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Our Issue with Swimsuits in Sports Illustrated

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On Tuesday, the hotly anticipated 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will hit the mailboxes of 70 million SI subscribers, every newsstand and media outlet, at least 250 million people will view the thousands of images online, and a 30-minute video for PlayStation will be released with an “up close and personal” look at the photo shoots.

Since it’s unlikely you will hear any media outlet discuss the Swimsuit Issue’s serious blow to female equality, self-image, attack on women of color or its use of pornography packaged as “safe” for the home coffee table, we are here to give you fair warning! I have chosen not to include any photos from my 40-year analysis because they are displayed everywhere else you will be looking (whether you want to see them or not), and Beauty Redefined is dedicated to de-normalizing these harmful images rather than promoting them in any way.

Every week, 30 million faithful followers catch up on the latest sports news in their weekly edition or online version of SI, the self-proclaimed “foremost authority” and “most respected voice” in sports journalism. And once a year, every year, those 30 million subscribers soar to more than 70 million and are joined by 250 million more online viewers for the always record-breaking event known as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Published since 1964, the SI’s 200-plus pages of nude to semi-nude females is truly a cultural event, generating global mainstream media coverage, TV shows, calendars, DVDs and mass amounts of memorabilia to push Sports Illustrated’s sales through the roof every spring. Since its birth, the Swimsuit Issue has earned $1 billion for SI’s parent company, Time Warner, which owns CNN, AOL, HBO, the CW, Time Inc, DC Comics and hundreds of other media companies. Talk about a media powerholder!

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue: “A Cult-Type Thing”

The increasing popularity – even inescapable presence – of the Swimsuit Issue alone is enough to warrant serious study of this magazine. But while numerous readers and viewers post the pinups on their bedroom walls, countless more feel those non-sports-related images should stay in blatantly pornographic outlets like Playboy and Penthouse. Either way, 44 years after the first edition of the Swimsuit Issue and hundreds of millions of viewers later, the magazine has become a popular culture phenomenon. Even back in 1979, one reader is quoted in the magazine as saying the annual issue is an “American tradition,” along with baseball and hotdogs, while another calls it “a cult-type thing” for male consumers across the country. Today, claims 32 percent of adults in America regularly read the Swimsuit Issue (22 million are reported to be women), and with its own YouTube channel, mobile video on demand, and record-breaking website hits, this magazine is quickly becoming a global spectacle.

With a gold mine of information yet to be examined academically in terms of the Swimsuit Issue, this study is an attempt to move beyond the basic arguments on the disempowering nature of the images. My main goal with this research is to expose the way harmful, objectified ideals about women’s bodies are normalized and made so mainstream that we don’t question them. With this objective and the hundreds of millions of SI viewers in mind, I analyzed issues from 1978, ‘88, ‘98 and 2008 to explore the ways images of nude or nearly nude women are made normal and mainstream in one of the most popular “sports” magazines of all time.

I, and many other scholars, argue that the SI Swimsuit Issue profits from a philosophy of constructing men as active, women as passive; men as subjects, women as objects; men as actors, women as receivers; men as the lookers and women as the looked-at; and I argue, men as consumers and women as the “to-be-consumed” (Betterton, 1987). Women today have been socialized to see themselves through the male gaze so that they are both spectators and spectacles. As spectators of themselves, women learn from popular media, in this case the wildly popular Swimsuit Issue, to compare their appearances with the media’s feminine ideal, becoming objects of their own gaze. This feminine ideal, as proven again and again by the Swimsuit Issue, leads women to internalize these mediated ideals and constantly work to live up to these perfected “norms” of beauty while leading men to believe these qualities are essential (and attainable) in a mate. Essentially, “the feminine ideal is tanned, healthy slenderness, with no unsightly bumps, bulges, or cellulite, and bodily and facial perfection that results from hours of labor: exercise, makeup, and hair care” ( Kuhn, 1985), and 20 years later, plastic surgery and digital manipulation.

