By Janaya Greene, Intern 2015
Dance Moms head dance instructor Abby Lee Miller has stunned the world with her recent weight loss. While choreographing her Lifetime show, she never let her size determine how intricate her routines were or how well she would teach them to her dance students. So when Miller told People magazine that she went from a size 24 to a size 16 without exercising, dieting, or surgery, her fans were a bit surprised. At first glance, it seemed the only way Miller lost weight was by some sort of detox or cleanse, but surprisingly enough, People told its readers that Abby Lee’s weight loss was from a series of unfortunate events.
From abstaining from eating while filming for Dance Moms in a hot dance studio to taking Australian-prescribed diabetes pills that made her vomit, it is clear that Abby’s journey to a slimmer body was not a healthy one. Yet People did not tell their readers that the publication did not condone her method of losing weight. People simply glorified her being a few pounds lighter instead. It allowed readers to believe that weight is more important than health.
If People and other magazines continue to ignore the fact that size does not equal health, they can mislead their readers and lead to serious consequences for their readers’ perception of what health actually means.
The struggle for fair representation of people of all shapes, races, and ethnicities continues to challenge print and visual media outlets. People took a step in the right direction when it featured plus-size model Tess Holliday as the cover girl of their June 2015 issue. But it is clear that People has a long way to go before it is a real ally of the Body Positive Revolution. It’s not enough to occasionally promote women and men of varying sizes, when damaging weight loss stories are promoted as news or aspirational human-interest stories. It’s essential that the magazine communicates when someone in one of their stories is participating in habits that may be harmful or dangerous to their bodies.
People merely describes Miller’s dangerous journey as “unconventional” and quotes her as having a “long, long way to go” until she reaches her goal of “slimness” — when slimness shouldn’t be her goal at all. Many publications fail to acknowledge that size does not equal health, which makes people think that the smaller they are, the healthier they are.
There are numerous studies that suggest health and healthy behaviors, like eating nutritional meals and sleeping about eight hours per night, go hand-in-hand, while having nothing at all to do with weight. For example, the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that healthy behavior and general health status have a positive correlation, not health and body weight. Therefore, it is harmful to make “slimness” a goal, rather than the practices that will get us in the habit of being healthy instead.
The writer of this piece had a responsibility to her audience and Abby Lee Miller that she neglected to fulfill when she was silent about the larger consequences of the way Miller lost weight. In order to boost magazine sales and readership of the article, the writer celebrated the fact that Abby Lee Miller lost weight, and did not mention that she was possibly experiencing an eating disorder or another form of illness. With this in mind, People is not part of the Body Positive Revolution at all.
Though the choreographer did not call what she experienced an eating disorder, research suggests differently. According to National Health Service UK, unintentional weight loss can be a sign of great stress in a person’s physical and mental state that can lead to eating disorders and other serious illnesses.
Whether or not this article describes an eating disorder, it is certainly representative of our culture’s problematic diet culture. Due in part to the lack of representation of different body types, people spend large sums of money attempting to attain slimness. When thin (often unrealistically so) bodies are the only ones represented, they become the norm, and people with different body types face enormous pressure to live up to this impossible ideal.
Every year, Americans spend an average of $20 billion on diet books, weight-loss surgeries, and diet drugs. Magazines know this, and commonly feature articles centered on celebrities who have lost weight with get-slim-quick methods. As one of the most popular American human-interest magazines, People is well-aware of society’s obsession with being small. They are so aware that they exploit their readers’ sense of low self-esteem with articles like Miller’s to increase their magazine sales and website traffic.
With a plethora of detox diets and waist trainers catching the eye of today’s youth, rapid weight-loss methods are more on-trend than ever. Losing weight is not an overnight experience — at least it shouldn’t be. Most healthy ways of slimming down take time, yet, as Miller did, many people try to find quick routes in hopes of attaining what society declares beautiful faster.
One of my biggest concerns with Abby Lee Miller’s unhealthy size drop is that she has a leadership position with children. Young people have their own minds, but they can be very impressionable. It wouldn’t be shocking if the girls that Abby teaches look up to her in ways outside of dancing, like her choreography accomplishments. With two dance moms from the show, Melissa Gisoni and Jill Vertes, being quoted as being “very happy” for Abby Lee Miller, it’s reasonable to assume that their daughters may be proud of Miller as well. When Abby Lee is being applauded for her method of losing weight, the young girls she teaches and the thousands who watch her teach are likely to get the wrong impression and take the route that she did if they ever feel overly dissatisfied with their bodies.
A magazine with a platform as large as People‘s, and one published by Time Inc., is sure to reach people who may be experiencing or at risk of an eating disorder, and who are unaware of what they may be going through. Abby Lee Miller’s experience should have served as a chance for People to help its audience recognize when they are beginning to have an unhealthy relationship with their bodies. By not addressing the problematic aspects of Miller’s weight loss, the magazine leads its readers astray and may even cause them to think that starving and vomiting are acceptable ways to lose weight, by accident or not.
Being slim does not equal being healthy. People needs to do away with the superficial weight-loss stories and actually explore the complex relationships people have with their bodies in a way that gives their readers a positive guide to healthy eating, or simply to loving their bodies just the way they are.