Beauty is bone deep

image.axdI was very pleased to be interviewed by Vogue magazine for a story in their January 2011 issue that related one woman’s experience with an osteopenia diagnosis. But when the issue came out, I was struck by the picture on the cover. It shows Natalie Portman, a 29-year-old actress, looking wisp-slender in a sexy, low-cut dress. The picture was advertising Vogue’s story about her latest film, Black Swan, in which she plays an emotionally disturbed ballerina. The photo reminded me of the many “thin and worried women” I see at the Center for Better Bones.

I use this phrase a lot when it comes to bone health, but what I really mean is thin and stressed — seriously stressed. These may be women who are prone to anxiety, worry, and other fear-based emotional states, but they’re also women who are stressed physiologically, either from too much physical exercise (from something as demanding as ballet) or from the less-than-ideal nutrition that many girls and women use to reach the wafer-thin look that’s expected of models in the pages of a magazine like Vogue.

Either one of these stresses, emotional or physical, can have a powerful impact on bone health, but put them together — as in the case of Natalie Portman’s character in Black Swan — and you have a woman whose bones, sooner or later, will suffer.
I don’t know how many emotionally disturbed ballerinas there are in the world, but there are a lot of girls and women who strive to be model-thin, and who grow anxious or despondent if they can’t reach that “beauty ideal” — an ideal of thinness that Vogue and other fashion magazines actively promote.  Some women are born with a fine-boned body type, and that’s OK — I’m certainly not suggesting that thin women can’t have healthy bones! But many women can only reach (and keep) that shape by greatly restricting what they eat and drink, by exercising very hard many hours each day, or by combining the two practices. None of this promotes optimal health. In fact, it can create a tremendous amount of emotional stress that our bones may pay for in the long-term.

I love that Vogue’s article is raising awareness of the need for women to maximize their bone health through natural means. But when I look at the women represented in its pages, I can’t help but think about future osteoporosis diagnoses. Such women could free themselves from a lot of emotional and physical distress simply by setting a goal of being healthy rather than thin. Because contrary to what popular wisdom tells us, the two aren’t the same thing.

If there’s anything I wish would come back into fashion, it’s the idea that beauty = health — or more to the point, that beauty is bone deep rather than skin deep!

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