When Pornography Goes Mainstream

Magazines like Playboy, Hustler and Penthouse are an obvious source for voyeurism, or the act of secretive looking at things of a sexual nature without being seen, and those sources do so without apology. The Swimsuit Issue is equally voyeuristic in nature, but does so under the guise of being “America’s foremost sports authority” and “most popular sports journalism magazine.” Essentially, this magazine offers sexual fantasies and blatant voyeurism hidden undercover as a sports magazine. Duncan put it best in 1993 when she said, “If they so desire, readers can sneak looks at the models while steadfastly denying that they buy and read the issue for pornographic content,” and she had NO IDEA what SI would look like in 2011, with the help of digital manipulation, surgical enhancements and reductions, and a global company owner with the power to publish and produce nearly any message and distribute it immediately.

SI masks its pornographic presence by placing the models in foreign locations with sandy beaches and tropical jungles so as to appear to promote travel destinations and the appreciation of nature. And don’t forget to take into account the idea of being a “swimsuit issue” is quickly becoming a lie. Instead, in the record-breaking 2008 issue, the models are wearing far less than swimsuits more than 50 percent of the time and only body paint for much of that time, which clearly invites voyeurism. When they do wear bathing suits, the most private of parts that are normally censored in mainstream media are repeatedly exposed in an “oops, I didn’t know that was showing” sort of fashion. Even the cover of the 2008, 2009, and 2010 issues features topless models with string bikini bottoms only big enough to cover the necessary amount of skin to avoid censorship.

When Women of Color Go Wild: Exoticization in SI

Though the original Sports Illustrated began in 1954, people of color were found solely in the first 10 years of publication as “hired help” by serving food and drink, performing physical labor, or entertaining in ways that U.S. readers would perceive as “exotic.” By 1982, the magazine had featured only two women of color anywhere within its pages, but they always had very light skin and typically “white” features. It may startle you to know the first dark-skinned model did not appear within the pages of the Swimsuit Issue until 1990 – more than 35 years after its initial publication, after the production staff received complaints about its exclusionary practices and realized their increasingly non-white readership would pay to see models of color. According to one anonymous editor in the early 1990s: “I think the magazine’s growing up, and being more aware of the social consequences of what it’s doing.” (Davis, 1997).

The 2008 Swimsuit Issue features approximately 72 percent white models and 28 percent non-white models, which closely resembles the U.S. population. However, the harmful issue at play in this magazine is not so much the number of representations anymore, but the type of representations. What I want to emphasize is how the “exoticization” of women of color within this magazine does NOT reflect a magazine being “aware of the social consequences of what it is doing” as one editor put it, but promotes dangerous ideas that whiteness is the norm and the most desirable, and anything else is an exotic deviation – even a less-than human object of desire.

History tells us women of color have historically been described as “exotic” in popular media, and it has always carried a sexual connotation. In the 2008 issue alone, I explain the details of how “exoticization” works: When a dark-skinned model appears, she is most often wearing a different animal print bikini on every one of the pages she is featured on, which makes her appear to be animal-like or “exotic.” One of only two dark-skinned models in the 225 pages of images is seen exclusively in leopard and cheetah print bikinis. In Western, white culture, there has long been a fascination with black women as different and ‘other.’ Therefore, this swimsuit model, representative of the non-white female population, reflects what is exotic, inhuman and even animalistic as she strikes seductive poses in her animal-print bikini. Need more evidence of this “wild” phenomenon? The 2008 magazine boasts a two-page spread featuring the only Hispanic model. She appears to be emerging from a muddy body of water, with dirt covering her face, neck and chest. With only a roughly one-inch piece of cloth visible on her body, this model doesn’t model anything but mud! Instead, she appears to be a less-than-human object made up of nothing more than breasts and dirt. Photographs such as this degrade non-white women, and even all of non-Western societies, by reinforcing a stereotype of non-white women as “different,” exotic and purely sexual.

I Object!

Let me be blunt here. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is the epitome of female objectification. Packaged in a magazine that can be picked up and packed around, the semi-nude to nude females within the pages can be equally possessed and controlled. Do you want further evidence of the objectification overflowing the pages of this magazine? Because you’re going to get it! The Swimsuit Issue represents the very literal fragmenting of women into parts of women. Between 1978 and 1988, the models were often in two-page spreads where their chests were the focus of one page while their backsides and hips occupied the other. But in the late 1990s, editors made the classically pornographic move to a three-page centerfold spread. As the 2008 issue featuring cover model Marissa Miller demonstrates, three-page spreads allow for women’s bodies to be segmented and magnified into three parts: faces, chests and behinds. She is first identified as one page of chesy and one page of a derriere as the reader turns to the centerfold. Appearing virtually headless, the only way to identify her face is to turn back one page and unfold it to find all three pages. If this magazine continues progressing – better yet, regressing – toward more extreme forms of female objectification, its next step will be to simply leave the heads off their models, blur out their faces or place bags over their heads.

