HomefitnessBeing Skinny Isn't Ideal- The Evolutionary Argument Against Being Thin

Being Skinny Isn’t Ideal- The Evolutionary Argument Against Being Thin

Skinny Isn’t An Ideal- Evolutionary Arguments Against Being Thin


Here in the West, we live in an environment where the predominant body image ideal for women is to be thin- being skinny is considered the Holy Grail for many of today’s women and images in the media reflect this idealization as most popular models are ultra thin and further enhanced through post image processing to look even thinner than they already are. The ultra-thin look unfortunately embodies a certain degree frailty and lack of physical ability, with low to no muscle tone and a body weight to height ratio that falls far below recommended standards for healthy body composition.[1] It is somewhat ironic that only a very small percentage of Western women meet the ultra-thin ideal [16] and that over the past few decades women’s body sizes have increased while societal ideas of ‘beauty’ call for thinner and thinner looking bodies.[43] Exposure to the ultra-thin ideal is practically unavoidable as advertisements, television, movies and magazines constantly bombard us with images of tall, (usually white) thin models and actresses with an almost anorexic BMI of under 18.5- one that is far below that of the average American woman. The discrepancy between the unattainable sociocultural ultra-thin ideal and the average Western female’s body has had far reaching effects on the female Western population. So much so that Western female concern over their physical appearance is termed ‘normative discontent’ since the overwhelming majority of women today harbor some degree of insecurity regarding their body image.[44, 45] Such body dissatisfaction is a major is a major risk factor for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia as well as mood disorders such as depression.[3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8] While there are many discussions about the root causes of body dissatisfaction and the fact that attempting to be ultra-thin is unhealthy both physically and psychologically we seldom stop to consider that the idea of being thin goes against our evolutionary past and possibly against our genetic makeup. In this article we look at the ultra-thin standard of beauty from an evolutionary standpoint and show that it not a universal ideal, but rather a path towards shame and misery and that ultra low body fat is not healthy. Thank you for reading my work and do be sure to share it with someone who would benefit from reading it!


Being Skinny Isn’t Ideal- Conflicting Ideas Of Beauty in Other Cultures


Skinny is not a universal ideal
While the thin look is highly coveted here in the West, in many other parts of the world being thin is not a standard of beauty.


While millions of women in Western countries believe that being skinny as an ideal, the models, actresses and celebrities who embody this standard of beauty would have a very difficult time being perceived as attractive by the standards of most non-Westernized inhabitants of our planet. [10] One of the problems is that we like to think that our standards of beauty are somehow ubiquitous, and all women should aspire to be as thin as possible, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Cultures differ widely in their attitudes towards female body fat levels [9,11, 12 13] and most undeveloped countries associate having a considerable amount of body fat in certain parts of the body with high status. [9] The exact opposite of how body fat levels are perceived in North America and Europe where millions of women are diet obsessively in a bid to become as thin as they possibly can- often with adverse physical and psychological consequences. There are exceptions though, as minorities in Western countries (who typically have lower incomes) tend to identify with a heavier look as an ideal, while white women see a far thinner look as being the epitome of what it means to be beautiful. The standard explanation for these different perceptions of beauty has always been that people in poorer countries and those of lower socioeconomic status in developed countries have far lesser access to food. Consequently, a woman who is a bit on the heavier side would be assumed to have an abundant food supply and thus more likely to be both fertile and in good health. A practical ideal that those of lesser means would logically strive to attain. [9]


As reasonable as this may sound, the food supply hypothesis does not stand up to closer scrutiny, as men who are fatter in developing countries are often perceived as lazy and not hardworking- negative traits that make them undesirable as mates. More significant is the reversed notion that being thin in affluent countries is a sign that you are affluent enough to know where your next meal is coming from so you can afford to control your caloric intake.[36] On the surface this certainly sounds does plausible, but thinness cannot logically be a symbol of status because it is impossible for an outside observer to know whether someone is thin because they choose to be thin or because they are impoverished and have a limited food supply.[10] ‘Pro-skinny-as-a-sign-of-wealth’ explanations also do not factor in how being thin would have been an evolutionary advantage for women and how it could ever have been an aid to the continued development and survival of the human species.


Being Skinny Isn’t Ideal- The Importance Of Fat



skinny model is not an ideal
From an evolutionary standpoint, humans would never have survived to modern times if the ultra-thin model look was an ideal that early women strived to emulate.

