Comedian Amy Schumer was shocked. Which, if you’ve seen her bawdy YouTube rants or her R-rated movie, Trainwreck, you might find hard to believe. But her outrage had nothing to do with her provocative comedic routines or her trademark candor about dating and sex.
Here’s what got Amy mad: Glamour Magazine put her name on the cover of their spring “plus size” issue. The “curated” editorial issue, on newsstands for $12.99, was financed by women’s dress designer Lane Bryant, the special issue’s lone advertiser. Alongside Schumer were other “Women Who Inspire Us,” such as celebrities Melissa McCarthy, Adele, and Ashley Graham, who are also, presumably, “plus-size,” at least according to Glamour editors.
Now, to be clear, Schumer is the first to admit that she doesn’t fit the stereotypical beauty queen standards of height, weight, or bone structure. She’s got no problem with a little flesh. But she’s also not exactly overweight. She’s 5-6 and wears a size six to eight. In other words: she’s normal.
“I think there’s nothing wrong with being plus size,” Schumer responded, pointing out that in America, plus-size starts at size 16. “Glamour put me in their plus size only issue without asking or letting me know and it doesn’t feel right to me. Young girls seeing my body type thinking that is plus size?”
All this controversy magnifies an issue close to many parents’ hearts: how to raise girls to feel comfortable about having “normal” bodies today, amidst rampant media images of extremely thin, often highly styled, often photo-shopped actresses, singers and models. Glamour magazine has 10 million readers, many of whom are teenaged girls, and that’s just one magazine. Our media’s powerful visual messages have the net effect of teaching girls to hate the bodies they wake up in every day, fostering the anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia and other eating disorders that afflict millions of women and girls a year.
Most parents of girls won’t be surprised by the statistic that one-third of normal weight girls diet regularly; 69% of American girls who read magazines say the photos influence their concept of the ideal body weight; and anorexia remains the psychiatric disorder with the highest known mortality rate. So, the joke “size 6 is the new 14,” isn’t one that makes parents of girls laugh. We don’t want our daughters to diet, we live in fear of them developing distorted body images, and we’d do just about anything to help them feel good about having a normal, healthy body.
If, like the rest of us, you’re wondering how to do this, a non-profit organization called ANRED offers evidence-based advice. First, know that eating disorders are far easier to prevent than cure, and parents are in a uniquely powerful position. Also know that the biggest risk factors for girls are moms who diet, sisters who diet, and friends who diet. So, don’t diet yourself, or if you do change your eating habits, talk about the overall health benefits, without overemphasizing the weight loss. From the time your kids are born, emphasize the importance of healthy eating and positive body image, and explain openly to your kids why others’ dieting habits and obsessions are self-destructive.
Men are especially influential in shaping girls’ self-worth, so if you are a man, be more conscientious about commenting on others’ appearances, especially a woman’s or a child’s. Never allow anyone in the family to tease another about their weight or appearance. Kids may laugh at “baby fat” or “thunder thighs,” but even what seems like playful teasing or jokes about strangers’ weight can permanently damage girls’ developing self-esteem. Lastly, praise kids for who they are, and the important role they play in your family — not for how they look.
Perhaps there’s an even easier fix to Schumer’s complaints, one that provides a roadmap for Glamour and other women’s magazines to avoid embarrassing body shaming missteps, while also supporting parents’ goals of helping our daughters avoid eating disorders and body dysmorphia. It’s a simple idea, proposed by Michaela Pereira, a longtime Los Angeles tv anchor who’s currently CNN’s morning co-host. Pereira is a media icon herself, an inspiring vanguard in television by virtue of being female and 45, a Canadian with a Jamaican father, adopted at three months by Caucasian parents — and by some societal yardsticks, a plus-size woman herself:
“Maybe it’s time to get rid of the whole idea of labelling women by our sizes,” she told CNN’s three million viewers. “After all, when was the last time you heard a man described as plus-size?”