Not the average body

Marie Claire Sol Walkling70 kg is the current weight of the average Australian woman, according to a new study Marie Claire used for an article I was interviewed for. I roughly fit that criteria with my weight fluctuating a little depending on what’s going on in my life exercise and stress wise. Hence why I was interviewed.

While the feature wonderfully showed beautiful women of all heights, shapes and sizes, I wish it had included an article on body image. And not just a positive “isn’t-it-great-we-can-all-look-good-at-different-sizes” kind of articles but an honest, hardhitting one. One that would have taken a look at the comments made by my fellow models for the day  – about not being able to help comparing herself to the “real” model-  and – about constantly trying to lose weight or having been unhappy with weight in the past. I would have wished for an article that questioned what the current average weight reflects.

Have we overall, as a nation, put on weight? I tell you now, the answer would be a resounding yes. Are we happy with the weight we’re at? I doubt we are. And, more importantly, what is happening to our BMI and general physical health and mental wellbeing? Well, let’s have a look at this last point, shall we?

Standing at 1.86m tall, I’m rather far from your average height and while my weight to height ratio has always been within a healthy range – even when I had an eating disorder as a teenage girl, it never dropped below what could be expected of a growing girl -, 70kg will put most people who are much smaller than me slightly on the top side of being healthy. There, I said it and you can send me comments, complain, do your “but underweight models are the source of all problems with body image… big is beautiful” thing. I don’t buy it for one second.

I do wholeheartedly believe that it is best if you feel comfortable in your skin – regardless of your weight. I do believe that it is better to have a steady weight than to yo yo diet. I do believe that BMI is only a poor way of measuring what is healthy and what isn’t. But it IS currently the easiest way to help us standardise and make an educated guess at whether someone is within a healthy weight range or not.

Food for thought from a long term study of weight fluctuations, mental and physical wellbeing in Australian women (unfortunately the latest and best one I could find was from 2007) shows a “rapid increase in weight among younger women”. It links being overweight or obese to poorer mental and physical health and higher health care costs. Not surprising, of course, but I’d really like to get off my chest that the attitude taken towards healthy body image to me sometimes resembles a glorification of being above a healthy weight range. I understand that we can feel a little cheated and peeved by the fashion industry representing mainly underweight and very skinny models as the ideal. That’s not right. I’m with you there. But the amount of times I have had negative comments on my pictures on my agency’s facebook page complaining I don’t look “big” enough. Seriously?  And did you know plus size companies get hate mail if they use models within a medium healthy weight range rather than those with a high BMI? That’s just lunacy. Let’s cut the crap.

The study showed quite clearly that mental health is related to weight. Weight gain or loss and fluctuations also. Best mental health comes with most stable weight – fact. Being underweight or overweight or obese lessens your chances of being happy. A healthy mind lives in a healthy body. Looking after yourself doesn’t mean starving or gorging yourself or depriving your naturally active body of movement. Hey, the reason I feel I can be quite blunt about this is because I have done ALL of the above. I have also used exercise to whittle myself back to a skinny little model. Did being MUCH lighter make me happier? No, it made me supremely unhappy. Then I tried to not pay any heed to my weight, never let myself enjoy exercise too much, always watch what I did and question it… Did that make me happier? Well, no. It helped me find a balance though. I now do care about what my body FEELS like. How my mind is going.

There are reasons we eat, reasons we exercise, reasons we look after ourselves or don’t. If you are truly happy at a higher weight – GREAT for you. I mean that! Be happy with where you are. But I have encountered enough plus size models who suddenly lost weight when they had a positive change in their life and then maintained that lower set weight to no longer believe our bodies are naturally inclined to carry around a lot of excess baggage. It just doesn’t make any sense. Different ranges of normal, yes. But the reason we are gaining weight as a nation and world is our lifestyle, surely. Not the fact we “just” like it that way.

Back to the study which showed that a look at the biggest factors contributing to “overweight and obesity suggests that while energy balance is important, through attention to diet and physical activity, other contextual factors must also be taken into account”. It goes on to cite socio-economic status, city vs country living and events such as childbirth and quitting smoking as factors contributing to weight gain. We live in a convenience society where we drive in boxes, eat out of boxes and sit in front of boxes. It isn’t surprising we would get just a tad more box shaped ourselves… And facing the simple yet hard truth that modern living is VERY unhealthy for you if you don’t make conscious decisions to look after your own body and mind the best way you can, can be unpleasant. I understand that.

I am no saint. I have been VERY bad to my own body and am extremely grateful it still works so well despite years and years of mistreatment when I was younger. It is only very recently that I have truly come to understand how my mind and body interact as a whole. I’ve brought my heart into the equation. And I’m putting it out here now: Please stop thinking diversity is showing underweight and overweight models. Let’s shoot for healthy bodies and minds – literally. And women, as a group, can we stop undermining each other and instead support? Help each other be stable in weight, balanced in mind and happy?

I leave you with two heart wrenching examples of women who took part in the study to show ow often we are in denial about how we feel and just carry on the way we know – to our own detriment.

