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Helen Smith

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December 6, 2011 - 10:30 am

I am reading a book by Michael and Mary Eades called The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle: The Simple Plan to Flatten Your Belly Fast! The book gives good information on how to reduce your stomach, hence the title. But what caught my eye was the cultural implications of belly fat from an excerpt of the book:

In 1991, feminist Naomi Wolf opined, “Beauty is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern age in the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact.” In other words, Ms. Wolf views our opinion of beauty as being based not on any innate or inborn sense of what is attractive, but as a product of our cultural indoctrination. We think a pretty face is pretty or a flat belly is attractive for no other reason than that’s the way we’ve been programmed to think by the society in which we live. The covers of Playboy, Playgirl, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan, she claims, set our standards for attractiveness, not the reverse. According to Wolf and others of her opinion, there is no universal standard for human beauty. Were we not programmed by advertisers and the entertainment industry, we would find a fat man or woman just as attractive and desirable as a thin one.

We disagree.

Years of serious scientific study, across numerous disciplines, prove otherwise. Our attraction to a pretty face and a flat belly is in our genes and is an atavistic throwback to a time when such features represented health and the ability to reproduce—important requirements in the selection of a mate. As Harvard Professor Deirdre Barrett puts it, these deep-seated universal standards of beauty “reflect our evolutionary need to estimate the health of others from their physical characteristics.”

What do you think? Is belly fat a reflection of health? What about women who are very thin and have trouble getting pregnant because of low body fat?

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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