In 1978, the swimsuit models posed in what we’d now call mildly seductive positions. Most often posed with flirtatious smiles and hands on hips to emphasize the curve of their waists, these women were acting to accentuate their best features – the objects of men’s desire. But as years passed, the models seem to more fully act like they were turning themselves into objects. By 1988, the cover model, Elle Macpherson, is staring intently into the camera while pulling her swimsuit down to expose her cleavage. Because her goal is to attract and satisfy the male gaze, she is acting with herself as a male would act if he were present. But just wait! The 2008 edition (and all the following) take objectification to the extreme. The 2008 issue, titled “Barely Bikinis,” is packed with models  tugging at or removing bikini tops and, most often, bottoms. This is just one example of the models turning their own bodies into objects to be acted upon. Further, the title “Barely Bikinis” is an understatement: the majority of the models appear naked, missing either the top or bottom of their bikini or are wearing completely translucent coverings. More fully bare chests appear in 2008’s edition than any other Swimsuit Issue, which further proves the shockingly increasing amount of  objectification taking place year after year.

The Swimsuit Issue’s Global Impact

The global exposure of the Swimsuit Issue, one of the self-proclaimed “most powerful phenomena in publishing and new media,” is having and will continue to have a worldwide impact: an impact on the way white and non-white women are viewed, and therefore, treated; an impact on the normalization of pornography as safe and socially acceptable; an impact on the standard of beauty we all use to evaluate women; an impact on profit increases in diet and beauty industries, as well as an increase in cosmetic surgery procedures. Objectification, exoticization and normalized pornography, occurring in more extreme and blatant ways each year, work to harm women and cannot be accepted in the U.S.’s “most respected voice” in sports journalism.

Speak out! If the harmful ideals identified in my research bother you and you’d like to help Beauty Redefined break the silence, please comment on this post and I will send this story and your comments directly to the editors and publisher of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Please feel free to share this information and use it, but remember to use the proper citation:

Lexie Kite, 2011. “The Issue with Swimsuits in Sports Illustrated.” Excerpt from “Top Debut Paper” paper presented at Western Communication Association Conference in Anchorage, Alaska: April 2010.

Berger, J. (1977). Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin. (Original work published in 1972).
Davis, Laurel B. (1997). The Swimsuit Issue and Sport: Hegemonic Masculinity in Sports Illustrated. Albany State University of  New York Press.
Whatley, Mariamne H (1988). Photographic Images of Blacks in Sexuality Texts. Curriculum Inquiry. 18(2) pp.137- 155.
Duncan, Margaret Carlisle (1993). Beyond Analyses of Sport Media Texts: An Argument for Formal Analyses of Institutional   Structures. Sociology of Sport Journal. 10: pp. 353-372.

A Hit TV Show Under Inspection: XOXO, Gossip Girl

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High society and low blows are back as teen drama GOSSIP GIRL continues its rein as a smash hit in its 4th season, giving millions of viewers a glimpse into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite. Here, we’re offering the inside scoop on this wildly popular series by using a critical eye to reveal the secrets the always-mysterious “Gossip Girl” will never tell.

-XOXO, Gossip Girl Revealed

The much-hyped “Gossip Girl” first aired in 2007 to about 2.61 million viewers every week, and continued to catch fire through season 2 as 3.19 million tuned in  to each episode of season. Hot young stars Blake Lively as Serena van der Woodsen, Leighton Meester as Blair Waldorf and Taylor Momsen as Jenny Humphrey helped rake in numerous awards for the risqué show, including Choice TV Show, Choice TV Actor, Choice TV Actress and more.

