Body Image is Important

I've seen a lot of things in my years on this planet. Many of them have been good, and some have been bad, as I like to think you would expect to be the case. I've also spent a fair amount of time on ...let's say 'questionable websites,' seeing content that was uploaded specifically to be shocking or jarring in some way. As a result of this, I have become somewhat desensitized to things that are generally shocking. Based on the wealth of things I've seen through the magical lens of my computer screen, I thought I would be able to see just about anything I was likely to encounter in real life without being surprised or taken aback. It turns out I was wrong.

I don't often write these articles without profanity, but this one is going to be entirely G-rated. Usually I use this site as a platform for making common sense more accessible through humour, but this is one case where health and safety are serious concerns, and that sort of approach is simply not appropriate. There is a certain type of social sickness that has become painfully prevalent in today's society, and it is a serious, serious problem. Today I'm going to use this website to try to raise awareness of this issue.

Allow me to set the stage: a couple days ago I went out with friends to celebrate someone's birthday. We went on a boat, went to see a movie, had a nice dinner, watched with delight as the birthday girl opened her gifts, and a fine time was had by all. Somewhere in the middle, though, I saw a girl of probably 14 years of age. She was with a friend, enjoying herself, and basically having a good time. In most respects, she was an average girl of her age. There was, however, something very obviously wrong with her.

Me and my friend's dog

Before I continue, I need to make sure you have some context. That's a picture of me and a friend's dog to the right. The dog is adorable, and I have a very intent look on my face, presumably because it's always gametime. What I want you to pay attention to is my arm. Got it? Good. That is the context you require in order for this story to make sense.

This girl, who was smiling, laughing, and basically enjoying herself, was in desperate need of some cheeseburgers. Now, I know some people use the phrase "in desperate need of" to indicate something in an amusing or ironic way; I've done the same myself at times. In this particular case, however, I am using the phrase quite literally, as she was so skinny I feared for her wellbeing. How skinny, you ask? This girl's legs were thinner than my arms.

I have made no secret of the fact that I abhor the general obesity of North America, and while that is a serious problem, it is not the only body shape problem out there. Somehow, we have gotten it into our heads that the only way to be attractive is to be thin. To a point, I suppose this is true; I am less likely to be attracted to a woman if I don't think I can lift her. However, there's thin, and there's unhealthy.

This is unhealthily skinny
This is roughly how skinny the girl was

This particular girl looked like she had just come out of Auschwitz; I seriously could not see any muscles on her legs at all, and it's still a wonder to me that she was able to stand at all. I sometimes say that if I can close my hand around your ankle and touch my thumb with my finger then you are too thin, but this girl looked like I could close my hand around her calf and touch my thumb and finger together.

From my perspective, the cause of this problem is two-fold. First, we have an orgy of advertising material trying to convince girls that the thinner you are, the better looking you are, and if you're not thin then you're not attractive, or cool, or worth knowing at all. I disagree with the message, because if I feel I can't hug you without being afraid of snapping you in half then you're not attractive, but I accept this as a part of marketing; they have to sell their products, and whatever message they can use to that end, they will use.

The bigger problem has to do with the parents. We are bombarded with advertisements and media constantly. Out of every hour of television you watch, at least 16 minutes are commercials, and depending on which channel you're on, a significant portion of those ads may be communicating the "thinner is better" message. If you are a parent, it is your job to make sure that your children understand the context of what they're seeing.

Only one of these pictures shows an attractive person
Only one of these pictures shows an attractive person

Wanting to be thin is fine: it's healthier to be thin than it is to be overweight, and the world would be a better place if nobody weighed over 200lbs. However, there comes a point where being too thin is dangerous. You will never hear a legitimate Doctor recommend you have less than 5% body fat if you're male, or 11% if you're female, because having fat stored on your body helps keep you healthy, protects your internal organs, and plays a significant role in your ability to fight off infection. Having some fat on your body is important. If you are too skinny, you are putting your health at serious risk.

When it comes to maintaining your body, you are wholly responsible as an adult for your own condition. When it comes to your children's bodies, you are also responsible. You are responsible for making sure they have realistic expectations. You are responsible for making sure they understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy. You are responsible for how much food they eat, how much exercise they get, and what they learn as values. And if your kid is as thin as the girl I saw, it is your responsibility as their parent to explain to them why their weight is a problem, and to help them back to a healthy physical condition.

Being thin isn't attractive; being healthy is. Make sure you and your family know the difference.

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