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Big May Be Beautiful. But Alive is Better

Published on July 20, 2012

It’s been an ongoing debate for years: whether plus-sized models in place of the often very thin women we’re used to seeing in magazines is better for women’s body image issues. This was a recent topic of conversation on a popular news publication’s website and I was fascinated as I read through the comments about it. They ranged from the argument that advertising in our country should be more reflective of the majority of people who actually live in it, to nasty comments, mostly from women, about other women who are either very large or very small. I didn’t take the time to comment on that platform, because my hope is that my opinion will have more weight and impact here.

It would be interesting to see what might happen if we expected as much of each other as we expect of the doctors who care for us. For example, I’ve written about the ways that primary care doctors can help eliminate discomfort in speaking with their patients about obesity by looking at their BMI as a vital sign, rather than their physical size. Let’s face it, small or big, the way we look on the outside is only a reflection of how healthy we actually are on the inside. Let’s consider this as our baseline for talking about models and advertising.

What if we used overall health data to determine which models could grace the covers of our magazines? What do you think these models would look like? They probably wouldn’t be plus-sized. We know this because studies have proven that the higher the body weight, the more likely a high BMI. And with a high BMI comes a host of health problems that can be life-threatening. So, the plus sized model is probably out. That must mean the extremely thin model wins the cover, right? Not so fast. If that model has achieved her slender appearance through extreme dieting, an eating disorder, chemical or drug dependency, clearly her health assessment would show it and she wouldn’t get the job either.

That leaves us with a “normal-sized,” healthy woman as our cover model. She’s likely 5’5 and the average for her healthy weight range according to her BMI is about 130 pounds. Does that surprise you? It might if I told you that many super models are 5’10 and on average weigh 120 pounds or less, putting them into the “underweight” and unhealthy range of their BMI. But the bigger question here is: Do you actually WANT to see a normal, healthy model on the cover of your magazine? She isn’t plus- sized and she isn’t underweight. Assuming she’s doing the appropriate things to help her stay that way, she’s just healthy. Since research and science tell us that she is the one who will live the longest life with the least amount of health complications that are within her control, she’s someone we can all look up to.

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