Fat Talk

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By Avery Friedman, CNN Legal Analyst and Ursuline College Distinguished Visiting Professor in Constitutional Law

In 1920 women were given the right to vote.

In 1963 women were entitled by law to be paid in the same way men are paid.

In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 2007 Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House.

Job and professional opportunities have never been greater. So why is it that – - after all this – - – 54% of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat? (You read that right.)

81% of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. Up to 10,000,000 American women are suffering from eating disorders. That’s more than women who have suffered with breast cancer. That’s information from the Tri-Delts, a national sorority.

These are serious issues. Women and body image are, more or less, not very well talked about. You’ve seen those women in magazines and TV. They’re thinner than over 98% of the nation’s female population. And think what a distorted view that has to be generating? Instead of a skinny ideal, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a healthy ideal? In other words, the focus should be on health, not weight or size. And that ideal should fit every woman, separate and distinct.

No more “I need to lose ten pounds.” No more “You look great . . . what, did you lose weight?” No more “I’m too fat.” No more “you look great in a swimsuit.” That talk is destructive. It should be about health, not size.

A lot of people made fun of Mayor Michael Bloomberg because of his anti-large soda pop campaign. But he launched something in my judgment that was a lot more important. “Girls as young as seven were undergoing plastic surgery because they were being bullied about their appearance,” according to Samantha Levine, the city’s director of the new “Girls Project” which involves a self-esteem campaign.” She said girls, 7-12, “were buying Spanx.” To start, the mayor devoted about $330,000 to the campaign. If fat talk is going to be responsibly addressed, it has to start with the little ones. This isn’t government compelling anything. It’s government taking responsibility to address a health epidemic. The theme is simple: “I’m a girl. And I’m beautiful the way I am.”

While it’s true that eating disorders become prevalent in teens, the idea has to be to stop it before it starts. With media-saturated distorted images of young women all being models, girls are particularly vulnerable. Marney White, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale’s School of Public Health, likes the idea of getting the message out early ” . . . before all of the bad messages are allowed to permeate and do any damage. It’s a lot harder to undo once the damage has set in.” New York City’s Girl Project is setting up a curriculum at 75 of the city’s after-school programs which are helping to protect girls against future eating disorders. I expect to see this broadened even more under New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio who took office in January.

We can’t stop the barrage of airbrushed super-models on the air. And when little girls want you to buy Monster High dolls, my thought would be don’t. That’s something that can be controlled.

Even more important, though, is we actually can do something about the fat talk. You can choose to do something about it. It’s a personal choice which, if more broadly understood and practiced, can have a positive effect on an American health crisis.

averyAbout Avery Friedman: The Wall Street Journal calls Avery Friedman a “walking reference source” on civil rights law. He has been recognized in TIME, The New York Times and USA Today as a nationally distinguished civil rights lawyer and law professor. Friedman has lectured on federal civil rights law at nearly three dozen major law schools including Stanford, Duke, Berkeley, Michigan, North Carolina, Tulane and the University of Texas. He has appeared by invitation as an expert on civil and constitutional rights by both the U.S. Senate and House subcommittees. For about 13 years, Friedman has served as CNN’s Weekend Legal Analyst every Saturday, bringing a human rights perspective on CNN to America’s hottest legal cases to over 3,000,000 viewers each week.
 

Photo credit: Dove

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