Moving past the mirror image

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • February 10, 2016

After gazing over the diner’s menu, I made my decision and set the glossy list of burgers and  breakfast specials aside. The waiter came over and asked what my friend and I were going to order, and my companion said she wanted a big fluffy waffle loaded with butter and syrup. This stood in stark contrast to my order—a salad—which, admittedly, I had been craving all day. 

“Why are you ordering a salad? You’re already skinny enough,” my friend said.

I tried to explain that weight should not be a factor in whether or not someone chooses to eats something, and I shouldn’t feel bad for striving to eat food I view as good for both my body and mind just because I’m already thin. It was as though being skinny provided a “get out of jail free” ticket to eat poorly. 

But considering our society’s ideals, diet offenders can’t be blamed for their habits. Our culture doesn’t put an emphasis on learning how to eat mindfully—especially if you are already a thin person—and it’s not considered important enough to be taught to kids at a young age. Most public schools, including my own in Georgetown, Massachusetts, did slim to nothing to explain the importance of eating healthy, which has benefits beyond conforming to traditional ideas of looks. It got to the point where there was a near riot when they switched over to whole grain buns in the cafeteria. 

This is the problem—society as a whole is a too focused on people’s size, as opposed to the actual condition of their insides. A heart can still be healthy inside a body regardless of its appearance. 

The ads shown on television don’t help. They do not promote eating better for the sake of healthy eating; they’re about eating solely for weight loss and cutting down. To a certain extent, this is an understandable marketing move. Places like McDonald’s advertise their Happy Meals as nourishing because they have low-fat milk and could have apple slices, but in reality, there have been multiple studies of people leaving the restaurant’s food out for years without it molding. The company’s apparent strides for healthier options are mainly a smokescreen. In the face of this, we should support new entrepreneurs in creating companies that combine well-balanced products with good messaging. 

According to a 2013 poll by Healthways, a health-improvement company, 63 percent of American adults reported that they eat well, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that nearly 70 percent of adults are overweight. These numbers show that proper eating does not always correlate to a slimmer body, because these same Americans who think they’re eating healthfully wind up having a dangerous body mass index, a measure of body fat combining both height and weight. It is possible to be a petite person who has a high BMI, due to a poor diet and lack of exercise. Right now, our news and television portray body types in black and white—overweight is seen as unhealthy and thin is seen as the picture of good condition. 

This misconception is found all over pop culture. Many people are concerned about how skinny supermodels are, but not all of them are living off of smoothies and ingesting cotton balls. Victoria’s Secret model, Jourdan Dunn, said she eats whatever she wants, and has even been known to show up to fashion shows with KFC in tow.  

The CDC said that eating a well balanced diet can help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. It was also mentioned that a poor diet can cause a weakened immune system, allowing people to catch common illnesses more often. 

Even our grocery stores are set up to mislead people. Although all of the whole foods are found in the perimeter of the store, all of the sales are found in the middle aisles with all of the unnecessary processed foods. At this age, many of us are probably used to eating the same sugary cereals that have danced across advertisements for years, that are conveniently merchandised at your eye level. Unfortunately, this is the food made most affordable, or at least most obviously affordable, to low-income consumers. Without information and subsidization, these groups are at a disadvantage.

America has a food problem. As the percentage of overweight people rises every year, I haven’t see any difference in advertisements, product placement or even education. The responsibility for this rests on all of our shoulders and recognition of that is the first step toward change. As we educate ourselves on nutrition and body misconceptions, we become more conscious consumers and citizens.