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Confused about healthy women's weight? This might help

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Confused about healthy women's weight? This might help
October 13, 2023
Nahal Garakani - LA Post

Juliette Martin, a French lady, was able to climb the corporate ladder with an outstanding elegance and slimness, finally becoming the chief executive of the American division of Veuve Clicquot. She successfully negotiated the complex world of weight management and provided insights into the French manner of maintaining a slender figure in her best-selling book, "French Women Don't Get Fat." This book has been quite successful. However, her narrative of success is entangled with the expectations of society as well as the complex link that exists between one's weight, income, and gender.

The narrative begins with Martin's, teenage years, when she returned from a summer in America with extra weight. The remark from her father, comparing her to a "sack of potatoes", led her on a path to regain her old French habits, including drinking lots of water, controlling portions, and regular movement.

Her experience resonates with other women who have faced similar comments about their weight, including Aubrey Gordon, co-host of the Maintenance Phase podcast, and Roxane Gay, an American writer. These experiences are deeply personal, yet universal, reflecting the societal pressure on women to conform to a certain look.

Over time, the societal 'ideal' for women's bodies has changed drastically. From the ample curves of Renaissance nudes to the thinness epitomized by the 'social x-ray' women of New York in the 1980s and the 'heroin chic' of London in the 1990s. Today, the 'weasel bod' rules – a body so streamlined and sleek it could slip through water without disturbance.

The societal emphasis on women's bodies translates into economic implications. People of higher socioeconomic status in nations such as the United States, Britain, Germany, and South Korea, are more likely to have a lower body mass index. Researchers say that the reason for this is that factors such as weight, body mass index (BMI), and income have a somewhat sloping downward direction.

Interestingly, the correlation between income and weight is far higher for women than men. In America and Italy, the relationship is flat for men and downward-sloping for women. This indicates that being thin might help women become rich.

Research suggests that overweight or obese women are paid less than their thinner counterparts, while there is little wage difference between obese and 'normal' weight men. The wage penalty for an obese woman can cost her about 10% of her income.

Contrary to expectations, the stigma against overweight people has grown alongside their numbers. It is almost doubled between 1980 and 2000. Economist David Lempert suggests that the increasing rarity of thinness has led to its rising premium.

The wage discrimination experienced by overweight women has cumulative effects. Their starting wages are lower, and throughout their careers, they receive fewer raises and promotions. Also, the penalty for being obese might be rising, not falling, as indicated by data from Harvard University's 'implicit bias' test.

The common belief that people can control their weight is misguided. Factors such as medication, certain health conditions, and traumatic experiences can influence weight gain. Also, it is scientifically agreed that it's almost impossible for most people to lose weight and maintain that loss.

While shame might motivate some to lose weight, the immense cost of stigma, shame, or fear of becoming overweight on all women and girls who worry about what gaining weight might cost them is undeniable. This worry often comes at the expense of other important things, like focusing on exams, work, or enjoying food.

While the narrative has shifted towards body positivity, the economic reality has remained largely unchanged. Women continue to eliminate foods or spend large sums on exercise classes under the guise of health or wellness. As Jia Tolentino writes in her book "Trick Mirror", feminism "has not eradicated the tyranny of the ideal woman but, rather, has entrenched it and made it trickier."

The economics of thinness involve a complicated network of cultural influences, gender norms, and the repercussions of such pressures on the economy. It is essential, as we work toward creating a culture that is more accepting of diversity in all its forms, to question the deeply ingrained prejudices and customs that uphold such an imbalanced link between affluence, size, and health.

*Names have been changed*

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