April 10 2012
Michelle Obama often warns of the dangers of obesity. She is often heard repeating the familiar talking point that obese children will grow up to face a life of sickness, unemployment and early death. Fun! Those who survive will just be a drag on our economy, as Ms. Obama so kindly pointed out during a 2010 speech before the U.S. Conference Mayors where she suggested fat people just don’t work very hard. I guess it’s okay for the First Lady to trot out that last vestige of acceptable bigotry—the type directed toward obese people—when she’s trying to save lives. Yes, you see, Mrs. Obama really cares about fat people—particularly fat kids.
Given the first lady’s concern about the nation’s youth, I look forward to her comments on the latest study examining the mental health of young girls ages 11-17. The study found a generation of adolescent girls are so concerned about their looks and the pressure to conform to an 'ideal notion' of how women should look that they will fail to succeed professionally.
What contributes to this epidemic of insecurity among young girls? Surely, our celebrity and diet-obsessed culture is to blame as well as so-called “fitness” publications that put airbrushed and genetically blessed women on their covers as examples of a normal body shape. The cult of celebrity and the fashion industry certainly share in the blame. In fact, in a rather shocking admission, Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani acknowledged in a speech at Harvard last month that the images used in high fashion magazines are partly responsible for anorexia and other eating disorders. And of course, we can’t forget Hollywood—that dark industry that sexualizes young girls, promotes cruelty to others, and delivers the message that a perfect body should be a girl’s chief goal in life.
But along with the fashion, fitness and entertainment industries, the Obama Administration, led by the First Lady, also deserves some blame. Since coming into office, the President, his wife and members of his administration have droned on endlessly about the dangers of being overweight. In their opinion, there’s literally nothing worse than becoming fat. Mrs. Obama even famously suggested her own healthy-looking daughters had weight problems marking not only one of the worst First Mom gaffes in history but sending a message to masses of young girls around the country that her healthy and totally weight-appropriate daughters were fat.
Of course, Ms. Obama isn’t the only Obama official to use hyperbole when describing the so called “obesity epidemic.” Former CDC head Julie Gerberding said obesity was worse than the Black Death (I guess she’s lucky there aren’t any survivors of that 14th century pandemic that killed nearly 100 million people to offer their thoughts on her outrageous statement) and current HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said obesity was worse than cancer. Hmmm, I wonder how cancer survivors feel about that statement. I wonder how the families of cancer victims feel about that.
There’s nothing wrong with the First Lady encouraging good eating habits, strong parenting skills, and the need for moderate exercise but her message should include the important fact that people come in all shapes and sizes. The obesity “epidemic” in this country has been overblown and it’s hurting our girls. I look forward to the President announcing his soon to be formed Task Force on Insecure Girls. Or he could just ask his wife to chill out on the “you’re a loser if your fat” talk. That might help a little.