Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lying With Statistics: The Fat Wars

Everyone seems to do it, even normal people. And by 'normal' I mean fat, overweight, the obese. Pick whatever term you like. A favourite tactic in the 'fat wars' is to attack fashion models as being too skinny. They're freaks! They're anorexic! Some people want laws passed. These cultural browbeatings always seem to target women and, while women complain about that in theory, in practice they are often at the forefront, smacking these skinny girls for all its worth.

I came across an example recently at Salon.com. The article isn't new, but the site likes to draw attention to older pieces in its sidebar. Entitled "Naked models offer a body image reality check," it draws attention to another article, found in Plus Model magazine. There we are told that twenty years ago models weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. Now they weigh a whopping 23 percent less. The freaks! The author of the article, Mary Elizabeth Williams, does draw attention to the lack of sources for these statistics and to rising obesity rates, but on the whole seems to validate the point being made by Plus Model.

But how exactly would rising obesity rates factor in? Over the past twenty years the average American woman's weight has gone from 140 pounds to 160 pounds. A pound a year. If models weighed 8 percent less than the average woman twenty years ago, then the average model weighed 128.8 pounds. If she weighs 23 percent less than the average woman today, she weights 123.2 pounds. That means models do weigh less now-assuming Plus Model's stats are true-but only 5.6 pounds less. Put that way its hardly something to get hysterical over. You'd think.

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