Here’s a fun fact: These days, your average Aussie woman weighs in at about 70kgs and is about 163cm tall.
Last year, Body & Soul decided to take those statistics and perform a little experiment. They found a model that was 163cm tall and weighed about 70kg. Her name was Melanie Ward, and she was 35-years-old.
Body & Soul photographed Melanie in a crop top and a pair of shorts, and took a poster of her to the streets. They then crowd-sourced opinions, asking passers-by about whether they thought the model (name: Melanie, age: 33) was overweight.
Take a look at Melanie:
Interestingly, when the story ran, the majority of people said that Melanie was overweight. One woman called her fat. Another even asked, “how can this be the norm? How do people feel comfortable in such a state?”
And now, Melanie is back in the news again, after a federal Liberal MP discovered the story from last June, and reposted it on his Facebook page last week – voicing very similar opinions to those originally published in the article.
The MP is a not-particularly-well-known Queenslander named Andrew Laming. Mr Laming is also a doctor, and is evidently passionate about the the weight of Australians. When posting the link, he wrote: “So, is it OK to be overweight, if it is now average?”
Understandably, the debate was re-ignited. Women commented, accusing him of fat-shaming Melanie.
Federal Labor MP Kate Ellis said that it was an “appalling attack” and told Network Ten that we don’t need the government criticising women’s bodies – “we’ve got health experts and many others who will do that, and women themselves.”
While the original post has been deleted, Mr Laming has since defended himself on both his Facebook page and in the media. He told AAP: “I made no judgements about obesity… I haven’t made any comment at all on the image of the person. I simply asked a question to promote debate. I haven’t taken sides.”
He added on his Facebook page: “With rates of overweight/obesity increasing in Australia how do developed economies respond to this serious health issue given the fact that our average weight/height dimensions have crept outside of the normal BMI range?”
Admittedly, I can see what Laming was attempting to say by posting the original link. The rates of obesity are increasing in Australia, and this, in turn, has various repercussions on various systems. It’s absolutely an issue that would interest a Liberal MP, particularly one that is a doctor.
But I don’t support the idea of dismissing someone as overweight, and therefore unhealthy, based entirely on how they look.
After all – the original Body & Soul article article asked random people to make a judgement call about Melanie’s health, based on absolutely nothing except her appearance.
They didn’t inform people about her exercise habits, or her eating habits, or her medical history. They simply put up a big picture of her in a crop top and asked people to judge away.
Which is a seriously shitty thing to do, considering that you can really tell very little about a person’s health simply by looking at them.
And being a doctor, Mr Laming ought to know that in order to be fit and healthy, you don’t necessarily have to be a perfect size eight, with long, skinny legs and toned arms.
Even exercise guru Michelle Bridges acknowledged this when I interviewed her a couple of months ago. “I think it’s about time we had a different perception on body shapes and sizes,” she told me. “Whether you be a size eight or 12 or 16, it’s about being the best version of yourself.”
She added: “I think once you start getting a BMI creeping up into the obesity levels, of course you need to address it, because that not only affects your psyche but your hypertension, blood pressure, early onset disease.
It can shorten your life. But once you are at a place where you have a reasonably healthy BMI, your cholesterol and health levels are all around at a better place with good food and exercise, you don’t have to worry if you are a size 14 or whatever.”
It’s also a concept very much aligned with the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement – a movement that’s only getting bigger, and is supported by professionals from many disciplines, including scientists, academic researchers, physicians, dietitians, exercise physiologists, psychologists, and civil rights activists – all of whom advocate a new way of approaching weight.
Yes, Body & Soul model Melanie may be on the borderline of having an overweight BMI. But that isn’t a foolproof system of health assessment either – I know men who are incredibly fit and healthy and yet fall into the overweight scale of BMI due to how heavy their muscle mass is.
I also know people who are very skinny and have a whole myriad of health issues. I also know people who are right smack-bang in the middle of a “healthy” BMI and yet have PCOS and a seriously high risk of developing diabetes (hello, yours truly).
So let’s not just look at Melanie and decide she’s overweight and therefore most Australian women are overweight and therefore we are having a WORLD CRISIS.
Because other women will look at Melanie, or read the statistic of 70kgs, and reach the conclusion that they too are overweight. And therefore fat. And therefore unhealthy. And they’ll beat themselves up about it because they’re not a size six, and because their stomach isn’t flat, and because – like Melanie – they don’t have a box gap.
When really, none of that matters – as long as you’re healthy. As long as your blood sugar, your blood pressure and your cholesterol are good.
So let’s not just look at people and form our conclusions. Let’s look at their eating habits. Their fitness habits. Their health. Let’s look at how Melanie does exercise, and does try to eat well, and is entirely aware of her genetic risk factors, such as Type 2 diabetes.
Let’s continue to aim to lose the focus on being skinny.
Let’s get the focus back to living a healthy life, at a healthy weight, and coming to terms with your body just as it should be. And accepting that it’s beautiful.
How do you keep track of your own health?