8 March 2011,

I was reading about the ‘overwhelming cacophony’ of the commercial weight loss business on Dr. Arya Sharma’’s site. About $45 billion dollars were spent on diets in 2009, and I’’m sure money spent on dieting increases as a function of the cacophonic reports of the increases of obesity.

It’’s surprising that an issue such as weight loss draws up as much attention: one has to wonder what fuels the success of the Commerical Weight Loss Industry and weight loss companies, besides the obvious desire to drop a few before swimsuit season.
Where does the diet industry gain its momentum, and why is obesity such a fervently debated issue? I am going to offer a few opinions here….

Why do we fall for the tricks?
I don’’t think it’’s just the Commercial Diet Industry and weight loss companies, but in fact everything that we are exposed to that facilitates our opinion of what is desireable:

Two Important Components of the Desire to be Thin:

1. Environmental Factors: not only is there a booming cacophony from the diet industry, but also from various media outlets that indicate that a woman’’s body size translates directly to her economic success.

2. Innate Factors: men almost universally prefer a woman with a 0.71 waist-to-hip ratio. Long story short, this magic number indicates higher fertility. Since we all want to pass pieces of ourselves onto prosterity, and since men want to pass on as much of themselves as possible, it makes sense that they look for the most viable route to do so.

So, if we’re going to get hysterical about the media (which I sometimes do) we may as well get hysterical about innate factors too: it’s not a heterosexual man’’s fault that he typically prefers a certain body shape – it’’s been 100,000,000 years in the making, here in the universe’’s special Science Lab, also known as Evolution. Moreover, a lower waist to hip ratio corresponds with a number of other health benefits, so maybe keeping the waistline in check is not a bad goal to have in mind.

Hold on a minute!! I haven’’t said: ‘Men prefer surgically enhanced anorexics ’- which is only slightly demeaning to men, as well as women – but rather that most men prefer a waist that is smaller than hips in women.

Celebrities Are Not Our Friends
The frequency with which we see celebrities is so high that we convince ourselves that they are part of our social circle – or rather, our more primitive selves are confused into believing they are a part of our circle. We don’’t know Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, or even Ani di Franco personally, but the rate that we see them and are exposed to their ‘personal lives’ confuses our brain into thinking they actually play a role in our life.

Because one of the major activities that our ancestors most likely did besides eating, grooming, sleeping, mating, forming alliances for status maneuvers, was watching and evaluating the activities of the higher-ranking members within their hunter-gatherer bands. Other members of the group were probably watched, but not as intensely as the high-rankers, for it was these individuals who were able to obtain resources that were advantageous their survival, and if one observed very closely one also might be able to learn their techniques.

Copying the Cool Club greatly increases your chances of survival (and the passing along of your genes), because you are emulating the way that the Happy Half of society is living.

The celebrities of Hollywood today are simply the equivalent of the high-ranking members of our ancestral clans of long-ago.

You don’t believe me? Our ability to use consciousness to ponder the world and the universe only represents less than 1% of the timeline since we broke from our primate ancestors some four million years ago. Back then, controlling the information about the whereabouts of a large stash of bananas could easily be the equivalent of being a major movie star today (ever hear of inflation and perceived value?).

The Hollywood stars of today appear to us to have all the advantages of their rank that we also seek because of the perceived value of their lives. We think that we want the same things (professional success, children, likely a house… and probably a revolving pair of Monday-Friday individual set of Louboutins…) because these things enhance ‘survival’. Put in a cruder terms? There are no television shows that trumpet the achievements of the poor and non-famous.

The Hollywood celebrity we admire helps to make our every day life seem a little better: We need these people because we can substitute them in our minds for perhaps a few hours every week. They also push the outer edge of the envelope of social behavior and beat a path for us to follow. Perhaps that is why we watch them so closely. They help to shape new tastes because they are in demand, and because they are in demand, they attract our attention.

What to Do About Dieting
The Diet Industry gains its strength based on the exploitation of primitive drives, namely, the desire to achieve a certain body type that holds the allure of attracting a sexual partner (and then I’’d wager also pressure to maintain their attention. Now that we live until 90 this is considerably more difficult than when our life span maxed at about 40) (thank goodness for the gym).

Sexual selection fuels much of the intense rounds of success experienced by the diet industry and weight loss companies (people never want to ‘go easy’, but rather ‘lose 10 lbs in 5 days’, and trust me, if we can put a man on the moon, we can figure out some cheap’’n’’easy chemical combinations to knock off water retention). Basically, I actually find it surprising that the Diet Industry is not more lucrative – show me something in the 100’s of billions, and I might start to get a little worried.

Finally, I would argue that much of the Pressure to be Thin Pressure is not coming from a desire to please men, but rather as a means of women competing between women. It’’s a barbed statement, for sure, but let’’s look at a few examples:
Who buys celebrity magazines – men, or women?
Who has been buying weight loss aids for far longer than the obesity crisis emerged?

I don’’t see too many men heaving a sigh of relief when a non-photoshopped picture of Ryan Reynolds comes out – but if a popular female actress takes a ‘stand against technology’ in the form of denying her head shots be photoshopped, she’’s given a Germaine Greer award in sisterhood.

That we are hiding ourselves and preening ourselves for other women only underscores the degree of competition between women.

So…? What to Do…?
The first step, is to realize the Commercial Diet Industry is exploiting an important factor related to human survival – the ability to attract mates – in order to perpetuate the myth that mating success = economic success. The second step, is to realize that an ‘ideal’ frame will probably be achieved with a diet that is lower in calories, and more exercise completed, than which we are accustomed to in the 21st century.
The third, which is maybe the most difficult of all may be to say…
A ratio? A ratio is going to make my life perfect???

Well, thankfully we grew out of that debased thinking four million years ago. Right? A healthy body weight accompanies a healthy life style, and that should be what we take home from this post.

Happy WTF until the weekend.

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