There is a disparity in the perception of beauty, and it can lead to the stigmatization of being overweight or obese.
Cultivating bias against being overweight
The perception of beauty arises from many ideas that appear to foster bias against being overweight. Television is likely one of the first places that children likely begin to see images of what the “ideal” male and female look like, yet don’t understand that those images are not generally representative of the community they live in. As children mature into adolescents, they begin to have role models, which are not always one of the wonderful teachers in their schools. People they admire are often models, artists, or actors, many of which portray a certain level of beauty, perfection, fame and money.
At some point, those children may begin to notice that there is a disparity in what they admire versus what they see around them. They may even begin to compare themselves with what they have come to accept is the status quo for “normalcy”. Many of the same people they admire are often in magazines which target teens and young adults. Perhaps this display of beauty and perfection creates a bit of confusion as they come to terms with their own self-identity and self-perception.
How the perception of “beauty” is shaped
Many adolescents have been teased for being overweight, often times by a friend, sibling or even a parent.1 Impressionable adolescents who are bombarded with images of beauty and perfection not only begin to see imperfection in themselves, but it can become echoed by others in close relationship to that individual. Parents should create an environment of support and explain that every child is beautiful, allowing that child to grow up with the understanding that they are intelligent and capable in every way just like anyone else.
Observing others’ attitudes fosters the perception of beauty
The saying “beauty is only ‘skin deep'” only has a deeper meaning if it is truly understood completely. It should be explained in such a way that uniqueness does not equate to “lesser” abilities or “less” than anyone else. Other children and adolescents may grow up with some of the same images and many may hear parents make comments about other overweight individuals. They may notice their parents’ negative attitudes towards overweight folks. Hence, the child may develop perceptions of his or her own by simply listening and observing others in the surrounding environment.
Not only is it important for a child’s health to be active starting at a young age, but it is important to nurture interest in nutrition and physical activity as they approach adolescence and young adulthood. As young adults, we often have persistent ideas as to how beauty is defined. Some develop eating disorders trying to reach the societal standards of beauty. Others fall into deep depression for years as they feel they are not “pretty” enough, or not “thin” enough to be accepted.
Blurring the edges
As a society, we must find other ways to define beauty. We can begin to edit our definition starting with blurring the edges. Beauty doesn’t have to be a specific size or a particular weight. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be a healthy weight, as in one that helps mitigate risks for chronic disease.
Beauty is in the soul of the individual; it is not defined by body fat. Beauty lies within each unique individual. It is not tall, or thin, or nor close to any perception we have developed over time. It’s time to let go of societal definitions of beauty and re-define beauty. It is as unique as your DNA.
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1. Crawford D, Jeffery RW, Ball K, Brug J. Obesity Epidemiology: From Aetiology to Public Health. 2nd ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press; 2010.