on thinness, and two, concern for the health of overweight and obese children. This is a common question for educators: how do you support all students’ self esteem without supporting an unhealthy lifestyle.
For me the answer comes in that word “unhealthy.” The truth of the matter is that size does not directly correlate to health. There are skinny folks who have poor diets and don’t exercise, and there are fat folks who work out every day and eat a well-balanced diet. The Health at Every Size movement is a strong proponent of this idea, with statistics and science to back up their claims. Essentially, though, what we need to be doing is teaching our kids to make good choices about what they eat and physical activity, as opposed to focusing on their size and shapes. All kids need to hear this message, not just the chubby (or more) ones.
Which brings me to TLCs new show Big Sexy. My husband and I are TV addicts so we don’t have cable at home, so I tend to overdose when I go to my mom’s house. This was my latest discovery. I was pretty excited about the premise: five fat and fabulous women take on New York’s fashion scene. Yet the message of the show is decidedly mixed. While the women are indeed fabulous — strong, smart, fierce, and human — the camera still gawks at their bodies. The opening scene of the episode I watched showed one woman struggling into multiple pairs of Spanx. While I think the show is a step in the right direction in that it humanizes these women rather than ridiculing them, it shows that we still have a ways to go in terms of true acceptance.