Weigh In: Is this Woman too Thin to be Miss Universe?

Stephanie Naumoska anorexic for miss universeDr. Robyn Silverman

What are we saying to our young people, when one of the selected finalists for Miss Universe is so underweight, she looks like she needs a hamburger more than a crown? What are we teaching our girls about what is beautiful, celebrated, and rewarded? What does the media tell them, show them, and cram down their throats?

Who? Stephanie Naumoska, a 19-year-old Australian model, was selected from more than 7,000 hopefuls to make it into the finals of the Miss Universe pageant.

What now? The finalist is now being criticized and showered with concern from the public who is not quite won over by the body image she represents. Dietitians and doctors are concerned for her welfare and are frustrated that someone who looks like “skin and bones” is given such accolades as a slot in the Miss Universe contest.

Something really to be worried about? You tell me.  She’s 5’11” and 108 pounds.  Yes, you heard me right. That’s a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 15.1 which puts her firmly in the anorexic slot of the BMI chart.

Weigh in: Is this just one more body type we need represented or do we want this gaunt body type presented to our youth, as a symbol of world beauty, on the stage at all?  Has this whole weight thing gotten out of hand or are we just getting started? You tell me.

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Do Latinas and African American Girls Have Better Body Image?

do ethnic girls have better body image?

Do Latinas and African American Girls Have Better Body Image?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

A new localized study caught my eye this morning because it talked about a discrepancy in the way Latinas viewed their bodies in comparison to the way that mainstream American women view their bodies. In particular, the researchers suggested that the Latinas they followed wanted to lose weight due to health reasons rather than for looks. So do Latinas have a more positive body image? What about African American girls and women?

While it’s been suggested for quite some time that Latinas and African American women have a more positive body image than their Caucasian counterparts, the sample size of this study was quite small (35 Mexican American immigrants) so more research to add more confidence to the researchers conclusion are necessary. The fact that these women were born and raised in another country certainly makes it much more likely that they would have a better body image than girls and women in American who are constantly exposed to media that makes them feel inferior and “less than.”

Studies don’t always agree on the topic. Of course, while middle to upper class European-American families tend to be the focus of most empirical research on body image, all social classes and ethnic groups are becoming increasingly affected as shown in the research produced in the last 20 years.

What if the Latinas were born in the United States? Body image plummets. The American Association of University Women found that Latinas between the ages of nine and fifteen actually maintained a negative body image and those who were “happy” with themselves dropped by 38% as they increased in age. More recent studies explain that Latinas born in the United States, and thus exposed to American culture, are more likely to prefer a smaller size and express the same concerns about their body shape and weight as European-American females. These girls believe that they are too fat and should strive for a thinner body. In fact, Latinas were recently reported to have the lowest levels of body satisfaction than any other girls in the United States (Robinson). Even the youngest children are compromised.

While there have been hints of body image problems among Asian-American and African-American adolescent girls, lack of ethnically diverse research has caused such concerns to remain overlooked. In the recent past, studies have shown that the leanest 25% of Asian-American girls were significantly more dissatisfied with their bodies than European-American girls. In addition, although it has been shown in earlier studies that African-American girls are most secure with their bodies as a result of the cultural tolerance among African Americans for larger women, and lower incidence of weight-related discrimination than their European-American counterparts, African-American girls are not immune to American weight issues. It has been recently noted that there are no racial differences between black and white girls in their efforts to lose weight or to practice chronic dieting (i.e. Schreiber)

Not surprisingly, concerns have been voiced about young African-American girls’ recent exposure to very thin African American media models and actors and their possible negative influences on body perceptions and attitudes. Interestingly, in the last five years there have been a significant amount of weight loss concerns among prominent African American celebrities such as talk-show host, Oprah Winfrey, and others, found that Black female stars in the film, music and fashion industry are now just as thin as their European-American counterparts. Girls just don’t feel that they are “enough.”

Such unachievable ideals have been on the rise in European-American culture as illustrated by the models featured in many well-read magazines, on the internet, and on television during the last several decades and this trend has been blamed for America’s weight obsession. However, thinner, more diverse media personalities are fairly new to the African American population and culture and are likely raising weight awareness in more diverse communities.

We’ll talk more about this in my upcoming book which will be out in 2010. Would you like to conttribute a story to it? Please do!

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Girls are Diet Doping to Lose Weight

Weight and women

Dangerous Diet Doping: Being Thin at all Costs

Dr. Robyn Silverman

As we know, “feeling fat” has become a common part of everyday life for girls and women. Dieting is the norm. Complaining about weight is a expected and encourages. And doing anything you can to achieve the perfect thin body, accepted and supported.

A recent online poll of 993 teens and women has suggested that an alarming 1 in 10 girls and women are using drugs to lose weight. Were they in an unhealthy range for weight? Nope. Two thirds of responders–67%– were in the healthy weight range. What does that tell us? The healthy weight range is not perceived as thin enough. Hollywood hard bodies and unattainable rock-hard abs are what we’re striving for. No matter what people say, the diet doping is not often linked to losing weight for health (how could it?), it’s linked to looks.

Many times, when attempting to lose weight, young girls subscribe to unhealthy practices such as quick fad diets or acts of purging including vomiting and laxative abuse instead of using a healthy regiment of exercise and maintenance of a balanced diet. Girls and women are looking for the quick fix– THINNESS NOW- not what’s going to make them healthiest in the long run. In doing so, they turn to what IS NOT healthy. In fact, in the poll, 10% of respondents to the poll owned up to taking stimulants like cocaine and speed, 26% said they were abusing diet pills or laxatives and one in 5 admitted to suffering form eating disorders. What’s healthy about that? It’s a practice I like to call “diet doping” and I’ll be talking about it in my upcoming book coming out in 2010.

Most people might think that the African American girls and the Latina girls steer clear of such practices. Nope. If you think it’s only the Caucasian girls you’d be wrong. The intense pressure to diet has amazing cross over affects. Studies over the last 25 years have shown that rate of these subclinical eating practices, dieting and purging, and diet doping are increasing among all social and ethnic classes.

It’s crucial that we begin conversations with our girls early about what it truly means to be healthy. In doing so, we must also commit to being healthy ourselves and refrain from criticizing ourselves, using destructive methods to lose weight, or applauding others who lose weight at all costs as being “disciplined” and “healthy.” Let’s get back to basics. I mean, remember when healthy meant having good balanced nutrition, energy, good support and well managed stress? Let’s go back to that. Who’s with me? Let’s do it.

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