IS SIZE EVERYTHING?

No – this isn’t going to be about boobs and willies! Apologies if that disappoints you. Rather, I am taking a look at the concept of size in general and how we are affected by it – knowingly or unknowingly.

SMALL PLANTS AND ANIMALS

You can’t help but notice the largest of the animals which share our planet; though I do wonder for how long some will be around if our own species continues to decimate their populations. People go on safari to shoot such as elephants, giraffe, lions – fortunately, the majority using a camera as their only weapon. However, they mostly don’t do the same for animals at the other end of the size scale. Who ever heard of a bee, ant or beetle safari? Beetle drives, yes, but that’s a whole other subject and it’s making me feel old as I remember pleasant family evenings at such events.

We are more likely to tread them, and their diminutive companions, under foot as we simply don’t notice them. Yet, we have lost so many bees, and we ignore this at our peril as they are responsible for pollinating around 250,000 species of flowering plants including many of the fruits and nuts that we eat, our tea and coffee, the oils we use for cooking or as an ingredient in many manufactured food goods. They are an essential part of the life cycle of so many plants which we use.

What of other plants, the ones, that we can probably equate with these smaller animals. OK, the trees make their presence known, whether appreciated for the fruits which they bear, the wood they provide, the carbon dioxide they absorb, the oxygen they give off, or simply for the pleasure we get from appreciating their beauty. Similarly with the larger, showy flowers – either showy as individual flowers or the individual flowers form clusters to make their presence felt, thereby attracting the bees, insects and birds that aid with pollination and the spreading of seeds.

What of those that we far too easily trample under foot along with the ants and beetles? We have the mosses. I quote from an article in The Guardian. It seems that ‘Scientists have identified the creature that gave the Earth its first breath of fresh, clean air and made life possible for everything ranging from ardvaarks to Olympic athletes and zebra finches. It was a moss’. The mosses that we attempt to eradicate from our lawns gave the conditions for us to be able to survive – I admit to not raking half so vigorously as I used to do as it seems that the mosses continue to do far more than their share to filter out that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen. Add to this, the beauty of the many mosses – for they are just as varied as our trees, and just as beautiful if we make the time and effort to get down and actually check them out. I love being able to do this in a couple of gardens that I visit. They are on stumps and rocks, so no need to get down on my hands and knees in order to get up close and personal and admire their beauty.

WHAT OF BUILDINGS?

How many people boast of the size of their car, the size of their home. I had one client who always managed to include a comment about the latter when she spoke of both friends and family, that is, if the comparison enabled her to boast of the size of her own home compared to others. For her, as for many, size is important, if only for bragging rights and one-upmanship.

For myself, it’s how much of a home that house is. It’s how warmly welcoming the home rather than square footage, number of bedrooms, garden acreage. Some homes just ooze love and contentment, whereas others present themselves as somewhat cold – not a place it is easy to imagine kicking off shoes and curling up to relax.

WHAT ABOUT SIZE AS PART OF THE CONCEPT OF HUMAN DIVERSITY?

We, as human beings, are very diverse. Ethnic differences affect how we may be pre-programmed to be tall or short, fat or thin. Though, sadly, the reasons are not always down to genetics, rather, in, for example USA and Britain, with large numbers of obese people, it’s diet, large portion sizes and life-style choices which appear to be a major contributing factor.

Obviously, we have those who discriminate against skin colour, gender, sexuality, age, but what about size? Too many western adults either explicitly or implicitly show that certain aspects of size are to be seen in a more positive light than others. Do people look at others who are taller, shorter in height; smaller or larger in girth any differently? They do, especially it seems when it comes to a person’s girth. Apparently, many feel that fatter people do not look attractive and that they compound this by being perceived as being totally responsible for their excessive weight. In fact, definitions of someone who is sizeist generally put emphasis on the overweight bit.

I was delighted to see a piece produced by a Cheshire School about diversity. It celebrates differences by pointing out that it’s ok to be small, tall, wear glasses, have different features etc. It’s set to the music of ‘The Greatest Showman’, ‘This is Me.’ As well as pointing out that we have differences, it celebrates them, in a way that really, only children seem able to do. They did a great job with this and I hope that it is a message that they will carry with them through their lives. 

Sadly, this is not always the way that things are, and the messages that we give to children and young people can be so very negative and can affect their self-concept, self-confidence and attitudes to how they live. How well I remember a father of 6ft 2ins telling his son that it was a pity that he had stopped growing at 5ft 11ins and hadn’t hit 6 feet! OK, maybe a comment thrown out in jest, but even such comments stick and can cause hurt or those negative ways of looking at ourselves. Likewise, a mother telling her child that it was ok to leave her food as she didn’t want her to be fat. Whilst it is good to encourage our children to eat healthily, it is important that this is done in a way that doesn’t communicate unwanted messages which can lead to an unhealthy focus on weight at an early age. Such a focus is sadly recognised as a possible door to later eating disorders. These messages stick. For post war children such as myself, we were told to clear our plates, often with the starving children in Africa being thrown in to apparently further the cause of scraped clean plates! I still find it hard to not clear a plate, so ensure that my plate is nearer to dietician portion sizes rather than run of the mill ones, or even worse, American sized portions.

