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Accepting Different Body Types, But Not Embracing Obesity

I just learned (yes, I’m a little late to the party) about the Body Shop anti-barbie controversy from a post on Facebook. The ad to the left has been banned from most countries, because it was believed to be in bad taste. For me, it raises some very interesting questions.

First of all, it’s been my experience that the media has been relentless in its portrayal of feminine beauty as being a dress size zero. This is an unattainable goal for most of us, and a very narrow view of what is truly attractive and physically healthy. I can’t imagine how many young girls feel deeply flawed when they compare themselves to Barbie et al. If unchecked, that self-doubt and insecurity can become a lifelong self-esteem issue or worse. Eating disorders are becoming more and more common, and carry with them the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

That being said, I’ve often had mixed feelings about the few “love your body as it is” campaigns* that have tried to push back against the rail-thin ideal. While we all have different body types, it’s still not healthy to be obese. Just as our favorite pets are born with different natural shapes (Chihuahuas, Whippets, Golden Retrievers, and Great Danes), we humans are different sizes too. But that doesn’t mean it’s “ok” to be excessively fat. I’m sure we can all think of examples of dogs that are over-fed and under-exercised. They frequently have (or are developing) health problems because of it.

So, I think that it’s good to have this conversation – beauty comes in many shapes and sizes. But I don’t want us to go too far and become complacent about health and fitness. Being the “right size” for our build is an important part of preventing certain weight-related illnesses like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and heart disease. There is no room for “discrimination” against those who are working towards a healthier body, be they obese or otherwise. But, let’s not go too far in accepting an unhealthy lifestyle. Barbie is not the ideal, but I don’t think Ruby (above) is either.

How do you feel about this campaign?

*I think the Dove campaign is a notable exception. All the women in the ad below are different shapes/sizes without being obese.

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4 Responses to “Accepting Different Body Types, But Not Embracing Obesity”

  1. Allie says:

    The ads by Dove and The Body Shop are about beauty coming in ever shape, size and color. The campaigns are to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that you don’t have to conform to an unattainable ideal set by society. They are not promoting obesity or even focusing on health or fitness, nor are they aiming to make people accept an unhealthy lifestyle….they are aiming to give women, and especially young girls, the opportunity to see beauty in themselves, however they may look, and present real women as alternative role models to supermodels.

  2. Dial Doctors says:

    I agree with you that embracing obesity is not a service for society. You use a great example where the Dove campaign is able to show women of different sizes and shapes without being unhealthy.

    Obesity isn’t an aesthetic problem; it’s a health problem. That ad shows a doll which could easily be 200 lbs. if it was a real woman therefore unhealthy.

    Men aren’t without their own troubles. Ads portray men with bulging muscles and six packs. Just like some women who will never have a 24 inch waist, some men will never have a six pack. You can see men working out for hours at a time to get the desired reversed triangle shape. Women purge or restrict food while men use steroids and use unhealthy supplements to handle the pressure.

  3. I agree, Dial Doctors. Men are held to a difficult standard too… and being 200 lbs is not healthy for most women… ;-)

  4. Carolyn Thomas says:

    Hello Dr. Val,
    Dove strategically targeted a demographic of women who are tired of stick-thin supermodels who just make us feel frumpy and dumpy by comparison. And this innovative marketing strategy worked. Within six months of Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign launch, European sales of Dove’s skin firming products increased by 700%. SEVEN HUNDRED PER CENT! The campaign’s sales topped $1 billion in its first year.

    Is it just me, or does anybody else wonder why Dove and its ad agency pals tell us first that our natural imperfect beauty should be celebrated – but then that natural aging is wrong and must be stopped by purchasing Dove products? That we should stop feeling intimidated by unrealistic media images of beauty, but then open our wallets to buy Dove’s cellulite-fighting cream? And why did women line up like sheep to buy this stuff?

    More at “If We’re Beautiful Just The Way We Are, Why Do Those Dove ‘Real Beauty’ Ads Tell Us We Need To Buy Their Skin-Firming Creams?” at

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