Like everyone else in the U.S., I was aware of the recent wedding of Prince William of Wales to Kate Middleton, the biggest royal wedding since Prince Charles married Princess Diana. I couldn’t escape the chatter about it in the news. The morning of the ceremony, the radio alarm went off and I awoke to the sound of William and Kate’s vows, and it seemed that every time I turned NPR on that day, I heard them again.
Recently, however, I discovered that I had missed what was apparently a whole lot of media buzz about Kate Middleton’s pre-wedding diet. I learned about this through a list serve I’m on for professionals who treat eating disorders. The discussion centered on our unhealthy cultural preoccupation with body shape, size and weight, which in this case was magnified to a globally visible scale.
I googled “Kate Middleton’s diet,” and got 395 results. There was page after page of links to magazine articles, blog posts, and news videos about her pre-wedding weight-loss initiative. I’m not going to name the diet plan she used, because I don’t want to be party to the propagation of interest in any diet, but the articles and postings usually included information about the specifics of the diet, as well as general talk of Kate’s wedding preparations.
What’s wrong with this picture? Well, first of all, I don’t know what Kate looked like prior to her engagement to William, but in all the photos I saw, she looked to me to be a slender and robust young woman. I figured her Body Mass Index (BMI) was in the normal range, so any desire for weight loss wasn’t based in any reality of being what would be considered overweight. Second, I don’t support dieting for anyone; even for people whose BMI’s put them in an overweight or obese category.
Dieting is an artificially imposed manner of eating; a type of eating that isn’t based on our natural rhythms of hunger and satisfaction, or of nutritional need. It’s a calorically or nutritionally restricted way of eating that is intended to make one’s body weigh less and be smaller.
And why would Kate want to weigh less and be smaller? I honestly don’t know. But what troubles me so much about this is not only that she went on the pre-wedding diet, and that her dieting was considered normal, but that it was celebrated. It was fodder for gossip and entertainment magazines and blogs, and apparently regarded as a very intriguing, yet normal, event.
And if this weren’t concerning enough, I read the following in an article in the March 18, 2011 issue of the online version of OK magazine: “Prince William’s fiancée is also reported to be 5-foot-10-inches and 120 pounds, so she really does not have weight to lose. She also loves exercise!” She really does not have weight to lose? As if it were simply optional? I calculated the BMI of a woman who weighs 120 lbs at 5’10”, and got 17.2.
According to the standard BMI chart, the lowest BMI in the normal range is 18.5. BMI’s on the low end are a pretty good indicator of unhealthily low weight. The correlation between high weight and health isn’t that reliable, but except for a small percentage of the population who are what’s known as “constitutionally thin,” generally BMI’s under 18.5 are indicators of a risk of poor health, often caused by disordered eating. Bodies and brains simply a minimum amount of nutrients and calories to function well, and someone with a BMI of under 18.5 may not be getting enough of those. This became frighteningly relevant in 2006 when, because of a number of deaths of models from anorexia nervosa, the Spanish Association of Fashion Designers decided to ban models with a BMI of under 18 from their runways during Madrid fashion week (Source: http://www.disordered-eating.co.uk/eating-disorders-news/ana-carolina-reston.html).
I’m not implying that Kate has an eating problem. I don’t even know if the information in the OK article was accurate. What I do know is that somehow, our culture’s obsession with dieting and weight loss is so deeply entrenched that the dieting of a princess-to-be who might already be underweight is delighted in, pounced on like pigeons to breadcrumbs by the media and their consumers.
The idea of altering the size and shape of our bodies for an upcoming special occasion has become so commonplace that it’s not questioned. Looking good has become synonymous with looking thin. No wonder disordered attitudes about food and bodies proliferate. Our culture provides a hospitable environment for them to thrive in and to pass, unquestioned, as “normal.” I dream that one day we’ll want to feed and exercise our bodies well because we value our well being, and accept whatever size, shape and weight they happen to turn out to be. I hope that one day, that’s what will be considered normal!
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