Is “Plus Size” positive?
Recently, one of the most common themes on social media and other websites like Buzzfeed, is having a positive attitude towards body image, and this is usually portrayed using plus size models (the links to three Buzzfeed articles on the subject are displayed at the end of this article). Although this is undoubtably a good message to send to the public, it has implications that may be detrimental to health.
The lashback against underweight models is often supported by the argument that being so thin is unhealthy, and this has been evidenced by many scientific studies. Being underweight can lead to ovulatory infertility in women, usually by ceasing menstruation (1), as well as increasing the risk of cardiac and respiratory failure, anaemia, premature birth, and low birth weight during pregnancy (2). For men, fertility is also decreased, reducing the quantity and quality of sperm produced (1). Being underweight also has implications in later life, raising the chances of fracturing the femors and neck vertebrae, and the bone disorder osteoporosis (3). Sarcopenia, a condition where muscle mass is rapidly and progressively lost, while fat mass increases to maintain the same body weight, also becomes more likely with being underweight (4).
While this lashback against being underweight is justified, it should also be remembered that being overweight or obese is also damaging to health. The risk of infertility in women is increased (1), and premature births, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia become more common should pregnancy be achieved (5). As is the case with underweight men, sperm may be of a poorer quantity and quality when overweight (6). Type 2 diabetes mellitus, gall bladder disease, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease become increasingly probable (7 and 8), and much like those who are underweight, the risk of osteoporosis is increased, with the vertebrae of the spine being the most likely to fracture (1).
The surplus of scientific evidence shows that being both underweight and overweight is detrimental to health, and that people should aim to be within the healthy weight range for their height, according to BMI. Some people argue that BMI is not a good measure of weight in relation to health, and this argument is discussed in a prior article, BMI: Badly Misunderstood Idea, which highlights why BMI is the best measure we have currently available despite its short-comings. If it is argued that being underweight is an unhealthy image to portray to any audience, but particularly adolescents, then it must also be said that being overweight or obese is also an unhealthy image to display. However, a statement like this comes with allegations of fat-shaming, a problem faced by many overweight or obese people.
Having a positive image of your body’s appearance, whatever your weight, is important regardless of health risks. Being comfortable in your own skin is a sensation that everyone deserves to feel, and having low self-esteem or being bullied because of appearance can lead to mental health issues such as depression. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be your appearance that motivates obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight, it should be health. Even within the healthy weight range, body shapes and size will vary; some will be naturally thin, others will be fuller-figured, much the same as hair, eye, and skin colour alters between people. The photograph at the top of the page shows what being within the healthy weight range can look like; the fact I don’t have a smooth and flat stomach is clearly visible, and my chin and neck are not without small pockets of fat either. However, one thing that does concern me is that I would be classified as a plus sizemodel, as I am the same size as some plus size models (see Buzzfeed articles below), despite the fact that I am a healthy weight.
Even with the emphasis on positive body image, being overly thin is still being promoted, all be it less obviously, and those who are a healthy weight are being labelled by what is actually quite a derogatory term, alongside those who are overweight. It’s high time that we stopped focusing on appearance, and started promoting a positive body image and good health, emphasising how even those of a healthy weight can vary in shape and size.
By Emma Steer
Edited by Luke Smith
Buzzfeed; plus-size prints https://www.buzzfeed.com/alisoncaporimo/now-pattern-that-walk?utm_term=.jtN9zMYeG#.sboRZl4rJ
Plus-size swimsuit model (Jennie Runk) https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexrees/21-photos-of-hms-new-plus-size-swimwear-model-jennie-runk?utm_term=.ns997KxZG#.oxdvzwNo1
Plus size bikinis https://www.buzzfeed.com/sheridanwatson/tankinis-need-not-apply?utm_term=.gcykYW4a3#.udKOq4eQz
(1) Grodstein F, Goldman M.B, Cramer D.W, 1995, Body Mass Index and Ovulatory Infertility, Epidemiology [online], volume 5, issue 2, pages 247 – 250, date accessed [14/06/2016], URL [http://www.jstor.org/stable/3702368?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents]
(2) Edwards L.E, Alton I.R, Barrada M.I, Hakanson E.Y, 1979, Pregnancy in the underweight woman. Course, outcome, and growth patterns of the infant, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology [online], volume 135, issue 5, pages 297 – 302, date accessed [14/06/2016], URL [http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/484616]
(3) Tanaka S, Kuroda T, Saito M, Shiraki M, 2013, Overweight/obesity and underweight are both risk factors for osteoporotic fractures at different sites in Japanese postmenopausal women, Osteoporosis International [online], volume 24, issue 1, pages 69 – 76, date accessed [14/06/2016], URL [http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00198-012-2209-1]
(4) Lau E.C.M, Lynn H.S.H, Woo J.W, Kwok T.C.Y, Melton L.J, 2005, Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Sarcopenia in Elderly Chinese Men and Women, The Journal of Gerontology Series A [online], volume 60, issue 2, pages 213 – 216, date accessed [14/06/2016], URL [http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/2/213.short]
(5) Langley-Evans S, 2015, Nutrition, Health, and Disease: A Lifespan Approach, 2nd Edition, Chapter 3 (Pregnancy), pages 72 – 73, Wiley, Chichester, UK.
(6) Shayeb A.G, Harrild K, Mathers E, Bhattacharya S, 2011, An exploration of the association between male body mass index and semen quality, Reproductive BioMedicine [online], volume 23, issue 26, pages 717 – 723, date accessed [14/06/2016], URL [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1472648311004743]
(7) Must A, Spadano J, Coakley E.H, Field A.E, Colditz G, Dietz W.H, 1999, The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity, The Journal of the American Medical Association [online], volume 282, issue 16, pages 1523 – 1529, date accessed [14/06/2016], URL [http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=192030]
(8) Kannel W.B, D’Agostino R.B, Cobb J.L, 1996, Effect of weight on cardiovascular disease, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [online], volume 63, issue 3, pages 419 – 422, date accessed [14/06/2016], URL [http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/63/3/419S.short]
Image: Sixteen is the New Ten! http://www.gtigazette.com/sixteen-is-the-new-ten/