With all those viewers – most of whom are “impressionable young women” – it’s so necessary to look a little deeper at the content of this show, past all the seriously addicting storylines and beautiful people. Audiences are hooked on “Gossip Girl,” and there’s no arguing the show has some serious entertainment value. And that’s exactly why a critical look into this show is, well, critical. Here, I’m looking at just the first four episodes of season 1, focusing specifically on the leading ladies’ comments about their/others appearances, sexual activity and relationships beween the males and females, and the approximate height and weight of the leading actresses. Last, I’ll talk a bit about the possible implications of this show on female and male viewers’ perceptions of beauty and sexuality – especially its importance in their lives.

When “no” means “yes”

In Episode 1, we are introduced to stunning blond Serena van der Woodsen, who appears after an impromptu semester at boarding school. She returns to school to find her equally gorgeous best friend, Blair Waldorf, assuming the role of “Queen Bee” in Serena’s place. Later in the episode, the last of the three leading actresses, Jenny Humphrey, appears as the bright-eyed freshman willing to do anything to fit in with Serena and Blair, the most popular girls in school. Within 15 minutes of the first episode, Serena is found drinking alone at an upscale hotel bar. One of the leading male actors, Ed Westwick playing Chuck Bass, walks up to her and offers to buy her a meal as he flirts with her. The next scene features her eating a sandwich on a counter top, when Chuck begins spreading her legs apart and trying to kiss her neck.

As he continues forcing himself on her, she says “NO” again and again. As he threatens her not to say “no” because of the information he knows that could ruin her reputation, the audience is hit with flashbacks of a sexual encounter between Serena and Blair’s boyfriend. We see her on a counter, her skirt up around her waist, with her legs wrapped around her best friend’s boyfriend. As the scene continues, we witness the couple tearing each others’ clothes away as they have intercourse. As the flashback ends, Serena gathers the strength to push Chuck off of her and she runs away from the bar crying.

Besides the sexual nature of these scenes between sophomores and juniors in high school, all within the first few minutes of the first, highly acclaimed episode, one of the most disturbing aspects of this show is the fact that Chuck, the token “playboy” and “hot guy” of the series, is never so much as reprimanded for this sexual assault. Furthermore, in the second half of this episode, he tries to force himself on Jenny Humphry at a party as she cries “no, no!” – all without any repercussion. His attempts at rape go unquestioned, effectively normalizing and trivializing his seriously harmful efforts. Viewers can perceive this in several ways, and unfortunately these are some of the ways many viewers may have interpreted this scary scene: “If he is attractive and he finds you attractive, take his aggressive sexual advances as a compliment.” “Thin, beautiful girls are just that irresistible.” “Every girl deals with attempted rape every so often. Brush it off.”

The Object of Desire

Throughout the first four episodes, viewers are consistently invited to see the leading actresses as nothing more than body parts, i.e. sexual objects. In the only scene where the girls are found being physically active outside the bedroom – during a P.E. class, a song with very clear lyrics plays as the camera pans up and down their bodies: “Baby, where did you get that body from? Baby, where did you get that body from?” In Episode 4, as Serena walks away from a potential love interest, the camera zooms in on her derriere as the song, “Gotta Shake You’re A**” plays. In another example from Episode 2, we see Chuck, the “playboy,” wake up with two girls in his bed, cuddling him on both sides. In Episode 4, he hosts a party where girls acted as door prizes, boasting, “Guys, you have 500 chances to get laid!”

And the leading ladies of Gossip Girl perform the sexy role very, very well. Blair is shown sitting in a bustier and garters twice within the first 20 minutes of the episode. In Episode 2, she wears heels, a silk shirt and no pants as she walks around her house with her friends. When she is seen in clothes later in the scene, she quickly removes them to change her clothes, revealing a bustier underneath. When Serena is asked on a date by a new guy who admitted he thought she was rude upon first impression, she asked, “You asked me out on a date and didn’t think I was nice?” He replied, “No, I just thought you were hot.” Here, beauty is equated with sex appeal, and therefore the fact that these young teens are very sexually active is simply a no-brainer.

“95 lbs. of pure evil”

Hot and sexy are defined in a pretty narrow way for these Gossip Girls. Literally, very narrow.

