America: land of the skinny, home of the obese. While media encourages us to have an ideal slender body type, our population’s obsession with Starbucks and Big Macs leaves us with a more realistic result: obesity. There’s a sense of irony between our culture’s opposite adorations. Thinness looks great, but fast food tastes even better. American fast food joints such as Carl’s Jr., are willing to use celebrities such as Audrina Patridge to combine our two loves into one and falsely convince people around the world
that you live well – you’re rich, you can afford food, and you don’t have to participate in physical labor. People love you and care for you, and Mohanty points out that maybe this is what has linked being fat to being happy.
Now, in the 21st century, ideals are beginning to change. “Now we are in the midst of a historical change in connotation: being fat no longer means that you are prosperous, but rather that you don’t have the time, money or wherewithal to keep yourself in shape,” Mohanty writes. “The change may be a result of globalization – a change in our perception of beauty to conform to a more Westernized image.” Mohanty states that both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar – highly-acclaimed international fashion magazines – publish Indian editions that promote the “fashion ideal of thinness.” India has historically embraced the idea of being fat, however, media has begun to turn the table on its perceptions.
Mohanty states that while globalization has begun to fuel this change in perceptions of body image, the awareness of obesity as a health problem has also risen. While the poor continue to live with malnutrition, the middle class is now able to afford a “better” lifestyle filled with less exercise and more Western junk food. Not only are Western fast food chains moving in, but India has established its own fast food joint, Jumbo King. “By controlling obesity, we could not only prevent many of the diseases associated with it, we could also redirect our resources toward eradicating malnutrition and anemia,” Mohanty writes.
Western media has curbed the ideal body image in countries across the globe. In the case of India, the ideal body image is changing from fat to skinny. However, people are still getting fat from American fast food. The difference that we now find is that the people eating fast food in India are no longer being looked at as privileged, but instead, they’re beginning to be seen as obese people who don’t have the time, money or moxie to get some exercise in.
In France, fat and obesity has not been embraced. In an article on Elle.com, Alice Pfeiffer writes about what happens to French women when they get fat. Pfeiffer writes that French women with top jobs in the country are typically petite – and that spans across the globe, particularly in positions that are under the scope of the media. “Women’s success is associated to thinness because ‘it isn’t only about seduction, it is a sign of confidence, initiative, ease autonomy’ sociologist George Vigarello writes…,” Pfeiffer explains. “In other words, slenderness equals physical and mental control.” Pfeffer continues to explain that France also contains a culture of slimness that is based on its Catholic roots, where “gluttony is historically perceived as a sin.” Meals are controlled and timely, there is no snacking, and “food is seen as a necessity rather than a craving.”
However, France has also embraced the curves. An article posted on The Daily Mail in 2012 highlighted Laura Catterall, a plus-size model from Manchester, England who has appeared on the front page of Elle France. Catterall’s situation may lead us to the most fitting solution to our teetering problems between skinny and fat when The Guardian states that Catterall doesn’t drink or smoke, and in her spare time, she likes to play netball and run. Catterall is the poster woman for a healthy lifestyle that neither starves her nor makes her obese.
Because of Western media, countries across the globe are changing their ideals. In countries where fatness has historically been embraced, it’s now looked at as less of a sign of prosperity and more of a sign of laziness. On the contrary, regardless of a country’s history, fast food is making its way to the ends of the earth, causing a global obesity epidemic that no want for skinny can fix. Our desire for skinny and our reality of fat has resulted in a stigma against “fat” people. There is no clear answer on how to get rid of either of these problems, but one thing is certain: media needs to stop mixing models with fast food, and start showing the world what a healthy body and lifestyle can look like through proper diet, exercise, and habits.
Cover photo courtesy of phillymag.com