Young People Ask . . .
Why Am I So Fat?
“I feel really fat, though when I look at weight charts, I’m not overweight according to these.”—Patti.
“Being fat . . . lowers your self-esteem to the level of pond scum. I’ve been overweight since fourth grade . . . That was when all the name-calling started.”—Judd.
WEIGHT. It is virtually an obsession among some young people, particularly girls. When one group of school-age girls was polled, 58 percent of them considered themselves fat.
According to one U.S. survey, 34 percent of overweight teenage girls have taken diet pills to lose weight. Almost 1 out of 4 has resorted to vomiting! Reporting on another survey, The New Teenage Body Book says: “Shockingly, almost half of the nine-year-olds and about 80 percent of the ten- and eleven-year-olds were dieting. Some 70 percent of the girls aged twelve to sixteen were trying to lose weight—and 90 percent of the seventeen-year-olds were on a diet.”
The Thinness Craze
For centuries, a somewhat plump figure was considered attractive in both men and women. But during the 1920’s, the U.S. fashion industry underwent a revolution of sorts. The thin figure suddenly became the ideal. Decades later, thin continues to be in. TV and magazines have helped promote this view with their constant barrage of slick ads that feature slim male and female models. Never mind that many of these lithe specimens keep themselves in a state of near starvation! Millions of youths (and adults) have been subtly trained to believe that attractive equals thin. Little wonder, then, that not-so-thin youths commonly think of themselves as fat and unattractive.
The pressure from peers doesn’t help either. Overweight teens are often subjected to endless teasing, ridicule, and prejudice, causing what one writer described as “considerable psychological pain”—pain that can linger into adulthood.
Who Says You’re Fat?
Fortunately, the question of whether you are genuinely overweight or not involves more than how you look in a bathing suit—at least from a medical point of view. Doctors generally define a person as obese if he weighs 20 percent more than his ideal weight. Standard height-weight charts are based on averages, though, and can give only a rough idea of what a healthy person should weigh. Some doctors therefore prefer to measure obesity not merely in terms of weight but also in terms of excess body fat. According to A Parent’s Guide to Eating Disorders and Obesity, “fat should account for 20 to 27 percent of body tissue in women and 15 to 22 percent of body tissue in men.”
Some researchers believe that relatively few youths are really overweight. From the perspective of health, there may be no reason at all for you to lose weight. In the survey mentioned at the outset, more than half of the girls polled considered themselves overweight, but only 15 percent truly were.
Why Do I Look This Way?
This may be of little comfort when you look at yourself in the mirror; you simply may not have what you consider an attractive body. One teenage girl lamented: “I would like to lose weight, get taller, and have a more shapely body.”
Remember, though, that because you are a teenager, your body is rapidly changing. “Both boys and girls normally gain weight at puberty,” explains Dr. Iris Litt. “But while boys gain mostly muscle tissue, girls develop fat tissue. At puberty, a girl goes from having about eight percent body fat—an average shared by both sexes in childhood—to about 22 percent body fat. At the same time, skeletal changes accentuate the weight gain in girls. Boys get wider shoulders, while girls get broader hips.” These changes take time. But a plump 11- or 12-year-old girl can emerge from puberty as a shapely teenager. Then again, she may not.
If this has proved true in your case, it may be partially due to the genetic blueprint you have inherited from your parents. Some doctors believe that, along with your skin color, hair texture, and height, your basic body shape is put “down in writing,” as the psalmist wrote, in the genetic code at conception. (Psalm 139:16) Dr. Lawrence Lamb, making the same point the psalmist was inspired to write, says in his book The Weighting Game: “You were born with a life script that determines what you should weigh, and how much fat you should have, at various stages of your life.”
Studies have verified the influence of genes on body shape. Adopted children tend to have body types like their biological parents, regardless of the shape their adoptive parents have. And since twins have the identical genetic blueprint, it should be no surprise that twins tend to weigh the same.
What does this mean for you? Suppose, for example, that both of your parents are obese. Then you have an 80-percent chance of being obese yourself. The odds are cut in half if only one parent is obese. Exercise and diet can help up to a point. But for the most part, we are more or less stuck with our basic body shapes. If you are an ectomorph, you are thin and angular by nature. But if your genes have designated you to be an endomorph—someone with a rounder figure and with more body fat—you were simply not meant to be thin. Even at your medically ideal weight, you will look heavier than you may prefer.
Coming to Terms With Your Body
Discouraging? Perhaps. But the good news is that Jehovah God created the first human couple, Adam and Eve, perfect in physical form. Even though they became imperfect and passed imperfection on to their offspring, God will see to it that any inherited physical flaws will be corrected in his righteous new world.—Job 14:4; Romans 5:12; 2 Peter 3:13.
Remember, standards of beauty may be the product of social conditioning and personal preference. Thus, what is considered beautiful varies throughout the world and may change with the passage of time. So why “let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold”? (Romans 12:2, Phillips) Why yield to its often warped standards and viewpoints?
There is really no need for you to put yourself down or to become depressed simply because you are not thin. God does not judge us by our physical height or shape. “Mere man sees what appears to the eyes,” the Bible says, “but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Yes, it is “the secret person of the heart” that counts with God—not the size of your hips or your waistline. (1 Peter 3:4) And if you are cheerful, mild-tempered, generous, and concerned about others, people will generally be attracted to you.
This is not to say that there is nothing you can do to improve your looks. But if you are not entirely happy with your physique, you need not punish your body with some fad diet. Perhaps you merely need to be more careful about what styles and colors you wear, selecting clothes and colors that downplay what you consider to be flaws and that accentuate your assets.
Still, you may feel that it would be worth your while to lose just a little weight. Or you may have a genuine problem with obesity and should lose weight not merely to look better but for reasons of health. How you can do so safely will be the topic of our next article.
[Box on page 19]
“I’m Too Thin”
Not all youths agree that being thin is glamorous. “I’m a 15-year-old guy who’s skinny and constantly teased,” complains young Mark. Thinness is often nothing more than a side effect of puberty. A growing body consumes a tremendous number of calories. A youth may not begin to fill out until after the growth spurt halts. Genetics also plays a role. Of course, illness or hormonal imbalance can also cause excessive thinness, and a doctor’s attention is essential in such cases. Professional help may likewise be in order for youths who stop eating because they are depressed or are suffering from a serious eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa.
Whatever the case, if you think you are excessively thin, get a doctor’s opinion. It may be that you only have to learn to accept—and perhaps even learn to like—your appearance.
[Picture on page 18]
Many imagine that they are overweight because they do not have the figure of models in fashion magazines