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Dr. Susan Albers

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Fat Is Beautiful

Posted: 04/07/10 11:40 AM ET

On the Price of Beauty, a VH1 TV show, Jessica Simpson and her friends traveled to a remote tribe in Uganda. As they do each week, they investigate the definition of beauty as defined by a particular culture and the cost of obtaining it. The overarching theme of the show is that "beautiful" is unique to each and every culture. Although there are elements of beauty that are cross-cultural, there is no universal definition of beauty.

This episode was an interesting juxtaposition to her trip to France. In Paris, Jessica interviewed a woman struggling with anorexia. She also spoke to women in the fashion industry who feel extreme pressure to be ultra thin. In Uganda, women face the polar opposite issue. Jessica landed in a world where "fat is beautiful." Jessica (like many of us) had never been to a place where the perception of beauty does not include thinness.

In this Ugandan tribe, a full figure is considered beautiful. A plump wife is a status symbol and a source of pride for men. If an American man compared you to a cow, you would be quite insulted and likely very upset. The comparison evokes a different response in Uganda. A well fed wife and cow are a sign that you are a wealthy man and it is a compliment.

Upon arrival, Jessica and her friend were dressed in colorful, comfortable dresses. The dresses were what we would consider "unflattering." They were not form fitting (think Muumuu dress). Jessica stated the outfit "instantly put 40lbs" on her. Consider how much our clothing reflects our definition of beauty. Clothing is created to reflect our idea of beauty and fit our bodies into that notion. Skinny jeans and Spanx, for example, subtract from your shape while the flowing dresses in Uganda add to your frame.

It seemed like Jessica was a little bit envious. What was it like to live in a world where women are not pressured to starve themselves and put their body through torture? No diet commercials. No picking apart of your body. This is hard for many of us to imagine.

However, the process of gaining the weight to be "beautiful" looked a little grueling. According to the tradition, women prepare for marriage by entering the "fattening hut." The bride is required to drink several jugs of milk (approximately 5000 calories) a day. The bride they interviewed gained 80lbs in two months. Gaining that amount of weight in a short period of time would be very difficult on her body.

"Fat" or "thin," how different is the underlying message? A woman's body still is a symbol of status. It left you wondering if women in this tribe feel pressure to maintain the weight gain as much as men and women elsewhere feel pressure to remain thin. We are still waiting and hoping that Jessica is going to find a culture where your body is beautiful just as it is, without manipulation of your weight or shape. A culture that encourages you to eat mindfully, be healthy and accept your body.

Jessica seemed to really like a country that appreciates a woman with curves. It was the bugs and the creepy crawly things in Uganda that she could do without (who could blame her!).

Next week, they are off to Morocco...

By: Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist and author of the new book, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself WIthout Food, Eat, Drink & Be Mindful, Mindful Eating 101 and Eating Mindfully.

www.eatingmindfully.com