If you like this post or would like to comment, I encourage you to do so. This is an open forum and I would love to hear from you. Even if you feel alienated or annoyed by what I say. Let’s open the body image discussion with an open, honest approach. Enough of the “big is beautiful” stuff already! Yes it is. Every size can be. But is it a healthy idea(l)? If you could be any weight at all, wouldn’t your choice be to be the healthiest, most radiant and happiest?


Story 1

Increased weight among Younger women

The weight gain among the Younger women […] is reflected in comments made by Younger participant Sally. At Survey 1 Sally had a BMI of 23, which is within the healthy weight range. At this time her life ‘lacked routine’ and she was stressed by the need to live away from home in order to pursue study. By Survey 2 Sally had become overweight with a BMI of 28 and chose not to write any comments on the survey form.

At Survey 3 Sally had experienced significant weight gain and had a BMI of 32, indicating that over a seven year period she had moved from being a healthy weight to being obese. She wrote about being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and had moved from a ‘stressful’ job to a less rewarding but also less stressful position.

Sally commented on her weight for the first time at this survey:

Have become overweight in the last three years. I have put on about 15kgs.

By Survey 4 Sally had experienced more weight gain, with a BMI of 33. She again commented on her weight:

I am overweight and very unhappy about it but I recently joined a gym for the first time ever. I am working part time in a clerical position while furthering my studies. I could earn a lot more and have a much easier financial situation but I don’t want the travel and excessive hours that come with that.



Story 2

Increased physical activities among Mid-aged women

Helen, a Mid-aged participant, made free-text comments at all four surveys and exemplifies some of the quantitative findings for the Mid-aged cohort. Helen had been steadily gaining weight across the first three surveys, but by Survey 4 she had increased her physical activity levels and consequently experienced a significant weight loss.

At Survey 1, with a BMI of 35, Helen wrote:

I consider that the majority of my health problems are related to my obesity. I have always found it difficult to loose and keep weight off. I am on the true cycle of losing weight and then gaining more. I have been to all of the usual weight loss programs. Because of my weight I am breathless on exertion. The key to better health for me is weight loss and manageable work hours.

At Survey 2, with a BMI of 37 Helen again wrote that her health problems were due to obesity. By Survey 3, her BMI had risen to 38 and she was using a prescribed weight loss product in an attempt to lose weight and was exercising sporadically. However, her busy lifestyle prevented her from ‘exercising as much as (she) should.’

At Survey 4 Helen reported that she had started a new weight loss program 18 months beforehand. Her BMI at Survey 4 was 34, lower than it had been at any survey time point:

18 months ago I commenced a weight loss/fitness program exercising on a treadmill morning and night (half an hour each) and in nine months lost 30 kgs in weight. I stopped medication for hypertension. I maintained the weight loss with minimal exercise for 6 months.

Despite these positive results, Helen reported that she has gained 10 kilograms in the past six months, due to:

…loss of motivation, increased workload/intensity, extreme tiredness associated with workload…The problem is trying to balance them all (work, family, friendships, study) I want the lot- but my age is catching up.

This case study points to time pressure and difficulties in work-life balance as being potential barriers to sustained behavioural change and uptake of regular physical activity. Nevertheless, and as pointed out in this report, as Mid-aged women experience life changes such as children leaving home, and changes in paid work, more time might become available for women to increase their levels of physical activity.

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  • I thank you for being so open on your thoughts, a leap in a touchy direction for any one and i’m talking men as well. I have never had weight issues as such but, I think we all have a pause or but when it comes to body image. I have always tried to keep a slight standard of fitness, eg… walking and a few gym sessions here and there. I taught myself how to swim as an adult and enjoyed it to the point as I was swimming 2.5 km daily. This was up until I was diagnosed with a blood disorder, which only put a slight hult on my fitness regime. In fact, once the shock was gone i was ready to get even more healthy. I had my beautiful twins down the track and I stuck to whole foods full of calcium and natural fats during my pregnancy, which helped to boost my bone density and in turn a very healthy boy and girl at the birth. Leaving hospital I was an alarming 47kg, with breasts the size of watermelons I ate as many calories as possible and continued my previous consumption of food. This made life easy for me, maybe I was one of the lucky ones but I get really up set when I hear of women cutting back on food not only during pregnancy but after, which puts massive strain on you and every one around you. The tiredness is enough to deal with once your new bundle comes into this amazing world. The tiredness is only exaggerated by the lack of calories in which your body needs as it repares itself after carrying your baby. A healthy diet with loads of fruit and veggies and carbs will only help to get you through the black hole fase. Once you start to feel the energy return after your baby sleeps a little better would be a good time to start pilates and getting out and about pushing the pram around whilst having a walk. My blood disorder turned into bone cancer when my babies where 17 months old, now i was facing a stem cell transplant. I only had a two month period before I went into hospital and this was a time to get fit, so I started a program of weights and loads of power walking. I didn’t do this to loss weight in fact it was to try and put it on so I was as fit and strong as possible. Even though I had an extremely high risk of not making it out the side I still wanted to give my body the best chance at fighting this for mind body and life. During my worst stage in hospital when I had a none existant blood count and was in isolation I drank as much water as possible to flush out the excess toxins from my system. With the chemotherapy stripping everything in it’s path i felt like I lived in the toilet but I was happy with my structure I put in place for my nutrition. When your blood count is none existant and you have an endless amount of medication running through your system there is no such thing as energy. That’s when you need to trust your mind and what you truly want and need to get you through! When your stripped away and so close to death it’s amazing at how your mind works and some people do give in at this stage but you still have choices. I chose to eat at every meal, this only consisted of a slice of bread or some mashed potato. My senses at this stage where so exaggerated that it was close to impossible to eat anything! But I believe that consuming the food I could and keeping my body flushing through with the endless amounts of water helped to save my life. Losing my hair had it’s complications as this was extremely difficult to feel beautiful with nothing to frame my face. I was at 42kg at this point and even though I was very skinny from the treatment I was so pleased not to have gone into the sub 40kg range. It’s now been 8 years and I decided I wanted to give triathlon a go! Well I couldn’t have picked a more challenging sport if I tried, but am so pleased I did. Triathlon has become a lifestyle for me and I have never been more confident in my skin than what I am today. I am now 32 years old and I eat to keep up with what I’m doing on that day. I am extremely fit and I can’t tell you enough of how important it is to get those shoes on and start your journey to health, fitness and well being. Challenging your mind and body to the extremes only leads to a happy healthier you.