Fat has a very unfavorable connotation in this part of the world, but it does nonetheless play an important biological role in human females. Fat acts a as a storage mechanism for calories in the event of reduced food supplies, it provides insulation against cold temperatures and plays a major role in endocrine function by regulating the onset and maintenance of ovulation. [14,15] By storing calories, in our ancestral environments were there wasn’t always ample supplies of food, fat enabled our survival in times of famine and the allowed for the continuation of the species by allowing women to bring a baby to full term and keep the infant alive through successful lactation.[13] Before the invention of effective baby formula in the 20th Century, all human newborn infants who were not breastfed would die of starvation as they are unable to consume any other calorie source besides human milk, so it was imperative that mothers had adequate body fat stores to support the high caloric demand that breast feeding imposes or have the child nursed by another lactating female. [18] Keeping that in mind, from an evolutionary point of view, those who were underweight (sporting the highly coveted skinny look that is idealized in the West) would have difficulty conceiving much less being able to bring a baby to term or breastfeed. Models and those who strive to be underweight today regularly struggle with amenorrhea and very seldom are able to lactate. [19]


Being ultra-thin, would reduce estrogen store and limit not only fertility, but also increase incidence of osteoporosis and the woman’s ability to survive food shortages and the constant physical demands of the pre-agricultural age. Consequently, women with higher body fat levels would have higher rates of survival than thin ones and ancestral males would logically favored ‘fatter’ women as they would increase the likelihood of successful mating and child bearing.[20] Consequently, not having an ultra-low body fat percentage can be thought of as a universal human standard of beauty, one that may have been warped in the same way the human diet has been negatively and radically changed as a result of industrialization and the social and physical changes that come with living in today’s world. That said, if our ancestors emulated today’s Western standard of thinness it would have guaranteed the demise of the human race in our food scarce ancestral environments. [10]



Being Skinny Isn’t Ideal- Changing Historic Standards of Beauty


old egyptian art idealizes skinny women
Women of high status in ancient Egypt saw being ultra-thin as an ideal and interestingly enough the first accounts of lactation failure come from that period.


To support the prehistoric ideal of women not being thin, we have more than enough evidence of the idealization of a rounded female body in prehistoric art [21,22] and as a recurring theme in Western art as well until relatively recently. Our obsession with thinness came hundreds of thousands of years after the origin of our species and the early civilizations that did embrace a skinny ideal did so at a price. [21] Egyptian art for example, shows the idealization of a linear, thin and skinny physique for women of higher status- a look indistinguishable from the underweight, ultra-thin ideal of today. Our earliest records of lactation failure and the need for wet nurses come from historic Egyptian records dating back to 1500 BC as women emulating the thin ideal were apparently unable to breastfeed and we can surmise would have had difficulty conceiving as well. [23,24] In China a rounded, soft belly was an ideal for women as it was believed that a woman’s ch’i or vital energy resided in the lower abdomen. Women were ideally slim, but never to the degree of modern Western standards as they always had some fat in the abdominal region. [25] Ironically, from the fertile looking female portrayals of early prehistoric art to the busty and rounded women of the Renaissance period the idealized female in the Western World was somewhat voluptuous in nature as well. In fact, a certain degree of body fat has been a societal Western ideal from the beginning of recorded Western history up until the 1960’s when Marilyn Monroe’s curvaceous figure was very much the standard young girls aspired to emulate. [26]


Renaissance paintings do not idealize thin women
Raphael’s Madonna in the Meadow is a perfect example of the full framed woman as an ideal for feminine beauty during the Renaissance period.


In the 70’s, the popularity of Twiggy, an emaciated fashion model signaled a turn in the feminine ideal in print as her image and that of slimmer women sold more magazines compared to those with models whose body composition was more in line with that of the average woman. These changes happened in the arts as well, early photographs and paintings of ballerinas show them as being rather robust in build, but in the mid-20th Century this changed when choreographers such as George Balanchine, (often referred to as the father of classical ballet), envisioned a hipless and streamlined, (one could say boyish) figure as the ultimate expression of feminism in dance. An ideal that did away with the larger and more average sized dancers with healthy BMI’s and replaced them with the new standard calling for performers to be somewhere in the range of 5’7 weighing at or about 95 lbs. A body composition that falls well into the range of being under a healthy weight. [27] It is hardly a surprise that researchers have found that 15% of female dancers are anorexic and that over half display anorexic type behavior, [27] which many credits as a direct result of Balanchine’s standard. [27] Just as models are in magazines, ballerinas in Western societies are also often internalized as an example not only of perfection, but of what the feminine norm should be. Reviews of images in women’s magazines from the early 20th Century to the 1980’s and from 1959 to 1999 reveal that featured models have become significantly thinner over time [25] and one of the ways that this thin standard is achieved is by using younger and younger models. [27] As an unfortunate result, underage girls who should not be engaged in sexual activity are regularly used as a models, dancers and performers representing a societal sexual ideal. [10] One that creates an undesirable pressure on young girls as they are also forced to identify themselves as sexual objects at an early age- and thus are more likely to strive to embody the ultra-thin ideal. [10]


Skinny Isn’t An Ideal- Who Is To Blame?
Skinny ideals come from other women
While many blame the media for the idealization of the ultra-thin look, studies find that its origins are far deeper.


