Sports Illustrated’s Weighty Issue

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Well, it’s official. America’s decline is upon us.

No, not because Hillary or The Donald will likely be the next president. Or that squeaky-clean Peyton Manning is now accused of sexual harassment while in college. Or even that "oppressed" rapper Kanye West is $53 million in debt.

It’s infinitely worse.

The fat cats at Sports Illustrated decided that plump women should grace its venerable Swimsuit issue.

Size-acceptance. Diversity. Plus-sized. Alternative body image. Big-boned. Curvaceous. Empowerment. Voluptuous. The menu of politically correct terms could go on forever. But they all have one thing in common: No matter how nicely they sound, none will ever eliminate a single fat cell, let alone tackle the huge issue of weight in America.

So what is being done to fight that growing epidemic? For the most part, nothing more than chewing-the-fat on feel-good solutions that have no chance of helping anyone, since they don’t actually address the meat of the issue. And why the inaction? Because we’re more concerned about "offending" those who might feel bad about themselves for being overweight, rather than focusing on programs that could make them healthier.

Nowhere is that mentality showcased more than at Sports Illustrated and Mattel (maker of Barbie). Instead of advocating healthy weights for women through their products, both became part of the country’s overweight problem by introducing large women into their brands, and marketing that decision as some kind of smashing-the-glass-ceiling breakthrough.

It’s not. After years of doing just the opposite, exalting impossibly thin, seemingly perfect physiques, the pendulum now has swung the other way in a misconceived attempt to placate an increasingly overweight country. This move will simply exacerbate an ever-growing epidemic.

Barbie is now being offered in a version with thicker thighs, a larger belly and plump derriere. And Sports Illustrated has been hyping its first size-16 model, Ashley Graham. Both will supposedly appeal to females who aren’t "skinny," so they can "finally" feel good about themselves. Translation: the celebrity-status being afforded to overweight women will be used to justify unhealthy lifestyles.

Fantastic. Let’s just hope both companies will be there to offer moral support when girls are getting ravaged by diabetes, battling heart disease and dealing with a smorgasbord of other obesity-related ailments.

Make no mistake. The haters and apologists will be out in force after reading this column, blathering with self-righteous indignation that this author is an insensitive boor who loves to crack jokes, but has no idea what it’s like to go through life as an overweight person.

Great. Cheeseballs off a battleship.

Now let’s dispense with the divisive language so we can digest some truths about America’s obesity problem:

1) You can’t have it both ways. Either overweightness/obesity is a lifestyle choice that should be glamourized and celebrated as an integral part of our "do-whatever-makes-you-feel-good" hedonistic culture, as Barbie and Sports Illustrated are doing, or it’s a serious medical problem. There’s no in between.

The damaging effects of being overweight are clear:

• Medically – it leads to diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, cancers, etc.;

• Economically – obesity-related health care costs are well over $210 billion annually, absenteeism costs employers $5 billion a year, productivity decreases, and life insurance premiums skyrocket, as do workers’ compensation claims;

• Socially – fairy tale political correctness notwithstanding, obesity carries a negative stigma.

2) The hypocrisy of the fat brigades, and the fawning media, is ample. Why is it acceptable to roundly criticize smoking and shame smokers as "disgusting," but the chuckwagons are circled whenever overweight people are taken to task for their appearance or lifestyle? Or, God forbid, when over-eating is shamed?

Looking at it another way, so what if smoking causes cancer and heart disease? Who cares that smokers drive up the cost of health care for everyone else? And how dare anyone (especially the government) air commercials showing the effects of puffing tobacco: Holes in smokers’ throats, amputees, toothless men and babies in intensive care because their mothers smoked during pregnancy.

If smokers are comfortable with themselves, why should we be concerned? After all, it’s not how they look on the outside that matters – shame on us for being so prejudicial – but what’s on the inside.

Most people would vehemently disagree with the above, and justifiably so. Since smoking is unhealthy, the shock-and-awe campaigns aimed at reducing it and preventing young people from trying it are widely accepted. And they are, unquestionably, effective.

But swap out "smoking" for "obesity," and you get the opposite response, as any such effort is labeled ignorant, insensitive, discriminatory, sexist, bigoted, counter-productive, and, of course, sizeist.

It may be tough for the overweight community to stomach, but their inconsistency is doing them no favors.

3) In many ways, society judges by appearance. In fact, it’s human nature, and no amount of social engineering will change that.

Are there double standards? Absolutely. A man ages "gracefully" (codespeak for a huge beer gut), but if a woman puts on extra pounds, due to child-rearing and/or hormonal changes, she’s considered slovenly and should work harder at maintaining her figure. That’s wrong.

Likewise, we need to do a better job at creating realistic expectations for what young girls should "look like." It shouldn’t be anorexic air-brushed models on magazine covers, neither should it necessarily be a doll with Barbie’s original figure. But there’s nothing wrong with encouraging young people, at the most impressionable time of their lives, to strive for a trim body achieved through eating in moderation, exercise and discipline. That’s sound advice for future good health.

But also important is the aesthetic side. Take Chris Christie, for instance. Had Christie not gotten scorched in New Hampshire, his presidential aspirations would have eventually had to deal with his size as an issue. He vehemently disagrees, but he is wrong.

Fact is, numerous past presidents, had they run in the age of television, never would have been elected because of their weight. In the same way, FDR likely would not have become president had people seen him in his wheelchair, the result of his battle with polio. It’s irrelevant if that’s fair or right; what matters is that it’s reality.

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and a staggering percentage of our children are growing up (and out), the first generation that will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. For many, they are the product of their environment, where parents (many overweight themselves) and society have sent the message that being fat is no "big" deal.

Once and for all, it’s time we get to the bottom of this problem. And the first step is to stop celebrating a lifestyle that is tipping the scales against the chances that our children have to live a healthy life.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].