HOW CAN SIZEISM AFFECT US?

The photo shopped pictures of both women and men will eliminate those bumps and bulges as well as skin blemishes. In films, the camera angle and positioning as well as the use of elevated shoes allow the male leads to appear taller.

The public are led to believe that the stars, the celebrities, are slimmer, taller in order to conform with the concept of what is felt to be ‘the ideal’ rather than being what they really are.

In fact, even if it makes no difference to their ability to do the work, height or weight can be used against a person when applying for a job, whether done so explicitly (which can be illegal unless proved to be related to such as the specifics of certain machinery) or not.

I hadn’t realised that research had been carried out which shows that men who are taller and women who are slimmer earn more than those who are shorter and heavier. Professor Frayling  (co-author of the paper) says “If you could take the same woman – same intellect, same CV, same background – and send her through life a stone heavier, she would be about £1,500 per year worse off. And if you took the same man - say a 5ft 10in man and make him 5ft 7in – and sent him through life, he would be about £1,500 worse off per year.”

There is a recognised link between BMI and socioeconomic status, seemingly with greater poverty leading to higher BMI and shorter height. Presumably, one of the contributing factors being a poorer, less nutritious, less healthy diet. However, more recent research has shown the reverse to also be true.

As reported in The Telegraph, Another quote from Professor Frayling - “Most people assumed that shorter height and higher BMI were a consequence of poorer nutrition and chances in life.’

“Now we have shown that there is an effect in the other direction as well – shorter height and higher BMI can actually lead to lower income and other lifestyle measures. There is something about being a bit shorter or heavier that can actually influence your chance in life."

It still doesn’t answer the question as to whether the general bias is towards slim women, taller men or away from heavier women and smaller men. It may sound like simply playing with words and maybe sometimes simply down to personal preference, but the implications appear to be far from simple. I feel that considerations of aspects of ‘self’ including self-esteem, self-concept, self-confidence and their implications for mental health need to be an essential element of future work.

This research does seem to have had limitations as far as sample choice and effects of other influences are concerned, though it still opens the door for further studies.

WE MAY NOT CONSIDER OURSELVES TO BE SIZEIST, but ..

It seems that many of us are. I know I was disappointed when I discovered that I was two inches shorter that I had thought I was. Why was this? I was still the same person that I was before I was re-measured! Was this a form of sizeism?

Apparently, researchers in the US, writing in the journal Health Communication found that readers are more sceptical of health and nutrition information when it comes from an overweight-looking blogger as opposed to a thin one, albeit the same person before and after a loss of weight. The assumption apparently being that if a heavier person is recommending a particular food, it must be more fattening/less healthy. They were judging the food via the writer, who was in fact the same person before and after that weight loss. Taking this a few steps further, are we therefore more easily swayed, on social media, in the press, by those who are slim, though maybe without this being a direct link that we make. Our inbuilt biases. Does this also happen in face-face real life situations too? Do we make judgements on information or advice given according to the size of the person rather than their qualifications, sourcing of information etc?

I wonder if this makes me rather perverse as I struggled to take advice from a young, stick thin dietician. Or maybe it was the fact that she made far too many assumptions, especially around my culinary skills without first of all checking with me. I admit to putting her straight – in no uncertain terms!

I finish with a chuckle provided by links to two sketches which include sizeism. The first one with John Cleese and the Two Ronnies with which I am familiar. The second, featuring said Two Ronnies and Stephen Fry which had slipped through my net.

PS I got away without mention of boobs and willies! If you are disappointed – here is a link to a Marie Claire article on that very subject.

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Comments

This is a great read and coveys such an important message! It’s easy to get obsessed with societal preconceptions of beauty (which usually fit a size template)...so let’s stand up to it now and embrace diversity. On a personal level, I’ve recently learnt the value of appreciating myself here and now (whatever the size) instead of never being good enough and living in in a mad pursuit of ‘perfection’. This self acceptance has been so beneficial on my mental wellbeing. Thank you for the reminder. X
Thanks for commenting Emma - Self-acceptance is so important - in the here and now. Being proud of yourself whilst still having goals and aims. D x
My personal biases seem to be increasing as I get older. Hope am not becoming a Victor Meldrew clone.
Roger - it seems that quite a lot of us morph into Victor/Victoria Meldrew with increasing age. The usual 'reason' given is that the standards set seemingly get higher and are regularly not met up with. Grumpiness then sets in as we also feel that our thoughts and feelings have to be heard. It's our right as a more senior member of society. Wonder if we feel it is our right to also talk of the positive stuff that we say? Probably not, hence the focus on negativity and the establishment of a Victor/Victoria default setting? Dee

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