From high school to homemaker and through childhood to career, women across all ages and cultural boundaries are struggling with the same thing: trying to lose weight. While weight issues affect both men and women, in recent years it has been women who are at the center of the weight loss frenzy.Inch-Aweigh.com says that the average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds while the average American model is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds. The fitness website also says that most fashion models are thinner than 98 percent of American women.
While the motivation may be driven by either health or appearance, in recent years the definition of beauty has become synonymous with the definition of skinny, says Dustie Thomas, a young woman who says she has struggled with her weight all of her life.
“The media is the reason that weight has become such a big issue,” says Thomas, 23, assistant manager at Subway in Athens, Tenn. “If you turn on the television all you see are tiny little women showing off their money, power and celebrity. Of course every woman wants to be gorgeously thin because the media shows us that that’s what it takes to make it. If you want to be somebody you’ve got to be skinny.”
Women will go to great lengths to lose weight says Kasey Blankenship, 19, a sophomore at Radford University in Virginia. “Society has set a standard that women think they have to follow to be beautiful. If that means surgery or starving yourself, if women want it, they do whatever it takes to achieve that perfect body. I am guilty myself of looking at someone and wishing that I was like her or was her size.”
Although celebrities are at the direct center of the thin craze, even they are struggling to keep up with society’s expectations says Blankenship. In March of this year, The Oprah Winfrey Show featured actress Valerie Bertinelli who has lost 47 pounds in the last two years while doing the Jenny Craig program.
Bertinelli spoke to Oprah about her lifelong obsession with fluctuating weight.
“I have obsessed about my weight in some sort of way all of my life,” she says. “I used to write in my journal what I weighed every day.”
Identifying with Bertinelli’s weight struggles, Amanda Carroll from Decatur, Tenn., sees her weight as a battle that she has been fighting all of her life.
“I’ve been chubby since about first grade, says Carroll, 27. “It was after I started high school that I began to pack on the pounds. I figured it was the lack of exercise and unhealthy school lunches.”
Emotions played a bit part in Carroll’s weight struggles she says. “During my freshmen year in high school, I slimmed down to 145 pounds. However, I gained over 75 pounds from age 16 to 18 after a bad breakup. Looking back, I think it was emotional eating and a defense mechanism to make sure I didn’t get close to anyone else.”
Along with emotional eating, pregnancy, hormones and menstrual cycles are big factors in why weight is such a bigger issue for women than men says Victoria Stutes of Cleveland, Tenn.
“Pregnancy was my downfall,” says Stutes, 21, a pre-nursing student at Cleveland State Community College. “My husband was stationed with the army when I was pregnant and I sadly passed my time with eating. I gained 90 plus pounds and was at risk for a stroke which could have killed myself or my daughter.”
Birth control is another factor in why weight loss is harder for many women Carroll says. “Some of the weight I gained in high school was due to birth control shots. I stopped those after my first three-month run of them when I saw that I was starting to gain weight.”
With all of the many physical and emotional characteristics that are contributing to their weight gain, women are trying every method they can to get the weight off says Allison Herrell, who in 2006, had the lap band placed around her stomach to limit her food intake.
“I tried Weight Watchers, appetite suppressant pills, and every fad diet out there and they all failed,” says Herrell, 32, an insurance company medical reviewer from Soddy Daisy, Tenn. “I finally decided the weight had to come off so I turned to the lap band and it worked great. I weighed 254 pounds before and now I stay around 130 to 135 pounds. I went from a size 24 to a size 2 and have been stable in my weight for nearly a year. The lap band saved my life.”
While weight loss surgery helped Herrell lose her weight, she says that she is critical of some of the weight loss clinics and companies that are putting women on diets that are hard to maintain over a long period of time.
“Weight loss surgery isn’t the answer for everyone,” says Herrell. “However, fad diets may not be the answer either. I know a few people who have had success with them. They lost 20 to 40 pounds but when the calorie- or point-counting stopped the weight came back almost instantly. Fad diets are a quick fix but whether you go on a restrictive diet or have weight loss surgery, in the end it’s all about self motivation and life style changes.”
A lifestyle change is what finally made her weight loss journey a success says Meagan Taylor, 19, a sophomore at Cleveland State Community College.
“After being overweight all through my teenage years, I finally took control of my weight and health issues,” says Taylor, who is working towards her English degree. “I stopped eating out and stopped making excuses to not go to the gym. I hear a lot of people say that they couldn’t give up certain foods, or go to the gym because of whatever reason, but once you reach a certain level of self-loathing, you’ll do whatever it takes.”
After losing 30 pounds in seven months, Taylor says that she truly believes diet and exercise is the healthiest way to lose weight.