This is generally the worst time of year for manipulative ads on weight loss. Whether it’s pills, diets, or gym memberships, you can count on TV strangers in spandex or bikinis telling you that THIS year you absolutely HAVE to have their products in order to make your New Year’s resolution come true. Well, guess what air-brushed spandex/bikini people? I never played with Barbie dolls, and New Year’s resolutions for weight loss almost never come true . . . plus, they bore me spitless.
It might be different if all this weight-loss frenzy were truly based on health concerns, but often it’s just based on vanity and cultural anxiety. And I’ve seen the damage such frenzy does both in my own early life and in the lives of the people, particularly the women, who end up on my massage table. Makes me wonder . . . unless a person is so morbidly obsese his life or quality of life is in danger, is losing weight something all that important to resolve do?
Consider this little story: When I was in massage school, I continued to teach English to make ends meet. I had a Japanese student who was an advanced speaker of English, so I tended to work with her using articles and essays to improve her spoken English. One day, I found a news article written about how thoughts on women’s weight differs from culture to culture. The geographical focus of this article was the African country of Niger, a place I was somewhat familiar with, having worked on girls’ education projects there when I was in non-profit. And in Niger, girls really, really, really want to be . . . FAT. Yes, they WANT to be as fat as they can possibly get. Regular little “butterballs” as my father used say.
A story like this can really turn your world upside down if you were raised to set goals for seeing your own skeleton in the mirror. My Japanese student and I were surprised and amused to read about a gathering of teenage girls in a beauty shop, where the most popular girl in town was also the fattest. This girl said things like, “That girl over there is pretty, but she can never gain weight.” Other girls whispered that they wished they could be as fat as the head girl so that they could be popular and make the best marriages. One average-sized girl said she was happy the way she was, but she might try to put on at least 10 to 15 pounds, just to look good and be healthy. The author noted that the richer the man in Niger, the more huge women he gathered around him, as weight is a sign of health and weatlh. Anyone seeing a reverse pattern here?
And then, there was a darker side to the story. Women weren’t just eating more food to get fat, because in many cases, food was limited. Instead, they were taking animal steroids–an extremely dangerous practice–in order to beef up. Animal steroids are banned for human use, of course, but the black market trade in Niger still does a brisk business, especially before holidays and special occasions. You can’t have the family thinking you’re a weakling or that your husband’s a bad provider, after all! One doctor who treats such women stated something to the effect of, “The world is crazy. In American women have everything, and try to look like they have nothing. Here, women have nothing and want to look like they have everything.”
In considering such a story, losing 20-30 pounds as a New Year’s resolution doesn’t seem so important. Personally, I’d rather resolve to donate monthly to a charity I like called Operation Smile for kids born around the world with cleft palate. Or make sure all of my recyclables actually make it into the recycling bin, not the trash.