The Skinny on Global Body Images

Find out how body image is perceived in different countries around the world.

America’s on a yo-yo diet and it’s ugly. It seems there isn’t much of a happy medium between all-you-can-eat buffet lovers with bursting bellies and image-obsessed scale jumpers who dip leaves into a drop of balsamic vinegar and call it a meal.

We are an obese nation with a high rate of eating disorders. Our schizophrenia hit home the other week when two teachers at my son’s daycare, weighing in for an employee “biggest loser” competition modeled after the reality television show, cooed over his ample thighs and told me they hope I have a “fat little baby girl” one day.

We’re confused, we’re too fat, and we’re too image-obsessed. We’ve got it all wrong, so I decided to look into what is going on in other regions of the world—from Tonga to Toulouse, France. There are some inspirational examples, and some scary ones, too.

Spain—Power to the Pear-Shaped
The Spanish government recently measured the bodies of more than 10,000 women to help create new guidelines for the clothing industry. The government is trying to promote a healthy body image and recalibrate current sizes, which are based on pre-1975 models. According to a WeNews story, the study concluded “that Spanish women come in three basic shapes—hourglass, pear, and barrel—which consumer advocates say should serve as a more accurate base for sizing.” It’s not rocket science, but it’s a step in the right direction.

France—Crack Down on Skinny
The French parliament is working on a bill that would levy fines and possible prison sentences on those who encourage “extreme thinness.” Wonder what the French prisons will look like if that bill comes to fruition …

Tonga—Size XXL Rules
Being fat is a status symbol in Tonga (an archipelago in the South Pacific) where reports show that more than 90 percent of the people are overweight. Tonga is starting to advertise itself to the larger world as a place where plus-size travelers can come to feel skinny.

Nigeria—Fattening Rooms
According to BBC News, rich Nigerians sometimes pay to visit “fattening rooms” to pack on the pounds. The news report describes a fattening room in the city of Calabar as a place where patrons can eat, sleep, and—well, that’s about it.

Mauritania—Wife-Plumping Farms
Although the trend of force-feeding young Mauritanian girls is on the decline, a BBC News report says about 11 percent of young girls there are still force fed in order to catch a husband. Says the director of a fat farm: “When they are small they don’t understand, but when they grow up, they are fat and beautiful. They are proud and show off their good size to make men dribble. Don’t you think that’s good?”

Italy—Arrivederci to Emaciated Models
The Italian government has helped push guidelines on the age and weight of models. There was initially some resistance among Milanese fashion houses, but they eventually realized that beauty is broader than bones.

New Zealand—Fat Immigrants Not Welcome
According to the New Zealand Press Association, an Englishman with a body mass index of forty-two was denied entrance by immigration officials. He didn’t pass the government’s new fat test.

Hollywood—That Foreign Land
Jennifer Love Hewitt, after being photographed in a bikini and scrutinized for her non-anorexic curves, blogged: “A size 2 is not fat! Nor will it ever be. And being a size 0 doesn’t make you beautiful. I love my body. … To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini—put it on and stay strong.”

By Kate Carter for Divine Caroline

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