HEALTHY LIVING

Why Women's Weight Loss 'Advice' Has More To Do With Power Than Health

05/13/2015 12:01 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2015

From the way weight loss and gain is constantly discussed and criticized in society, to the "tips" and "tricks" that are hailed for how best to drop pounds, the current conversation surrounding weight is problematic, according to a recent panel of experts on HuffPost Live.

"Body of Truth" author Harriet Brown told host Nancy Redd that our obsession with weight started around the turn of the 20th century. She discussed an interesting trend in how women in power affect society's standards of beauty:

At every point in history where women sort of gained more political or economic power, that is a time when the body ideals for women narrowed, both literally and figuratively. So in the 1910s to '20s, women were working towards suffrage [and] suddenly we went from a more voluptuous body ideal to the flapper ideal -- very slim, androgynous. In the 1960s with women's liberation and the pill, suddenly we have Twiggy as the ultimate expression of femininity.

Given the complicated social underpinnings of weight standards, it's no wonder that there is such a confusing message on what, exactly, is considered healthy. According to psychologist Deb Burgard, people in thinner bodies are often criticized as having disordered eating, even though their behavior is recommended for weight loss maintainers by the National Weight Control Registry.

"This is where I think we are prescribing for people in higher weight bodies what we diagnose as eating disordered in people who are in thinner bodies," she told Redd. "And I think it's a terrible idea, obviously, since I see all of the fallout from this."

The error is to think we come in one size and that we can read some kind of meaning into that size, said Burgard. Instead, the solution lies in acceptance of body diversity -- even in the face of what Brown called a "toxic" media landscape of unrealistic ideals.

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