Am I pretty?

In June, the talk- and information TV broadcast “Klub Konkret” by ARD channel einsPlus addressed the topic with the title “How ugly are we?”.

The temperatures are increasing in summer and the clothes become shorter. However, for people that do not correspond with the common ideal of beauty, this means uneasiness. Especially overweight women feel vulnerable if they get negative attention in public. Unfortunately, people with morbid obesity are still considered as “abnormal” in populace and they are often rejected. In June, the talk- and information TV broadcast “Klub Konkret” by ARD channel einsPlus addressed this topic with the title “How ugly are we?”¹

The 23 years old Luciana Schmidt is in the centre of attention. She is the author of one of the most widely read fashion blogs on the internet and modelled for women magazines as Grazia or Glamour. Luciana says: “You frown at me, if I wear a dress and do not hide my body. Just because I do not fit into dress seize 36. But why shouldn’t I put on pretty clothes?”. The young woman thinks that overweight people aren’t taken seriously and are handicapped in fashion: “There is insufficient fashion in XXL-sizes which hits newest trends. Furthermore, overweight women convey a sense of being ashamed of their body.” Her criticism is well founded. Studies show that the discrimination and stigmatization of young overweight people in the German population is widespread. Chubby people are considered as undisciplined, lazy and stupid in this country. A lot of people think that loosing weight is only a question of the right attitude. That this is a widespread misbelieve has been shown in numerous studies of social scientists.

Obesity is a disease. There are diverse causes: genes, environment and eating behavior but also psychosocial factors can determine the development of overweight. Physicians still fight for an acknowledgement of the disease by health insurers and the government. Outsiders who are not affected by unnecessary pounds are not aware of this dilemma. Claudia Sikorski², a researcher at the Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) AdiposityDiseases in Leipzig knows that: “Obesity is often classified as self-induced by populace. People concerned can do something against it and they also have to. The consequence of this way of thinking is the lack of support, because the obese people ‘just’ have to try a bit harder to lose weight.”

Fashion campaigns with plus size models should work against the cult of slimness in the summer of 2013. The Swedish fashion chain promotes summer dresses with an ‘oversize model’, and the curvy singer Beyoncé ensures in coloured bikinis the glamour factor. That is supposed to show the company’s increased awareness. Sustainability and awareness are a clever marketing strategy to hush audible criticism.

Luciana doesn’t believe that such campaigns can seriously  lead to a change of the beauty ideal. The impact is far too small and only temporary. The publics still thinks in the dualism of “slim or fat”, “pretty or ugly”, “good or bad”, “healthy or unhealthy”. There is no more space left for different body shapes, sizes and variations. “It has a lot to do with reduction of complexity in our heads, because there must be stereotyped thinking to understand and handle the world around us. However, if this stereotyping is as negative as in the case of obesity the reasons for the massive negative attitudes have to be scrutinized”, explains Dr. Sikorski.

Beauty ideals evolve as easy as prejudices emerge. In an affluent society like Germany overweight is seen as a sign of lacking self control and discipline. Yet, in poorer societies a big belly is a sign for prosperity. Fuelled by media, we see ourselves in a constant competition with other pretty people. The requirements of today’s life are not only in the business life enormously high. Success is also a question of good looks. The motto is: ‘Achieve a lot and look good.’ Successful people simply cannot be fat – so it seems. The lazy ones are those who are overweight. These prejudices go far: Studies have shown for example that obese people are disadvantaged in the job market. Luciana is not lazy at all. The student writes her own fashion blog for women and girls who do not corresponded to the established ideal of beauty. “I want to show the world, that you can be pretty and feel good with overweight, too.” Interested blog readers can discuss in a message board and ask Luciana questions. In the meanwhile she has become a little star. This year, she was a visitor of the Berlin Fashion Week. Luciana hopes to encourage women to be themselves and make peace with their body, because ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.”

A. Härter

(1)     Klub Konkret: Report and talk format on einsPlus in ARD, moderation Franziska Storz.

(2)     Claudia Sikorski, Melanie Luppa, Elmar Brähler, Hans-Helmut König, Steffi G. Riedel-Heller (2012): Obese Children, Adults and Senior Citizens in the Eyes of the General Public: Results of a Representative Study on Stigma and Causation of Obesity

(3)     Claudia Sikorski, Melanie Luppa, Marie Kaiser, Heide Glaesmer, Georg Schomerus, Hans-Helmut König, Steffi G. Riedel-Heller (2011): The stigma of obesity in the general public and its implications for public health – a systematic review

Keywords: society & social life, stigmatization