This is a guest post from Dr. Brad Zehring.
Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, made news last week when he proclaimed that his company â€œrefuses to make clothes for large people, instead he wants thin, beautiful people wearing his clothes.â€
Putting aside the fact that this is a public relations nightmare, does it really surprise anyone that he said what he said? Anyone who knows anything about Abercrombie and Fitch, anyone who has been in their stores, seen their catalogs, their posters, their merchandising bags has to know the image they want to project. Expectedly, there has been tremendous outrage from customers ranging from boycotting the brand to calling for a full fledged apology. Why outrage now? Where was the outrage when Abercrombie plastered their agenda/marketing all over the walls of their stores? Did we need to hear their agenda vocalized to be concerned? What does this say about the subliminal messages of our media platforms?
This little snafu is a microcosm of what is happening in our society. Across media platforms, in schools and in homes across America, body image is under attack. Men and women are taught to believe, subliminally or more directly, that if they arenâ€™t thin, they arenâ€™t beautiful. Look no further than the magazine racks. Hollywood and the media are always displaying overweight celebrities and equating them to being less than those that are â€œthin, beautiful people.â€
Why does this matter? In the words of Chevese Turner, CEO and Founder of Binge Eating Disorder Association:
“Body image issues are tied to weight stigma or bias which in of itself is a type of trauma. This is problematic because this trauma is experienced daily, for the most part, through direct mistreatment or bullying around body size and/or the subliminal suggestions experienced daily by all of us that larger bodies are directly tied to a moral defect in character and automatically equal poor health.
The messages we receive daily via family, friends, and everyone we cross paths with encourage us, mostly unknowingly, to change our bodies. We should be ever vigilant to eat the right foods, do the right amount of exercise, apologize for eating too much, insist we are bad when we overeat, judge one another wherever food is involved, talk about eating moderately, and make sure to continually be unhappy about our body size and appearance as a way to fit in to the groups of people we like, admire, and/or love.”
What can be done? As a society letâ€™s not wait for the obvious to be stated aloud. Feeling good about oneâ€™s body means one accepts her/his body at the very moment s/he is in. It is important to be perceptive and on guard to the assault of defining beauty.
What does that look like? Parents, think twice before looking in the mirror and picking apart every flaw you feel you have about your body with the kids in the room. Donâ€™t equate self worth to external beauty. Instead, define beautiful as being intelligent, funny, compassionate, joyful, etc. Allow yourself to believe you are enough just the way you are. Start by defining beauty for your family, your circle of friends, and your co-workers. Stop conversations when they focus on diets, body figures and degrading talk about skinny, fat, obese or any other adjective. To a large extent, society has allowed the media to define what beauty is, itâ€™s time for society to rewrite the definition. Change the conversation!
Dr. Brad Zehring is aÂ PsychiatristÂ who has a passion for creating conversation and decreasing the stigma of mental health. He works out of Banner GoodÂ SamaritanÂ Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Follow him on Twitter at @DrZehringDO