The knee jerk reaction is to blame the media for the unhealthy idealization of the skinny, mannequin look- but it would be a mistake to do so as they are more a reflection of the problem than the actual cause, a problem that has been in existence among upper class European women since the 1500’s, long before the media had a firm hold on our collective consciousness.[28] While some studies do find evidence of negative effects of media exposure to thin ideals on female body image[29,30,31], those studies have never been conclusive and when reviewed are regarded as correlational at best. Equally important is that a considerable number of studies have contradicted the idea that media images are the genus of the ultra-thin body ideal. Research that has shown that media exposure to ultra-thin portrayals of women have no effect or in some cases, even positive effects on women without pre-existing issues of body dissatisfaction or eating disorders.[32,33,34,35,36] The disparities suggest that something far more complex than media pressure drives the female Western desire to be thinner,[28]  Another common misconception is that women manage the way their bodies look to please men, but (as many men can readily attest) research shows that the preference for thinness is one usually imposed on women by other women. In fact, several studies have found that the average North American male tends to prefer women who are significantly larger than the skinny ideal. [37,38]


Body image cuses about being thin come from other women
Studies show that a young woman’s body image is influenced not from the media but almost exclusively by their mother and female peers.


The facts of the matter require us all to look a little more closely at the issue, as like so many societal problems, it comes perhaps as a result of several social issues rather than one simple causative factor. The role of women in influencing the thin body ideal, for example, is seldom discussed, but studies have found that a young girl’s body image is influenced almost exclusively by their mothers and female peers. [39,28] Other studies find that the strongest effects on female body dissatisfaction are not from distal influences such as the media, internet, movies, magazines and television but from comparisons to close associates or unfriendly females. Dissatisfaction that increases significantly in the presence of an eligible male.[28] The most interesting finding though, is that body dissatisfaction is reported as being consistently lower in the presence of an eligible male among girls whose BMI fall within in the normal range and actually higher in underweight girls.[28] While being ultra-thin may be a societal ideal, women who embody that much coveted look tend to feel the most degree of discomfort in the presence of other females and a desirable male.[28] This particular study was done with women who were mostly Hispanic but it does call for more research into the subject with other ethnic groups.


Skinny Isn’t An Ideal- Why Ideals Tend To Be Unattainable & The Importance of Self-Acceptance 


The fit look is becoming more and more popular among women and it can be achieved by simply following a healthy lifestyle as Christine Coen demonstrates.

It’s an extremely complex issue- with several other possible economic and child bearing related motivational factors, but there is one common thread between our current Western preoccupation obsession with thinness and our ancestral glorification of the rounded fatter look among women. Both ideals where just that- ideals. Ones that represent an idea that is for the most part unattainable by most of the population in both eras. To illustrate this point, we need only look at the limited food supplies and active lifestyles of modern hunter gatherer ancestors to see that actual obesity or even being overweight (and the chronic problems that can accompany it) was improbable among pre-agricultural humans. [40,41] We need only look at the women of modern hunter gatherer tribes to see that obesity is not a norm even though it may be thought of as being favorable. Women from hunter gatherer tribes tend to be what we would consider ‘athletic’ by today’s standards- with good muscle tone and muscle definition, [42] with a look that many Western women in the fitness world strive to attain. In fact, many routinely subject themselves to unhealthy and restrictive diets while over exercising in the name of attaining that particular ‘fitness look’ as an alternative to the ultra-thin ideal, a look that often focuses on the realization of a certain look rather than a healthy lifestyle. It does not have to be this way as it can be attained without extreme measures, but unfortunately the extreme approach is the one most common in our society. All the while the ‘athletic’ looking hunter gatherer women look westward to the curvier and rounder looks of typical of Western women as an ideal that they would love to emulate.


Love yourself if you are not thin or slim
What matters is not trying to live up to any societal ideal of beauty but that you strive to love yourself and focus on being healthy!


In the end it seems that we are almost hardwired to idealize what we are not, however, it is important to not compare ourselves with others or any standards about how we should or should not look as ultimately, it’s what you can do that determines human fitness and longevity, not what you look like. Imagine how much more we could accomplish as a society if issues of low self-esteem were reduced by a societal shift from it being all about how you look to a communal idea of self-acceptance with a priority placed on being healthy and about how you feel? Just imagine? A healthy lifestyle with a proper diet and regular exercise may not make you look like you should be on the cover of a magazine, but it can make you feel that way- and that’s far more important.


