Society is bombarded every day with advice and information on how to be healthy from “How to lose 5 pounds this week” to “Cut your stress in half today.” But what is this image of “health” that people chase after, and how is it different than the historical thoughts about healthy living?
In America in the 1950s, the image of health and beauty was often portrayed in “curvy, full-bodied women.” Over the decades, this has morphed into the slender and toned concept of what is ‘healthy” today.
Even the official definition of “health” can leave room for interpretation.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines health as, “the condition of being sound in body, mind or spirit, especially freedom from physical disease or pain; the general condition of the body.”
Laura Monisse, sophomore in population health and integrative design, disagrees with this definition. She takes a more holistic look at health.
“Being healthy is not being clinically without disease, but involves physical, emotional and psychological aspects,” Monisse said.
The media plays a part in influencing what society sees as “healthy.”
In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe was touted by the media industry as the “ideal woman.” By the 2000s, tall, slender models had taken over the media industry. These models continue to take up the pages of modern fashion and women’s magazines.
“Our idea of what we find aesthetically pleasing has changed as a result of what the media displays to us,” Monisse said. “Planned obsolescence is a continual factor behind our need to change what is aesthetically pleasing.”
Planned obsolescence is the practice of the industry designing products with a limited life that will soon become unfashionable or unneeded. It drives the industry by urging consumers to buy newer items more often.
Clothing is often advertised on extremely thin models, a practice Monisse thinks is outdated.
“Fashion is a platform for artistic experimentation, the body is a canvas,” Monisse said. “Changing the size of it could just be another phase, just as art has changed throughout time.”
According to Model Alliance, an organization that advocates for fashion models’ health, the average American woman is a size 12. The average model is a size zero. Anything higher than a size six is considered “plus size.”
According to eating disorder counseling center Rader Programs, the average model weighs 23 percent less than the average woman. Twenty years ago, that difference was 8 percent.
Kate Upton, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, has recently be hailed as a “real” woman with healthy curves in a world of skinny models. According to her website, Upton is 5′ 10″ and weighs 134.5 pounds. Her body mass index, according to those measurements, is 19.3, well within the “normal” range as defined by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
How the media frames models of different sizes influences how society looks at them, said Annie Her, freshman in fine arts.
“They paint the average, the larger, and skinnier models to shape their concept and views of the modern world from their point of view,” Her said.
Society’s idea of health should be based less on physical appearance, and more on what’s inside, Her said.
“The visual effect of the body masks the internal affairs of its owner,” Her said. “An artist only utilizes what they can visually see. The public should not term healthy based solely on physical appearances, but instead on medical records.”
Dianna Schalles, registered dietitian at Lafene Health Center, said a healthy body image is one important aspect of total body health. Media exposure contributes to body image, and the increasing incidences of eating disorders. It’s important to be aware of unrealistic ideals, and to be able to reject them, Schalles said.
A recent shift from the “thin” ideal to a “fit” ideal is taking over the media industry, spurring Twitter hashtags such as #fitspiration.
Schalles said even this idea of health can distort perceptions of what it means to be truly healthy.
“A person might be in the gym several hours a day and look like a fit individual, but if he or she is practicing unhealthy or excessive behaviors to achieve this, health could be at risk,” Schalles said.
Schalles recommends avoiding dieting and exercise extremes, aiming for a balanced diet and exercise routine that is realistic and enjoyable for you.
If worries about health, or negative body issues, persist, it may be time to seek medical help, Schalles said.
“If they are suffering from negative body image and habits, that might signal disordered eating,” Schalles said . “They should seek out the help of your healthcare provider.”