Separating ‘weight’ from ‘problem’

The shape of American opinion continues to converge with the shape of American waistlines. An Associated Press article on the Web site says the pages of teen magazines—traditionally populated by skinny celebrities and skinnier models—are increasingly showing photos of “young women with thick thighs and flabby abs.” The editors of magazines like Seventeen, Teen People, CosmoGirl! and Teen Vogue say they’re “using more average women and fewer models to reflect changing body types and to help self-conscious teens see that not everyone is perfect.” Of course, Americans’ willingness to gain weight draws some ideological support from the nation’s egalitarianism. The AP article quotes Seventeen editor Atoosa Rubenstein as saying, “Everyone is beautiful. It’s just a matter of confidence, and we try to show that.” Actually, some observers are less indulgent in their views on the population’s weight gain. In an essay in The Wilson Quarterly, titled “Looks Do Matter,” author Daniel Akst argues that “America’s weight problem is one dimension of what seems to be a broader-based national flight from presentability, a flight that manifests itself in the relentless casualness of our attire.” He voices a suspicion that Americans dress so badly these days because they’re more intent on “camouflage”—concealing their portly physiques—than on looking stylish, or even simply looking like adults.

—Posted by Mark Dolliver