Cristen Conger

Swimsuit Season Lies No. 2: Skinny Equals Healthy

Which is healthier?
Which is healthier?
Getty Images/Hulton Archive

*This post is from a series I wrote in 2011: 5 Swimsuit Season Lies and though it might be a vintage blog post now, it's worth revisiting because "swimsuit season" lies will never go out of fashion, unfortunately.

Who hates swimsuit season more than everybody's (least) favorite single gal comic character Cathy? C'mon, you remember ol' Cathy, staring at herself in the dressing room mirror wearing an ill-fitting bikini. All she wanted in the world was to drop some pounds and slide right into some polka dotted lycra and spandex.

But Cathy -- and a lot of other people, both real and fictional -- have the wrong idea about thinness. While doctors recommend people stay within a healthy BMI, the line between skinny and healthy often becomes blurred.

Swimsuit Season Lie No. 2: Skinny equals healthy.

In 2009, TIME magazine writer John Cloud set off a minor health controversy when he wrote an article explaining why exercise won't always make you thin. And he's right. Everyone's body works a little bit differently, and just like some women naturally have more cellulite than others, some people's bodies (ahem, men) naturally respond to exercising with more visible results. When Cloud went on to paint exercise as some sort of public health conspiracy, he rightfully received a lot of flack because the point of doing all those stair steps and sit-ups shouldn't just be to look dynamite in a two-piece. It's for your health.

A singular focus on getting skinny can have it's unhealthy side effects as well. Forcing your body to conform to a thin ideal can require extreme dieting and excessive exercising that won't do you well after swimsuit season passes. Torie Bosch at Slate explained this in the context of super skinny models:

Because of these adapting body changes, people who are too thin can function normally much of the time. But a major blow to the system, like a bad bout of influenza or gastroenteritis, could throw off the tenuous balance and lead to cardiovascular problems and fainting. Other long-term potential complications of being too thin could include a diminished ability for the bowels to absorb nutrients, lost menstrual cycle, and decreased thyroid function.

And here's another reason to pay attention to your internal health instead of judging yourself solely based on what you see in the mirror like cuckoo Cathy. A 2008 study found that people in a healthy weight range can be equally at risk for heart problems as people who are overweight and obese. From MSNBC: "...about a fourth of adults in the recommended-weight range had unhealthy levels of at least two of these measures. That means some 16 million of them are at risk for heart problems."

In other words, unlike beauty, health isn't just skin-deep.

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