In Japan (and now worldwide), a dangerous new trend has emerged, encouraging young women to pursue drastic weight loss to emulate Cinderella. As little girls, many of us embraced Disney princesses as role models.
With storylines that featured action, romance, animal friends, and magic — along with occasional wardrobe changes and dope soundtracks — Disney princesses were beautiful, compelling, and admirable.
My mother for one was hard-pressed to pry my Cinderella dress away from her toddler’s cold, hard fingers. Then, some of us hit our not-like-other-girls phase, rejecting anything pink, sparkly, and princess-y.
It was only after maturing, coming to terms with our own unique femininity, and learning about various feminist perspectives that many of us were able to revisit Disney princesses and see the good (these animated movies centered on female protagonists pursuing their journeys and promoted values of kindness), the bad (that many of these plots centered on finding love), and the ugly (that the princesses encouraged a narrow, hyper-stylized version of beauty which didn’t promote self-confidence and body acceptance).
The “Cinderella weight” draws on the troubling beauty expectations for princesses, offering a mathematical formula for women to calculate their desired goal. Cinderella weight can be calculated by measuring one’s height in meters, squaring that number, and then multiplying by 18 to achieve the kilogram amount.
For example, if you are 5’ 4” (1.63 m), then your Cinderella weight would be about 105.4 lbs (47.82 kg). These proportions would put the participant at a body mass index of 18. In comparison, the American Dietetic Association defines the healthy, ideal BMI from 20-25, making the Cinderella weight considered underweight.
While BMI alone may be a misleading, imperfect assessment of one’s health (it fails to consider factors such as body fat/muscle mass and tends to differ between racial demographics), it serves as a useful tool in illustrating the extremity and arbitrariness of the Cinderella weight.
Many shocked netizens took to social media to speak out against the new craze.
there’s a trend called the #cinderelladiet going around, and i calculated what my #cinderellaweight would be. last time i was that weight i was a malnourished string bean. sounds like a fairy tale to me.
— lauren page (@laurenpage) March 2, 2018
“The ‘Cinderella Weight’ is basically 18 in terms of BMI, which is the lowest line in regard to standard weight. It is incredibly thin. People with the ‘Cinderella weight’ don’t have their foot in a glass slipper but have a foot into malnutrition.” — @demisefgo
the. cinderella weight thing going on jp twitter. if that's a thing ppl aim for, if i understand it right. it's rly rly scary. We rly don't need to put more pressure on girls here to lose weight. if anything we should push for more strenght, even if you end up heavier!
— gay yandere@bed (@vanilla_buns) February 19, 2018
Others disagree with the condemnation of “Cinderella weight.”
“I weigh less than the ‘Cinderella weight’ but my doctors tell me that I’m healthy. I’m not dieting or morbidly ill. I think it’s just because I naturally don’t gain weight. I’m normal.” — @opabunmi1344
Japan's New Extra Slim "Cinderella Weight" Diet Is Highly Controversialhttps://t.co/VZJSq6RMIu
— Koreaboo (@Koreaboo) February 22, 2018
The health risks associated with being underweight are not exactly “happily ever after”. According to Today’s Dietitian, the leading news source for dietitians and nutritionists:
“Those who are underweight are prone to infection due to weak and easily compromised immune systems and tend to have low muscle mass, hair loss, and in some cases disrupted hormone regulation… Being underweight can also derail intake and absorption of vital nutrients, including amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, leading to increased risk of osteoporosis and anemia. In addition, underweight women are prone to amenorrhea and possible pregnancy complications.”
Despite the hazardous repercussions, many women conflate skinny to being attractive/healthier and are therefore willing to take radical, unhealthy measures. Mari Suzuzi from the Japan Association for Eating Disorders (JAED) acknowledges the rising percentage of underweight women in Japan.
“They [Japanese women] see being thin as a desirable goal. Women are feeling pressure both from the media and from their peers to maintain a weight that may not be healthy,” she told the Japan Times.
The pressure is evident, even in government mandated law. Instated in 2008, the Metabo law required annual company health checks for adults age 45-74 and penalized companies for employees who exceeded the designated health checks (33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women).
In Japan, which has a homogeneous society that typically emphasizes conformity and slimness, women are also impacted by glossy magazines which boast thin models and the latest diet methods and retailers offer a narrow range of choice for clothing size and different body types.
This has even produced bizarre trends like the long breath diet. It is no surprise that various studies, including a 2008 study by the University of Sydney, suggest that an alarming amount of Japanese adolescents suffer from body image and eating disorders because of social factors.
Dr Aya Nishizono-Maher, a founding member of JAED, elaborated to the Tokyo Weekender, criticized the lack of ED treatment facilities in Japan and elaborated:
The prevalence rate of eating disorders is difficult to assess because in both anorexic and bulimic cases, the percentage of people that actually visit doctors is very low. Also, the prevalence rate depends on whether to include the increasing grey zone of people with lighter symptoms. If we only include patients that meet all the diagnostic criteria, the prevalence rate of anorexia nervosa in young females in Japan is considered to be slightly less than 1%, and 2% for bulimia nervosa, as in other developed countries…It might seem like a small number, but this means Tokyo alone has 600 to 800 new anorexic patients every year. And this does not count potentially anorexic people who do not see doctors.
Meanwhile, although some overweight TV personalities may be ridiculed and caricatured as lazy, Japanese celebrities like Naomi Watanabe are making moves to spread body positivity.
Watanabe, a popular comedian, a quirky style icon/designer, and the most followed person in Japan on Instagram, told Vogue,
“My message is never to tell other people that they should get fat or put on weight, but I truly believe that I should be happy, and everybody should be happy in their own skin. You shouldn’t reject the way you are.”
Curvier, pocchari models (“marshmallow girls” as termed by La Farfa magazine in 2013) shift the sizeist culture and carve their way into the fashion/beauty world, despite comments such as “stop trying to rationalize fatsos!”
In a world plagued by unrealistic beauty expectations and fad dieting, many continue to echo the harmful weight loss methods of the past.
We may have stepped away from tapeworms and arsenic, but weird trends like “Cinderella weight” are a reminder of the dark side of weight loss.
As Cinderella said, “a dream is a wish your heart makes,” and that dream should be for health, not for a certain measurement.