  • In Episode 4, Blair is lovingly described as “95 pounds of pure evil.”
  • When Blair spoke about her mother grieving over her cheating father, she simply said, “Mom lost 15 pounds when Dad left her, so it’s been really good for her.”
  • When Blair sees her mother for this first time in weeks, the first and only thing she says is, “I lost two pounds while you were away,” to which her mother replies, “And you look wonderful!”
  • Later, Blair is asked to model for her mother’s fashion line. As she prepares for the job, she says, “Rules for a model the day of the shoot: No food or drink for 12 hours before…”
  • In Episode 1, Blair is trying on tight, revealing dresses for a party when her mother says, “You’ll never be more beautiful, thin and happy as you are right now. Make the most of it. Change your dress and put some product in your hair – the ends are dry.”

The only positive interaction Blair has with her mother is another comment based solely on her appearance: “Blair, you looked beautiful tonight,” her mother says after the modeling shoot. Not surprisingly, Blair is beaming after this. In Gossip Girl, a compliment regarding weight loss, “hotness,” or beauty is the greatest compliment of all.

These messages about weight and beauty are all the more loud and clear for viewers because these leading actresses are “it girls” on and off the screen. On the screen, classmates follow the girls around and serve them as needed. The only two women of color on the show are an unnamed Asian girl and an unnamed black girl who serve as “sidekicks” to the cool girls. Both appear several times throughout each episode, side-by-side with Blair, but only speak when spoken to. Off the screen, these “it girls” receive major media exposure regularly, with massive viewer fan bases who are regularly reminded of the benefits of looking and acting like Blake Lively, Leighton Meester and Taylor Momsen.

At 5’8” and 124 pounds, Lively (Serena) is on the lower end of a healthy weight according to World Health Organization standards. But her co-stars are a different story. At 5’5” and 95 pounds, Meester (Blair) comes in dramatically underweight, and Momsen (Jenny) is the lowest of all, at an estimated 108 pounds and 5’8”. What they don’t mention with the incredible sex appeal and motherly love these girls receive along with their incredibly thin bodies is the accompanying bone loss, malnutrition, organ failure, infertility, abnormal menstruation, fatigue and increased susceptibility to infection – not to mention death – that can come along with such low body weights.

Female viewers of Gossip Girl quickly come to know a world where beauty and thinness is rewarded with male attention, motherly love and overall popularity. For the leading ladies of this “Choice TV Show,” very very thin is in, appearance is everything, and showing skin is the key to success. In real life, let’s hope the millions of faithful viewers are savvy enough to recognize these harmful ideals and redefine female worth for themselves!

-XOXO, Gossip Girl Revealed

Gossip Girl is definitely not unique in promoting these harmful messages about women. The examples are endless, and one extremely visible example is making its much-anticipated debut next week, on Feb. 15: the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. UP NEXT: An in-depth look at the implications of the nation’s No. 1 sports magazine offering a full issue of nearly nude women.  When porn goes mainstream — like celebrating the magazine’s debut on the Today Show mainstream — there’s a problem here.


Media Ideals: The Real True Hollywood Story

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Well, after Lindsay’s last post on the sketchiness of the BMI, lots of people seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. As an incredibly unreliable method for judging weight, the BMI is a profit-driven standard that doesn’t tell us much at all about individual health. If you believe you are healthy based on other more reliable indicators (like activity level, physical fitness or your doctor’s opinion), then forget what the BMI says you are – underweight, overweight, whatever. It simply doesn’t hold up for way too many people. But understanding how unreliable the BMI is for determining a person’s healthy weight should motivate us to find more accurate indicators of health for ourselves and our loved ones — not to give up on achieving a healthy weight altogether.

We at Beauty Redefined believe a big part of the problem is that too many women have no idea what a healthy weight or size actually is. It should be no surprise that the vast majority of females as young as 3 choose an ideal body that is at least 10% underweight. With the help of for-profit media upheld by advertisers who make billions off unattainable beauty ideals, we have all come to believe a very distorted picture of what it means to look like a woman. The only weights or dress sizes we ever hear or see are for models and celebrities ranging from size 0-4, and we know that they are not representative of regular, healthy people. The average model is 5’11 and 117 lbs (which is drastically underweight, even according to the BMI). The vast majority of women we see in any form of media are underweight, not to mention digitally altered, softly lit, and styled by an entourage of experts from her head to her toes. But what about those female celebs who do appear to be of a healthy size and weight?

