What is lean body mass

Slim and slim: do we all have to be like this?

Dipl. Oec. troph. Sabine Reichelt

Counting calories, avoiding fats and sweets, exercising regularly and getting the body in shape - these are the magic formulas for manipulating your own figure. But the path to the optimal body, paved with unrealistic promises from advertising, is thorny and often unsuccessful. Why do women and now more and more men want to look like the generally accepted? Ideal of beauty and slimness corresponds to?

Ideals of beauty - yesterday and today

Words often change meaning over time. The word "diet", which actually means a healthy lifestyle, is now incorrectly equated with "starvation". Ideals of beauty are also subject to change. B. Being fat was despised and punished by the Spartans. During the Middle Ages there were conflicting attitudes towards fullness. On the one hand, gluttony, like pride and lust, was viewed as a sin; on the other hand, someone who had plenty to eat was considered "graced by God". In the 17th century there was a positive attitude towards more voluptuous body shapes, which Rubens expressed in his paintings. In many cultures, obesity in women has been associated with fertility and beauty, and in men with wealth, power and prestige. What is the attitude towards being fat and thin in our western culture today?

Even in the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield were coveted beauties with their rather rounded shapes. Then came a turning point, and a "new" fashionable ideal of beauty was dictated, which was also supported by the medical community at the time: the medical professionals defined the "ideal", healthy weight and the excessively high, risky weight based on data from a American life insurance, which recorded the life expectancy of its clients for different weights. At the same time, the media propagated ever thinner stars and models. In the 1970s, for example, the super-thin child woman Twiggy embodied the ideal of female beauty. But more recent data from a representative survey show that only a few women and men today consider the "Twiggy figure" to be the most attractive figure. The female figure who is currently considered to be the most attractive is the slim, youthful, sporty woman with a narrow pelvis and relatively broad shoulders. This figure type is also supported by women's fashion through the Y-shape of many items of clothing reinforced with shoulder pads, which has a more androgynous, i.e. masculine look.

Being fat is not trendy

In contrast, the attitude towards the obese, i.e. overweight, female figure has remained unchanged in recent years. It is rated by most men and women as "the most unattractive", followed immediately by the rejection of the plump to round female figures. In men, both genders find the moderately muscular, athletic and the extremely muscular "body builder" figure particularly attractive. This preferred figure type describes a V-shaped body: broad shoulders, slim hips and strong legs. The male figure with the most fat pads is rated by both sexes - just like the corresponding female figure - as "the most unattractive". Women and, to an unexpectedly high degree, men want a weight for their own sex and for the opposite sex that corresponds to an extremely slim figure. Against this background it becomes clear that slimness is extremely important in our western culture.

The "fake" excess weight and its consequences

Real excess weight is defined by the body mass index, body fat distribution and other factors. It goes with risk factors such as B. accompanied by a heart attack and requires medical monitoring. With "fake" overweight people are meant those who are normal or even underweight, but who consider themselves too fat due to the ideal of beauty and who follow slimming diets. Every gram too much is frowned upon. The aim is often a weight that is still below the ideal weight, although this is already a condition of malnutrition. There is seldom a health motive behind the endeavor to achieve the lowest possible weight, for example in order to minimize risk factors. Nor does it by any means represent the fulfillment of a medical necessity. From the point of view of the medical profession, for a long time the ideal weight, which can be determined according to the Broca formula, was considered worth striving for in terms of health, with the normal weight (height in cm minus 100) for women another 15 and for men 10 percent will be deducted. According to the now generally accepted medical guidelines, however, even people who are up to 20 percent above Broca's normal weight are not at risk.

Even children think about diet

We learn early in life that being overweight is something to be ashamed of. That's why people of normal weight fear nothing more than getting fat. Even children grow up with this pressure. While only 6 percent of young people thought about their body weight in the early 1970s, a more recent study shows that 31 percent of girls and boys are now dissatisfied with their weight. The data from another representative survey indicate that younger people in particular have extremely extreme ideas of attractiveness. This overestimation of "super slimness" is worrying because young people in particular represent a risk group for the development of eating disorders. The mother often plays an important role in this disease. The mothers of girls with eating disorders often have a long history of dieting behind them. It has also been found that women who are very concerned about their weight feed their babies irregularly. Sometimes the weight-conscious mothers forced their babies to eat, sometimes they gave them too little.

Who are the makers of the slimming mania?

Appearance has always been important, and ideals of beauty have always existed. But the current situation is taking on dimensions that are critical from a social, moral and medical point of view. The media have a great influence in this. In particular, the increasing spread of the mass media, such as. B. the constantly expanding range of popular magazines and television channels, may have contributed to anchoring the ideal of slimness in the sense of a social norm in our heads. A look at various magazines shows this clearly: The fashion is presented by super slim models, diet cures and tips for targeted body training are advertised for each type and promises are made on how to achieve the desired weight quickly and permanently. Advertising also offers all possible means for achieving the ideal figure. Everything aims to make the readers and viewers permanently aware that being beautiful, slim, well-trained and well-groomed are ideals worth striving for.

