Why do we always want to be thinner?

Research shows that 50% of girls and young women today are unhappy with their bodies.[1] Many perceive that the opposite sex like their partners to be thin. The media, especially television, film and magazines, supports this perception with pictures of thin, attractive and successful women.

In one study the residents of two Nicaraguan villages were studied on the kinds of body sizes they thought were most attractive, and on their dietary habits.[2] The villages were very similar in all respects except that the residents in one village, Kakabila, watch TV while people living in the other, Square Point, don’t. What was found was that in Kakabila, where the most often watched material was TV soaps, US films and music videos, the residents had thinner body ideals to those in Square Point. The impact of the media beyond TV was further illustrated by residents of the capital city of Managua, with unfettered access to Western media and culture, who had the thinnest body preferences of all. Where women preferred thin bodies, the more likely they were to be trying to lose weight, and the more TV they watched, the more likely they were to feel this way.

Many people have an obsession with being thin. Research shows that even when people go on a diet, lose weight and become their optimum weight, they are still not happy. So, what is missing? The research shows the media drives an obsession to be thin, and equates this with being attractive, powerful and successful.[3] On one level this is true. It would be easy to say that the solution is to have many and varied shaped bodies on the TV screen or in the magazines as equally successful and attractive as the skinny versions.

However, this solution misses a vital point – what is actually occurring is that the media, and arguably psychology studies, influence us to look at our bodies and how we live our lives in a one-dimensional way, that is, a focus on the purely physical, whereas the truth is that there is more to us than our physical appearance.

What if we shifted our focus from the visual diet of media images shaping our pictures of body image to a deeper perception of who we are and all we bring?

I too have been caught up in this superficial approach, in a world that stigmatizes being overweight or fat, that posits that being thin equates to being successful, happy, healthy and attractive.

I have wanted to be thinner for so long that I cannot remember a time when I didn’t.

Recently, in a discussion I had with a group of very dear friends, I came to understand why this might be so. You see, I have always been taller and bigger than most of my friends and close family members and so I always thought I was fat, and I always felt big. What I had not understood until this discussion was that all the stuff about not appreciating my body was simply me holding back who I really am; that it had nothing to do with my body image – that was simply the human level. On a deeper level, it was me not appreciating the body I bring to humanity, the reflection I bring to others in how I live. After this discussion I put on a shirt I hadn’t worn for ages – it is bright burnt orange – and some trousers that fit me really well and a smart jacket. I felt like a million dollars when I headed out the door for work! I didn’t feel fat at all.

What was the difference? I had understood that it wasn’t my size that mattered – it was who I am and what I bring, and it was appreciating that. I felt really connected to my body and my being, to my true self, that morning. At work that day I was simply in the flow of that – I didn’t think about my body shape or weight at all. I didn’t even think about being thinner.

So maybe when I don’t like my body I am not actually having a ‘wanting to be thin day’ or a ‘feeling fat day’, I am simply having a ‘bad connection day’!

It is only very recently that I have started to accept my body size and shape and stopped wanting to be thinner. This is because I am starting to appreciate what I bring to others with my work and my whole life. I can feel the power in my physical body, and it has nothing to do with my size. Now I understand that for me to think I am overweight is constantly cutting myself off at the feet, so that I am not walking with the power of my body because I am always wanting to be something I am not... thinner. Yet my body is where it is because it is the woman I am. My body is the perfect size for me so I can reflect how I live.

One of my friends put it this way:

I will always think and feel bigger than I am, because I am bigger.

In other words, I am bigger than just my physical body. I am also an energetic body, so if I rest in the enormousness of who I am, then I will feel my body is tiny compared to that hugeness. I simply need to surrender into that because I am it.

Another friend said to me that sometimes when we have an issue with what we know we bring energetically, we create another issue, so we apologise and make sure no one is disturbed by us, because making it about our body is bringing a reduction of what we are energetically reading at a deeper level, how much we bring and how amazing we are.

In other words, making it about my body and wanting to be thinner is like an apology, cutting myself down, saying, “look everyone, I am this sad person who is not good enough”. Where is my purpose in that reduction of who I am and what I bring? Isn’t it much more purposeful to claim who I am and allow my form to hold that, whatever size or shape my body is, appreciating all I am and all I bring as a person?

What would happen if we all were to get ‘self’ out of the way and start to appreciate what we bring to the world and to humanity? We each have gifts that no other person in the world has.

Focussing on wanting to be thinner or taller or wanting a smaller bottom, bigger breasts, bigger shoulders or bigger chest, reduces the power we each have to make a difference in this world, to reflect something at once glorious and yet ordinary. It is an excuse to play small.

Let us claim our big-ness, for as human beings we are bigger than we could ever imagine and more powerful than we could ever dream.


  • [1]

    MacLeod, M. (2016, Feb. 15.) What’s Really to Blame for Our Skinny Obsession? Hint: Watching TV is heavily implicated. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sexy-science/201602/what-s-really-blame-our-skinny-obsession

  • [2]

    Boothroyd, L.g., Jucker, J., Thornborrow, T., Jamieson, M.A., Burt, D.M., Barton, R.A., Evans, E.H., & Tovee, M.J. (2016). Television exposure predicts body size ideals in rural Nicaragua. British Journal of Psychology. Doi: 10.1111/bjop.12184 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26910312

  • [3]

    Boothroyd LG, Tovée MJ, Pollet TV (2012) Visual Diet versus Associative Learning as Mechanisms of Change in Body Size Preferences. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48691. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0048691

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WeightLosing weightSelf-esteemAcceptanceBody image

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