When It Comes to Size, These Aren’t Such “Little White Lies

If, by chance, the beautiful women we see in popular culture are not underweight, they often wholeheartedly profess to being a size or weight that is not reflective of their actual measurements! Take reality TV star Kim Kardashian for example. A little over a year ago, Kim blogged to her fans that she loved her cellulite and “va va voom” figure and they should embrace their own bodies. Just weeks later, she made sure the world knew that she was a “curvy” size 2 and no bigger. But Kim isn’t alone in claiming a size evidently much smaller than her actual self. After media controversy swirled around Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jessica Simpson gaining weight last year, both women set the record straight by simultaneously claiming they “loved their curves” and were very happy with their “size 2” figures.

Or take 5′ 9″ singer/actress Jennifer Hudson, who told reporters in 2007 she weighed 140 lbs., after dropping 30 since her American Idol days. She said that in a sea of size 2 celebrities, she enjoys representing the “real women” out there with her healthy figure. But after signing a contract with Weight Watchers in early 2010, she now self-reports to have lost 80 lbs. total, and wears a size 4- 6. If we do the math based on what she has told the press, that means the curvy singer would currently weigh 90 lbs. (170 lbs. during Idol, 140 lbs. in 2007, -50 with Weight Watchers in 2010 = 90 lbs!) Unlikely.

Take a glance at full-length shots of Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, or Jennifer Hudson, and then grab a pair of size 2 jeans. Something tells us these celebs are telling a dangerous not-so-white lie to the girls and women who adore them and who can’t help but compare their own real weights and sizes to these inaccurate claims.

The Camera Doesn’t Lie … Or Does It?

It doesn’t help that our No. 1 source of health information aside from doctors is women’s magazines, and those may be the worst offender of all in terms of representing extreme thinness and beauty ideals as “fitness” or “health.” Now add the little-known fact we try to share at every chance: No image you see of a women in media has gone un-altered. Photoshopping is, by all accounts, an industry standard, and the art of digital manipulation knows no bounds. When Oprah adorned the cover of a 1989 TV Guide with her head plastered on actress Ann Margaret’s (much thinner) body, that was only the beginning. Today, some models featured in magazines are not human at all, but parts of women digitally pieced together to create an ideal.

Oprah's head on Ann Margaret's body, 1989 TV Guide

But don’t forget about broadcast media! Did you know many celebrities will only be on camera with a filtered lens to blur away any “imperfections” like pores, moles, wrinkles, blemishes, or stray hairs? Were you aware that film can be stretched to create a taller, thinner image? And soft, flattering lighting is standard on the set of nearly every television show and movie? Shows like E! News, Extra, and Entertainment Tonight do not interview celebrities at press junkets without soft lighting, cameras with filtered lenses on hand. Even those “off the cuff” Q & A’s with your favorite celebs are manipulated to create an unreal ideal. And don’t forget about the entourage of stylists to create the perfect package – we’re talking wardrobe, hair, makeup, nails, eyebrows, etc. The final product, the only one we’ll ever see, is a carefully crafted ideal even our so-called “ideally beautiful” celebs can never meet!

No wonder our perception of “average” or “healthy” is incredibly skewed toward thinness and perfection.

And since we’ll see billions more images of women in media than we will ever see face to face, we must counteract those images with reality. What does normal look like? What do accurate weights and heights look like? We have a strategy for rejecting these lies, and it begins with looking each other face to face and seeing some honest, realistic numbers. For a much-needed glimpse of reality, check back this Monday, Feb. 7, to see our latest project, titled…

FACTS & FIGURES: 10 Girls Tell the Truth About Weight

Feedback on “The Lies We Buy: Defining Health at Women’s Expense”

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At last count, 180 people have shared the link to my last post on Facebook alone! A handful of those are my friends, and those posts have brought some insightful, positive and constructive responses and a couple that weren’t so much. I’ve included a bit of controversy at the end of this post. Below are just a few of the comments I’ve gathered from readers who have shared their feedback on our Beauty Redefined Facebook page, friends’ pages or other blogs. Feel free to “weigh in” and add your own insight to this post. This conversation is a seriously important one, and it needs to be kept going continuously!

And thank you to everyone who has helped to spread the word on the inaccuracy of the BMI for judging a healthy weight!

