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When Did ‘Skinny’ Become the New Ideal?

By Janet Helm, MS, RD

I recently heard a radio commercial for a diet pill that promised to get you “high school skinny.” It just struck me how often I’m hearing the word “skinny” these days. When did skinny become the new ideal?

So many of the popular diet books seem to have skinny in the title. Have you noticed?  Perhaps the trend got started a few years ago with the success of “Skinny Bitch,” which is a vegan book that sparked an entire line of skinny books and products.

Now you can read about the Secrets of Skinny Chicks and Unleash Your Inner Skinny while wearing your skinny jeans and sipping a skinny latte or Skinnygirl Margarita. If you’re hungry, you can grab a Skinny Cow ice cream or skinny protein bar.  The skinny marketing trend has even jumped over to the beauty aisle with skinny shampoos and skinny lotions.

Skinny is everywhere. It has certainly become a mega-empire for the Skinnygirl herself, Bethenny Frankel, who’s making a bundle with her Skinnygirl cocktails, books and other products.  Maybe skinny helps sell a lot of books and a lot of booze, but I still don’t like it. I think it sends the wrong message.

I talked with registered dietitian Marsha Hudnall of A Weight Lifted and she agrees. She said a focus on skinny simply reinforces the message that skinny is the shape we should all be, and not everyone can truly be skinny.

“This is a pursuit of an unrealistic ideal that leads to loss of productivity and ultimately ill health, whether from attempts to reach this unrealistic ideal or just from the stress of it all and the unhappiness it generates,” says Hudnall. “It also perpetuates the idea that anyone who isn’t skinny is somehow less than acceptable. Ultimately, I believe a focus on health instead of weight and size is where we should turn our attention.”

That’s the premise of a growing movement called Health at Every Size or HAES. I spoke with Linda Bacon, PhD, author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight about the skinny trend. She finds it troubling because it starts with the idea that we’re all inadequate if we’re not skinny. It sets up skinny as a cultural mandate, and that we’d all be better people if we can release the skinny person that’s hiding inside us. She feels like it’s selling self-hatred.

I think we need to focus on healthy habits. Being skinny doesn’t say anything about being healthy. You can be skinny and not be healthy (or happy).

Hey, maybe the actress Mo’Nique has the best “skinny” book of all: “Skinny Women Are Evil, Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World.”

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