Please note that all material is copyrighted and DMCA Protected and can be reprinted only with the expressed authorization of the author.

High Intensity Bodyweight Training: Ballistic Pushups & Dips!

This was a tough one!

Starts out with ballistic push ups (like clap pushups but without the clap as my wrist is still not 100%) nonstop for 20 reps, then all out on dips for 10 reps.

To say it was painful would be an understatement, but you just have to push through and keep on going.

Still training, hope you are too and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

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It's an unconventional approach for certain, but it's one that's helped my arms grow and the hundreds of men and women I have trained over the past 30 plus years.

Now, my success isn't due to being genetically gifted, as it took me the better part of 11 years to get my arms up to those measurements.

Which is significant as it works and been been proven time and time again to work for the average man or woman trying to grow their arms without drugs.

It's my hope that these high intensity training protocols can help you as much as they helped me!

Click on my bio link to see the full video on my YouTube channel and thanks as always for taking the time to look at my work!!! Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

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At the Lancaster Classic Day 2 Elimination Rounds Against European Champion, and World Record Holder Leo Pettersen @leo_barebow_archer

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I didn't make it past Leo, but it was a real rush to be there and a huge thanks to my coach, Joe MyGlyn @prolinearchery for helping me get there.

Thanks as well to my good friend @sean_chan33 for all of his help from the very start, to my line buddy Aaron Shea for taking the shot and showing up to support!

My thanks as well to rob_kaufhold for putting on and promoting one of the best archery tournaments on earth!

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Dumbo, Brooklyn circa 2004

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It's nice to look back from time to time and as tired as I was, we all had a blast!

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Thanks for watching and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

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Can You Build An Impressive Physique Training Only At Home?


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Initially I was admittedly worried that I might lose some of my gains or not make as much progress, but that certainly wasn't the case.

I've consistently continued to improve with my high intensity workouts and muscles have no idea where they are training.

As long as the criteria of adequate intensity and overload are met, there will be an adaptive response and your muscles will get bigger and stronger.

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For the past 33 years I have trained three times a week with Naturally Intense High Intensity Training workouts lasting 10, 15 to 20 minutes max.

It's a training split tried and testes not only in it's helping me realize my goal of becoming a successful natural bodybuilder, but it's also helped hundreds of men and women over the past three decades.

I have tested just about every possible training split imaginable and for this particular style of high intensity training, this particular grouping consistently yields fantastic results.

I hope it helps you as much as it's helped me over the years and thanks so much for taking the time to look at my work.

Keep training hard and Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

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405 Stiff Leg Deadlift for 7 Reps! High Intensity Training.

First leg workout of the year and already pushing it!

I haven't done a stiff leg deadlift over 315lbs for about 3 years at this point, and I did my last set with 315lbs and comfortably got to 10 reps and decided I had far too much gas left in the tank and that I should go up in weight.

So I did.

I figured I might get a solid 6 reps in, but I made it to 7 and I think I could have gone on to get a full 10 reps BUT that's when good judgement prevailed.

As a bodybuilder having not trained this heavy for so many years, the shock of this much weight would be more than enough to stimulate muscle growth, and doing more reps wouldn't yield any greater returns, only increase the likelihood of injury.

It's not about the numbers, it's about training to a point where you achieve your goal, and it's important to have a goal in mind as a bodybuilder based on increasing muscle mass rather than hitting a particular number.

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Could I deadlift more at this point?

Absolutely but just because you can doesn't mean you should!

So keep those weights in a good working range, keep it safe and as always Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

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Turning 50 in a few months...

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Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to network TV, Kevin Richardson is the international fitness consultant for UNICEF, natural bodybuilding champion, creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training and one of the top personal trainers in New York City.


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45. Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. Thin ideals in music television: A source of social comparison and body dissatisfaction. International Journal of Eating Disorders 2004

Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardsonhttps://www.naturallyintense.net
Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, celebrity Personal Trainer NYC and with over 2.6 million readers of his blog, Kevin Richardson is the creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training, one of the top lifetime drug free bodybuilders of his time, the first International Fitness & Nutrition Consultant for UNICEF, 2020 and 8 Time Winner of the Best of Manhattan Awards for Personal Training and a world recognized authority on high intensity training. Kevin has helped thousands, from celebrities to CEO's over the past 30 years achieve their fitness goals with his 10 minute high-intensity workouts done just three times a week in conjunction with his holistic nutrition approach. You can learn more about about his diet and training services at www.naturallyintense.net

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