Why Chasing A Bikini Body Is Actually Ruining Your Health
Nearly two years ago, I stood in a store in Heathrow Airport, looking for something to read for the very long trip back home.
Row after row of magazines and books seemed to be screaming at me to ‘lose five pounds fast’ or share with me the moves to get arms that would make Michelle Obama jealous. Cover after cover, I saw the same thing: quick fixes and focus on being more attractive. Looking around, fellow travellers were one by one making their way out of the store and on to a tighter, toned life. Or so it seemed.
I thought to myself at that moment, 'no wonder we can’t be healthy. We’re too busy trying to be pretty'.
The modern world seems to be drowning in everything you have ever needed to be healthy. From the supersaturated health book market, activewear, 24-hour gyms and a new eating plan nearly every week, we might think that more than ever before, we have all of the tools to be healthier. Except that as a society, we are far from healthy.
Nowadays, we are more likely to die from a ‘non-communicable disease’, an illness that isn’t caused by bugs and infections, but one that is associated with things like smoking, physical inactivity or diet. Worldwide, 71 percent of deaths are due to this. In Australia, the leading cause of death is cardiovascular disease. Since these illnesses can be reduced by living a healthy lifestyle, why isn’t our saturated wellness practice working?
The thing about the modern obsession with health and wellness is that it is often sold as something to be pursued for benefits that aren’t your health. It’s often about shiny hair, clean skin, toned bodies and looking healthy. The problem with this is that this pursuit of appearance may not even be healthy for us.
It might seem trivial; after all as long as we’re working out or eating our greens, what’s the harm in wanting to look better as our primary goal? A lot, as it turns out.
Being motivated by appearance goals most likely doesn’t sustain motivation over the longer term. In addition, for some people, it will backfire. Being motivated by appearance to exercise for example may result in avoiding exercise altogether or dangerous dieting and disordered eating.
The other part of this one-eyed pursuit of wellness is that it tells us that our health is something we deserve. It tells us that health is a moral pursuit and a testament to our willpower, commitment and our prioritisation of ourselves above all else. This is absolutely misleading -- nobody ever deserves illness, and while a healthy lifestyle will of course afford some protection against ill-health, even the most dedicated of us still get sick.
Wellness is inherently classist, with these lifestyles not available to everyone given the cost involved -- and it fails to recognise that the social determinants of health -- where we live, if we’re educated -- have a massive part to play in our well-being.
From musing in an airport store to taking a deep dive into health and wellness in an age where it’s ubiquitous, the more I looked, the more I found wrong with the way health and wellness is sold to us. For our actual physical and mental health and well-being, it’s imperative that we unhook this idea that in order to be healthy, we have to be beautiful.
We need to strip back health to what it actually means to be healthy, not stumble from one fad diet to another in the hopes of looking better for summer. We need sustainable, accessible and achievable health -- none of which will come by chasing a bikini body.
Dr Nikki Stamp’s new book Pretty Unhealthy: Why our obsession with looking healthy is making us sick, Murdoch Books, $32.99 is out now.