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Topic section: Body image and weight
TOPIC SECTION:
Body image and weight
Picture: 01_10315391.jpg
Is thin in? Shop window showing fashionable underwear in the 1940s.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Although the media would have us believe that ‘thin is in’, many of us are getting fatter by the day. A report in 2000 from the Medical Research Council warned that half of all adults in the UK were overweight and that one in five was obese. Why, at a time when gym membership is no longer the preserve of the boun

Research Council warned that half of all adults in the UK were overweight and that one in five was obese

cer and the boxer, and sports wear is de rigueur for the under forties, are we piling on the pounds faster than ever before?

The fact that food is more readily available and often cheaper, easier to consume, and higher in calories than at the start of the twentieth century could be a factor. The move of economies away from manual labour and toward more automated industries, means that many people are less active, and therefore more likely to put on weight. There has also been a shift in the way that people spend their leisure time, with an increase in domestic entertainment leading to less active lives. Rather than participating in sport, for example, many of us now watch it from the comfort of our sofas, home-delivery pizza in one hand and the remote control in the other.
Picture: 01_10328391.jpg
Instructions for the Battle Creek exercise system, devised around 1900 and used by the Health Reform Institute, Michigan, USA.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library


Yet this trend toward people being heavier contrasts with the Western body image presented through the media and fashion industries. In the UK the body image commonly promoted for a woman is size 10 – often several sizes away from the reality. But the increasingly powerful media tend to use models and actresses of this size or even sm
Picture: 01_V0009316.jpg
These drawings were used in study to find out how men and women perceive their body image
Credit: Copyright © Wellcome Trust Medical Photographic Library
aller to advertise products and star in programmes. Problems with weight, and health in general, can be made worse by this unrealistic ‘celebrity’ body image. In fact, the pressure of unrealistic body images is thought to be a contributory factor to some eating disorders.

In an effort to lose weight people tend to try dieting, which may include increasing levels of exercise, taking certain medications, or even surgical interventions. However, dieting and surgical interventions do not always work and can lead to more problems. Perhaps what is really needed is a more general lifestyle change.
 
 
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Topic section: Body image and adornment
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Piercings, tattoos and adornments may shock or beautify. For thousands of years they have also indicated social status. However individual they seek to make the wearer and bizarre they appear, they reflect broader social and cultural trends.  > more

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Topic section: Body image and modification
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Modifying the body itself to fit in with social expectations has a long tradition. Some modifications, like orthodontics, are intended to make people look 'normal'. Others, like cosmetic surgery, are conducted in search of outstanding beauty.  > more

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Topic section: Curiosity and difference
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Christian thought has dominated European beliefs about humanity and difference. From the enlightenment, deviation from the ideal through gender, race or looking different, meant being classified as different.  > more
 
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