Research | Is Changing Ideal Body Image Is Good For Society?

American model Tara Lynn continues to model the new season’s H&M Big Is Beautiful collection. She has modeled larger size clothing for Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, and Forever21’s Faith21 line. She has also previously appeared ‘au naturel’ in French Elle.

Gather writes:

The BiB clothes are obviously quite attractive, but in a society like ours where thinness is the sine qua non of physical beauty—especially for women— the question is, can a woman of Tara’s size still be considered sexy? Furthermore, because of the myriad health problems associated with obesity, is it wrong to even attempt to portray women of Tara’s more than ample proportions as sexy? Are her admittedly sensuous beachwear and swimsuit photos sending the wrong message? A message that could prove ultimately deadly?

Last month Dr Davide Dragone and Dr Luca Savorelli of The Suntory Center at London School of Economics wrote a paper ‘Thinness and Obesity: A Model of Food Consumption, Health Concerns, and Social Pressure.

I’ve read the paper twice now. Thankfully I was a straight A student in calculus, taking it five days a week at 7am.

The authors respond to legislation in Italy, Germany, Spain and France that attempts to ‘reduce unhealthy eating behavior among young people, in particular young women, by affecting the ideal of beauty that the media and the fashion industry disseminated.’ 

The paper propose a theoretical framework to assess whether increasing the ideal body weight is socially desirable, both from a welfare and from a health point of view.  The discussion is very mathematical and examines the impact of advertising and social imagery on female eating habits. For example:

Checking online to read the popular press, it seems not too many people have waded through the study, prompting me to leave this comment on Huff Po:

If you bothered to actually read the study front to back —- which is difficult because it’s so mathematical coming out of the London School of Economics — it concludes that the optimal solution for government­s and society is to pressure for a healthy BMI in advertisin­g & other media. I would add ‘achievabl­e’ BMI, as was the case with the size 4-6 Supermodel­s of the 80s and early 90s. The authors do say that increasing the models’ body sizes to a healthy weight COULD promote the view that obesity — which a 23 BMI model is not — is NOT a health hazard for societies. The focus of the study is the ultimate cost to society, taxpapers and healthcare systems over obesity, as well as the individual­s’ lost contributi­ons to society. (We know that the critical thinking parts of the brain are reduced with obesity, for example — unless you reject all brain scan research.) The authors conclude the best strategy carries a risk, but the use of unhealthy models carries the biggest risk of all. The authors recommend using healthy 18-25 BMI models. They do not refute those who say BMI is hogwash.

To be continued … Anne