Thursday, 10 April 2014

Why do we have an epidemic of obesity and not of anorexia?

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

Like many aspects of the behavioural and social sciences, it contains a high dose of stereotyped thinking that is not always substantiated. Take public role models, for example. The question is not whether they are powerful, but what their relative power is when compared with other mechanisms of social influence...

Eating habits are a good example. We spend a lot of time criticizing thin young girls on the catwalk. With their quasianorexic looks, we believe they are perverse role models for the younger generation, who will then aspire to become (and stay) a size zero. But if their influence is so powerful, why do we have an epidemic of obesity and not of anorexia? As I have mentioned before, a close friend or a friend of a friend has more power to influence your body weight than thousands of pictures of skinny people in magazines. Close ties may be more powerful than pictures on a screen.

If you navigate the waters of corporate life, as I do as an organizational consultant, you will often hear that the role modelling of the senior leadership team dictates what goes on below them. Or that people in the organization cannot behave in a particular (ethical, effective, open...) way if the leaders at the top don’t behave that way. Both claims assume that the leadership or management team at the top has great powers. It is so entrenched in our management thinking that just the idea of challenging this would raise a few corporate eyebrows. It is difficult to disagree with the idea that the top leadership must surely be behaving following the standards that they wish to be used in the organization and that if these standards are poor, it is likely that the organization is on shaky ground to say the least.

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