These standards set by the media are supported by many companies and institutions: Calorie-defined drinks and menus as well as appetite suppressants or laxatives are available in a wide range in stores, numerous clinics offer liposuction or figure modeling, but health insurance companies also promote this trend, by motivating their policyholders to "look good" and "slim" through courses or member magazines. This broad front, which presents the topic of slimness, exerts a great pressure on the self-perception of every individual in our society. Women, men as well as children and young people are confronted with the images of attractive people that are everywhere. A comparison with one's own figure often makes one dissatisfied, which means that self-assessment and self-esteem are significantly lower. For women in particular, self-esteem seems to be largely determined by the evaluation of their body. However, it is precisely the appreciation and acceptance of one's own body that is important for a positive self-image. In contrast, men's self-assessment is more likely to be determined by their assessment of their character and intelligence. But even with them, the social pressure has been growing since advertising discovered the male body.

More success with a slim body?

Slimness is associated with happiness, success, love and health. The appearance that deviates from the aesthetic ideal of society is criticized, and often even despised. Obese people live e.g. B. with the risk of losing their job sooner, have fewer chances of receiving applications, are less popular as a boyfriend or girlfriend and have to deal with many prejudices that are in themselves inhumane. However, at least one representative study, which inquired about the image change of fat and thin, shows a glimmer of hope. In the course of the 1970s, being thin was viewed more and more positively, while the image of the overweight deteriorated to such an extent that it almost resembled social discrimination. 60 percent of those questioned preferred the very slim figure. A repetition of the image study in 1989 showed, however, that in the meantime neither very thin nor very fat, but a normal body weight was preferred in the population. Only 31 percent preferred the very slim type. Yet many still have an almost obsession with being slim at all costs. Appearance, good looks and fitness have now become the measure of one's own social worth. The body is ultimately raised to the essential core of one's own identity. The interest in the real self is becoming less and less important.

Beauty ideal: "collective dieting behavior"

This slimness pressure leads to an eating behavior that is now referred to as "collective dieting behavior" due to the high number of people affected. The desire to reduce one's own weight means that you are constantly on a diet or that you feel guilty as soon as you do not eat according to the diet plan. If weight loss cures are carried out over and over again for years, the result is a disturbed feeling of satiety, mood disorders, reduced basal metabolic rate, stagnant weight loss and a disproportionate increase in adipose tissue when the starting weight - as is very often the case - is regained. The restrained eating is also blamed for causing various eating problems, such as: B. Anorexia nervosa (anorexia) and Bulimia nervosa (vomiting). In addition to the disturbances in eating behavior, there are also changes in the cognitive, emotional and social areas: Concentration disorders, reduced perception, social withdrawal, loss of sexual interest, mood swings and depression are consequences that can occur in people who are disturbed. Against this background, the socio-culturally prescribed ideal of beauty represents a significant risk factor for health.

The quota regulation of attractiveness

Women are still particularly affected by ideals, although men are now increasingly orienting themselves towards lean role models. Dissatisfaction with their body weight is therefore increasing in them too, and the number of male eating disorders continues to rise. Both sexes suffer from the discrepancy between their actual appearance and what they find attractive. According to the data of a representative study, around 36 percent of women said that they would like to change their figure, 40 percent are dissatisfied with their weight. Only 55 percent of women and 65 percent of men find their weight right. Among women, 38 percent consider themselves too fat, and among even more self-confident men 26 percent.

Society is changing

The change in gender roles has certainly also changed the relationship between men and women and their own bodies. It is an irony of fate that the importance of the ideal of beauty for women has increased as they penetrate more and more successful male domains. Is adaptation to the ideal of beauty a suitable tool for women to ensure their success in the male world? Is the slim, rather masculine figure a means to assert oneself better in the male-dominated (professional) world? But the change in the classic distribution of roles also brings some changes for men. As women increasingly take their lives into their own hands, they are more independent and less and less likely to form bonds just to know that they are cared for. So men have never had to be prepared for so much female rejection as they do today. In addition to many other aspects, this has led to men now also taking their physical attractiveness more and more important. At the same time, the fashion designers are also successfully conquering the male market and advertising images that represent the desired attractiveness of men are now also scratching the self-assessment of men.

Gone are the days when obesity in men, associated with power and authority, was more accepted than women. However much gender roles have changed culturally, women are still primarily judged by their appearance. If a female personality is reported in the media, it is usually also stated how she looked or what clothes she wore. Although male body awareness has increased, their performance is in no way equated with their body to the same extent as women.

The ideal of beauty: put an end to the terror of slimness

Despite our best efforts, our notions of slimness cannot be reconciled with our actual appearance. We are not just any shape and interchangeable "model dolls". We should recognize that our figure with its individual proportions cannot be manipulated by reaching a certain body weight. A low body weight does not automatically guarantee the dream figure. It would be nice if the otherwise critical society would also question the dictates of slimness and not only judge people by their (lean) body shape. Instead of striving for slimness, aren't there more effective ways to maintain healthy self-esteem? Because whether fat or thin, woman or man: everyone is beautiful in their own way and has much more to show than just an outward appearance.

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Source: Reichelt, S .: UGB-Forum 1/95, pp. 10-13
Photo: Rainer Sturm / pixelio.de

This article is taken from the UGB archive.

We would like to point out that the content may have to be re-evaluated due to new scientific findings.