Beauty that is only skin deep

America’s Next Top Model has reached Chile and with it so has Twiggy (celebrity judge for one of the seasons). Not only has ANTM reached Chile, but also, Brazil has a spin off: Brazil’s Next Top Model. Both shows are equally horrific and objectifying (while also for some I am sure, entertaining).

But that is not what I am here to talk about. Rather than debate what beauty is and how it is transmitted and taught in our societies, I want to look at how this is operationalized in the lives of so many young women.

A couple weeks back a Chilean survivor of anorexia, Denisse Fuentes, launched the release of her book, La Dieta de La Muerte, about her struggles with the disease. The 19 year old in her interviews repeatedly states that she hopes the book will help lead to the ministry of health coming up with diagnosis or treatment standards for people with eating disorders in Chile. At this time, the only health concern the ministry of health addresses is obesity. Moreover, the young author before the release of her book wrote the president about her problems (if it is not classified as a health concern by the ministry of health than it is very hard to get and seek treatment). She got no response. She has now sent a signed copy of the book.

Chileans will comment on weight much more than an American would. I don’t think I have ever been in the country more than a week without hearing that I am skinnier or fatter than I was last time said person saw me; that the clothing works or doesn’t work because of how it does or does no slim me. In the states you might comment that someone looks skinny or compliment them on losing weight; however, it needs to be someone very close with whom you have “that kind of trust” to tell them they look fat. Especially regularly. Especially if its just a pound or too. Especially if you are just gonna blurt out “yea, you look really chubby today” or “wow how much weight did you gain”.

At the same time, Chilean women tend to wear tight revealing clothing. This is true even if the person is overweight. In the states a woman will spend hours searching for the right shirt that covers and diminishes her love handles. Here in Chile they let them fly.

But does that make the country healthier with their attitudes towards body image?

Another American and I got into this debate over Thai food the other night. Deb’s point was that Chileans, although they have the same concepts of beauty (perhaps more voluptuous and curvy than the current stick-figure-Twiggy-inspired model), they are more conformed with their particular shape. I, on the other hand, argued that issues around body image are simply not spoken about as freely in society, that the internalized pressure is humongous, and that the inability to find and use clothes that hide ones body exacerbates the problem. In some ways, we are both right.

The constant commentary about weight weighs much more heavily on Americans here who take offense to the comments and internalize them in a negative way. On the other hand, I can’t even begin to count the Chilean women I know with anorexia, serious body image issues, or obsessions with exercise. Yes, exercise is good but not when it comes at the expense of your job, your marriage, and everything else in your life.

5 comments

  1. As the father of two young girls (six and one), I am concerned about the effects of body image on them. My wife and I try to and need to continue to let them know that people come in all shapes and sizes. It’s hard to see that sometimes in the American media, but if one looks in the malls, schools, etc. there is a different story. Americans tend to overeat, but then feel ashamed of the results (wild generalization). In Chile, it sounds like they are less ashamed of it, but still obsess over it. We (my wife and I) are seeking to help to change that with our girls.

    Okay, now I’m putting on my scientist hat and am posing some questions to address underlying issues. Why do people overeat? For me, it can be for emotional reasons (i.e. wanting to change my mood). Also, is there any evolutionary advantage to retaining weight? Keeping warm. When would our next meal be on the savannah? Those who had fat reserves could survive through famine, bad weather, etc. These are just a few theories. Science hat off.

  2. Responses to the science hat guy:

    1st, I think people overeat for a ton of reasons, some of which are learned. I saw an interesting blog recently (no idea where, otherwise I would direct you there) about the negatives of using food as a reinforcing behavior. For example, if we withhold food when a child is bad or if we reward with food when they are good, we are setting up underlying behaviors and reactions to food which may later in life become negative eating patterns.

    2nd, America media continues to tell us that skinny is beautiful. Although a child may see all types of people in society, they have been taught that fat is bad. That is hard to undo.

    3rd, if you go back in time (or even to other parts of the world) skinny was ugly. Fat was a sign of wealth (money to buy food) or health (not being killed by disease).

  3. This is why I love reading your blog because you put things that I have often thought about but never verbalized into coherent blog entries. You’re awesome Clare🙂

    So true that Chileans love to comment on weight. They have absolutely no problems pointing out gain -rellenita, gordita, redonda, rollo de pan, etc or loss- delgada, regia, flaca, estupenda.

    I think they do have just as many issues with weight as the U.S. For instance regia or estupenda, although they are adjectives that have anything to do with size, are almost exclusively used to describe thin women.

  4. oh, and the worst part about the weight issues here is that women aren’t even encouraged to exercise to lose weight…just to eat puro pasto…

    females that exercise are often considered manly. gotta love it.

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