    • solwalkling

      Oh wow. Michelle, thank you so much for sharing. It is an inspiring tale and I am truly glad you are fit and healthy now.

      I couldn’t agree more with your comments on healthy eating and feeding your mind and body.

      I would love to chat a little more, if you’d like. Perhaps on the bike or after a swim? Sol xx

      • Hi Sol,
        I would be more than happy to have a chat and share life with you, a ride or swim sounds lovely. M

  • I think you’ve managed to put into words the thoughts I share about society’s attitude towards the rise in obesity and what is perceived as being healthy. I’ve been ridiculed and critisised too for looking a certain way because, apparently, ‘big is beautiful’ and ‘curves are in’. It’s hurtful when someone tries their best to maintain a healthy lifestyle and look after their body only to be told they aren’t normal or average (or even a REAL woman, I’ve heard that one before!). The fact that the national average weight for men/women has increased is very sad but shouldn’t be sugar-coated. This article here shows one woman try to address this problem only to have it shoved back in her face!

    Point is, you only live once so why not live it disease-free and full of energy and positivity? I’ve been chubbier and unhappy, I’ve also been worringly skinny and unhappy too. Being healthy keeps the mind happy as well as the body, so we should all be striving to achieve that as the ideal I think.

    Sol, I’m currently blogging about this topic this week – would you mind me referencing your blog in my article tomorrow please?

    • solwalkling

      Hi Daisy!

      Thank you so much for your comments.

      It’s quite shocking, isn’t it. I love the fact there is a greater diversity. But that’s exactly it, diversity, not a shift towards a bigger ideal.

      I’m all for all sizes looking beautiful. Question just is: are you happy and healthy? I wish we could all just realize that the fashion industry will always have an “ideal” aspirationsl size (hopefully a healthy weight one) and then there should br diversity to represent all sizes.

      Would love for you to reference my post.

      Chat soon!

      Sol x

      • Hi Sol,

        I’ve referenced some of what you’ve said above in my article along with linking it back to here, hope this is okay! I’ve always believed that – for at least another 20 years – the fashion industry is unlikely to change and will continue to have it’s ideals and own aesthetic appreciation. What’s NOT on is other people critisising and belittling the people in it purely based on their appearance. You wouldn’t tell an overweight person that they should starve themselves so why tell a skinny person they need to eat to look human? In my opinion, as long as you feel happy in yourself and maintain a healthy lifestyle who am I to judge how you look?

        • solwalkling


          Really liked reading your post. Thank you for spreading the word/ message! Look forward to connecting, perhaps even in person when I’m in the UK! Have a lovely weekend!

          Sol x

          • Thank you Sol, you’re more than welcome. That would be wonderful – I’m travelling quite a bit for courses over the next 2 months but would be great if we could work something out! Enjoy your weekend too xx

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  • You’ve said it so well.. Body image is affected by what society tells us and nothing more. The women and young girls I work with don’t often understand the influence that the media has on them until we really sit down and talk about it. Love this post, thanks for sharing!

  • Reblogged this on Big Girl Bigger Heart and commented:
    I wanted to share this because I think it serves as a reminder that regardless the amount of weight loss you will never truly look like the person standing besides you. So having WLS should not be about appearance or wanting to look like someone else. It truly needs to be a decision that is going to be for the betterment of health. I also post this with the following disclaimer, because I hate when people who receive this surgery don’t just say it. So here it is: Though I have many health related issues. I want this surgery because I want to look better in the clothes I wear and be physically smaller, and sometimes I just hate being the fat girl.” There it is folks. It’s the first and quite possibly the only time I’ll be saying it because I am all about self worth and I don’t trash myself, but I do try and keep it real! Til next time… ;-)