Emma (From her blog) – I’d like to go on record as seconding, thirding, and even fourthing this article. According the the BMI scale my “healthy” weight is 155 and by healthy I mean 25. The doctor’s verdict? At 155 I would be skin and bones and very unhealthy.

Melanie – Oh, that’s a great article. I HATE how women are pressured to be skeletons, HATE IT. Too bad we can’t go back to when the most beautiful women were extra curvaceous.

Sabra – It was a great article!! Then to be bombarded with Google’s HCG & Hypnosis for weight loss at the bottom it is definitely ironic!

Michelle – Love this article. good job as usual! (My bmi says i’m bordering on overweight and that is total CRAP)

Gina – This is an amazing article! I’ll be sending this on to all the women I know!

Keely – This is for EVERY woman. Raise your glass to crushing what has become the social norm, and to being curvy, truly health conscious, and to learning to love who you are RIGHT NOW. You are beautiful. Embrace it!

Gail – Wow! Thanks! Great information! I want to share this with my Girl Scout troop.

Kathryn – Definitely food for thought. While I did find it interesting that the idea for beauty has changed between the early 1900’s and today, I do not think that also means that the woman referenced was necessarily healthy. However, I did find that history and recent changes to the BMI educational and believe more attention should be paid to this.

Rebecca – Very interesting. Thanks for sharing! I agree that assuming that historical perceptions of beauty/health are more reliable than current perceptions is not logically sound. Present-day representations of beauty are clearly not healthy, but that doesn’t make historical representations NECESSARILY better (nor representations from other cultures, which are also often compared to our own). However, the article does shed light on the unreliable foundations of what most people regard as a “scientific” measure of healthy weight. I was totally ignorant of this history, and I’m grateful to be enlightened.

Tiffany – Yeah I hate BMI. I have been over weight since I was 14 according to that even though I was in the best shape of my life then. They don’t realize that some people have bigger bones and that muscle weights more then fat. I would rather look healthy then have my bones sticking out and looking like a twig … They told me my ideal weight is 165. The doctor told me my bones alone weigh that much. I start looking sick at 195. It’s fun being tall and big boned. Good thing I have a healthy self esteem.

Emily – I would have to get down to 125 lbs before the BMI classified me as underweight. Holy Crap! Just for a little perspective, I am 172 right now. Can you IMAGINE me almost 50lbs skinnier?! I can’t, I would have absolutely NO curves! How sad!


(Name Removed) – Just because heavier women were percieved as more attractive in the past does not make it better. I read the first article on the site which quoted some averages and norms. The writer’s contention was that it’s normal for women to be 5’4 and 155, and now it’s dropped 10 pounds. Well guess what? 5’4 and 155 is not healthy!!! That is fat and 175 at 5’4 is obese. The health risks are irrefutable.

Honestly, looking at the site, it is a couple of girls who don’t like the reality that being big will kill you, and want to boil it down to an unfair beauty issue.
If we decided what was great by the “norm”, everyone would be getting bigger. That’s not how you do good science.

My Response – Hi, I’m Lindsay Kite, the author of this article (which, I should note, is a watered down recap of a 45-page paper I wrote for my PhD program last month). My example of Lillian Russel is simply to show how our perceptions of beauty have changed so drastically in 100 years. Just because she was considered healthy doesn’t mean she was healthy, it just means our thinking has changed. Then, thinness was considered unhealthy because of susceptibility to tuberculosis, whereas being “plump” or “robust” was a sign of good health. We’re not a couple of girls who don’t like the reality that being big will kill you. We’re a couple of girls who don’t like the reality that unrealistic, profit-driven beauty standards ARE killing women emotionally AND physically, from thinness obsession, body hatred and depression to disordered eating, obesity and full-fledged anorexia and bulimia (re-read my article for those stats and connections).

No one can make the claim that 5’4″ and 155 is unhealthy or that 175 is obese. The BMI doesn’t take into account gender, race (since different races carry their weight differently) lean mass, muscle, bone structure, frame size or any other factors that account for weight. Nearly all athletes are considered overweight according to the BMI. You can’t honestly believe that some of the most fit, lean people on earth are “obese.” The health risks you claim are irrefutable are 100% refutable.

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