If you’ve ever watched the Tyra Banks show you’ll know about her infamous “kiss my fat ass” segment where she tells off anyone who has ever made a derogatory, unkind, or rude remark about women and their bodies. This episode sparked a very controversial and important debate about how the media objectifies and uses womens’ bodies to not only sell and market, but also to establish a form of social control over the impressionable minds of young women all over the world. Because Tyra has spent most of her career in the world of fashion and modeling, she is perhaps one of the most qualified people to provide insight into this epidemic of “mind and body control”. Luckily however, (as she mentions in the opening of the segment) she is one of the fortunate young women to have a strong family support system and has an incredibly strong personality and will to uphold her moral and professional beliefs.
As a physician, what I find most interesting about the psychology of body image is that there are polar extremes on the physical scale. We all know that anorexia and bulimia are often discussed on talk shows as being severe medical problems and that individuals affected by these disorders are affected both physically and psychologically. I have noticed however, that there is a bias in public sympathy based on the way that these disorders are portrayed. When it comes to anorexia and bulimia, there is always mention of psychological counseling and medical attention. Yet when it comes to obesity and young adults who have difficulty dealing with emotional eating, we hardly ever see a psychologist or psychiatrist addressing the issue. It’s often that this matter is left more to will power and the discipline of eating healthy and exercise. The fact of the matter is in the field of medicine, obesity is not really treated as a psychological disorder and for the same reason psychiatrists seldom treat it. In the DSMV (medical guideline for psychiatry), under “eating disorders” there is no mention of obesity or emotional eating. It can only be recorded as “not otherwise specified”. Obesity seems to be seen as a symptom of depression instead. One could thus argue that anorexia and bulimia can also be symptoms of underlying depression or other emotional issues.
From my own personal experience of treating patients suffering from obesity, I have seen that if there isn’t really a history of immobility (ie from injury leading to inability to move), then there is always an underlying psychological or emotional issue associated with the patient’s eating habits. Because teenagers and young adults are often more prone to these types of psychological stressors there is now a growing number of overweight and obese teens in the population. It saddens me that we as medical professionals and society often see these youngsters as being lazy and irresponsible with their health, when many of them desperately need proper psychological counseling and medical guidance. It is because of this that I applaud people like Tyra Banks who’s show reached out to so many young viewers and helped them take control of some of the issues in their lives as well as educate them about health and body image. In many of her episodes, Tyra often refers to her personal nutritionist to give advice on proper eating habits and how to make better food choices, as well as emphasizing that “diets don’t work!” She also included episodes that encouraged proper physical training and exercise as well as having medical professionals answer health related topics. Most importantly I applaud the fact that unlike many other models in the fashion industry, she took a realistic approach to body image and emphasized health over ideal size and often bared her own imperfections in the process.
In a world that is driven by ideal beauty and glorifies a perfectionist image, it is encouraging and reassuring to know that there are people like Tyra Banks who are not afraid to show us the imperfect side of beauty and thus the perfect example of humanity. For her courageous stance against the media, and compassion towards millions of young adults struggling with emotional and psychological troubles, the doctor gives two “fierce and love” thumbs up.