Sunday 21 April 2019

Being healthy is much more important than being thin

The 'best' compliment most women can receive is to be told they look thin. Why is this? Picture posed by model
The 'best' compliment most women can receive is to be told they look thin. Why is this? Picture posed by model
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Complimenting someone on the way they look is not actually a positive thing. I always thought it was a nice thing to do but apparently I was wrong. It's unhelpful and has an adverse effect.

And yet, it's something that women do all the time. When two women meet, one will invariably complement the other's shoes, coat, hair, lipstick…we can't help ourselves, it's like a knee-jerk reaction.

But it seems that complimenting other women on their appearance is unhelpful.

Do men do it? Do two men meeting up comment on each other's shoes, hair styles or 'great skin'?

While compliments are made with the best intentions, studies have found that the more attention paid to a woman's looks, the less likely she is to succeed.

Research into all female US presidential candidates found that the women running for office were subjected to four times more appearance-focused media attention than their male competitors.

We only have to look at all the attention Sarah Palin got for her clothes, hair and good looks to realise that this is true. No journalists were devoting pages of newsprint to Joe Biden's suits.

Society today idolises beauty and to be beautiful now means, first and foremost, being thin.

Gone is the admiration for the curves of Marilyn Monroe or Sophia Loren. These days, the women gracing the cover of magazines are skinny models or actresses.

Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore has said: "I hate dieting. I hate having to do it to be the 'right' size. I'm hungry all the time. I think I'm a slender person, but the industry apparently doesn't. All actresses are hungry all the time."

As a society we need to stop focusing so much on women's looks and body shape and more on what kind of person they are.

Look at any magazine rack - you will see hundreds of covers hailing women for losing weight, but none lauding women for achievements in science, medicine, mountain climbing, charity, etc.

Why do we equate skinny with success? Surely a woman who operates on sick children should be praised more than a woman who loses a stone in weight?

But we are a society that demonises fat. The 'best' compliment most women can receive is to be told they look thin. Why? Being thin isn't a good thing. Being fit and healthy and strong is.

But you'd never tell another woman she looks strong, because you'd end up with a non-fat latte thrown in your face. Women and girls want to be skinny.

If you do happen to lose weight, other women will bombard you with questions about what you ate, how much, when and where you buy your food and how you cook it.

I was at a dinner party once when a woman announced that chewing your food 40 times before swallowing made you thinner. Of course it does - it takes you five hours to eat each meal!

This is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. According to Bodywhys, the Irish national voluntary organisation for those affected by the condition, the number of people contacting a helpline for eating disorders rose by 30pc last year.

The majority of callers were aged 25 to 35, while the second-highest group of callers were aged 15 to 18.

An eating disorder is potentially fatal. We need to educate our young girls and boys about body image and how being healthy is much more important than being thin.

We need to stop worshipping 'thin' and start teaching young people that being told you are 'kind', 'smart', 'funny' or 'strong' is far greater compliment than 'skinny.'

Eating disorder charities around the globe are urging women to eschew 'fat talk'. The term is used describe the body-denigrating conversation between girls and women.

It's so true. Women always put themselves down physically. Go into a changing room in any shop and you will hear women crying out, "My thighs are too big", "I need to lose a stone", "I hate my stomach".

Women have to learn to stop being negative about their own bodies and stop praising skinny models. Our youngsters are listening to us and soaking up what we say.

If they constantly hear us maligning our appearance, they'll end up having a poor body image, and who knows where that could lead to?

A person's value lies not in the size of their waist but in qualities that are not visual.

We need to support our fellow women and young people by complimenting traits that really matter. It's time to change the conversation.

Irish Independent

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