Throughout my career—teaching composition courses, teaching and directing Women’s Studies, and directing a Women’s Center—students, primarily female, have shared multiple concerns about their bodies, from being too fat, to being too thin, to recovering from eating disorders, to desires to achieve holistic health. I suppose, too, because of the roles I’ve been in, female colleagues share stories with me, sometimes personal and confidential, sometimes simply because talking about bodies is simply something women do. What I have learned from these experiences and research is that obesity is a component of a much larger problem.
We know, for example, that it’s pretty easy to look at dolls young girls play with and note the dolls are impossibly thin. It’s pretty easy to point out that most print-based advertisements with female models are created with software that restructures their face, skin color, and hip size. We know that the alterations to the size and shapes of dolls has not significantly impacted the negative body image young women have of themselves, just as creating public policy to change what kinds of foods we have access to will not by itself remedy the rate of obesity in Americans. Public policy shifts must be part of a larger movement toward health.
Women have known about the complexities of body image and self esteem for decades, and obesity has always been part of the conversation. We can learn from these women’s conversations when we talk about obesity because we need to remember how food is intimately tied to how many jobs we work, how many minutes of recess we have, how many hours we are away from a kitchen, how many times a week we have gym class, and how much money we make. The causes behind the rise in obesity are complex but not insurmountable. Learning from the conversations I’ve had with women of all ages over the years demonstrates to me that complexity is actually a good thing, and we need to find ways to implement all of the ways, including public policy, we can make our lives holistic and healthy.
Director of the Women’s Center