I’ve noticed that one way to get a lot of hits on a blog post is to write about weight loss.

It’s not a bad way to sell books either. The week of August 8, three of the top ten books on the Publisher’s Weekly hardcover bestsellers list address weight loss.

Magazine racks are a flesh market: Fitness, Shape, Men’s Health, Health, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Health, all screaming A BIKINI BODY NOW!…FLATTER BELLY, THINNER THIGHS…and MELT 1,200 CALORIES TODAY.

We can’t get enough of the stuff.

A lot of what we read is the same information rearranged over and over. Eat less, exercise more. Fruits and vegetables good, saturated fats bad. And yet we keep reading and watching and fretting, as if one day we will open one of these magazines and find the magical formula that will keep us trim, taut, and healthy with minimal effort.

Not only that, but my morning paper today included two items about female celebrities and their weight: Jennifer Hudson said she’s prouder or her weight loss than her Oscar, and that, “I didn’t even know I was considered plus-sized until I came to Hollywood.” And Anne Hathaway said that to maintain a newly toned and taut bod, “I’m living on kale and dust.”

What is with us? Why is that interesting? Why are we so coo-coo about weight?

And we turn to the same people that convinced us we’re all fat, to tell us how to not be fat. Coo-coo.

And now research suggests that women might be likely to believe the media over loved ones when assessing their own bodies.

The researchers were interested in fat stigma and how messages from women’s social circle might cause women to feel stigmatized about their size.

They interviewed 112 women ages 18-45, and 823 people in their families and social networks. They measured the degree to which the women felt stigmatized about their weight, and they asked the women “Do you think (so-and-so) thinks you should lose weight?” Members of the social network were asked if they thought the women should lose weight.

The researchers expected to find ways that friends and family made women feel bad about their weight. Instead,  they found friends and family were less likely to say that the woman needed to lose weight than the woman herself predicted.

“We found that women generally missed the mark when estimating what their friends and family thought about their weight,” said Daniel J. Hruschka, co-author of the study.

“Women were a bit more attuned to the views of close friends and family, but even then, they generally perceived the judgments of others inaccurately.”

But the women in the study felt stigmatized about their weight despite the fact that people in their lives think they look just fine. The researchers speculate that media messages about the body override the messages women get from friends and family.

I’m increasingly convinced that we have completely disconnected from anything resembling reality when it comes to body image.

I wrote about this once before, in a post titled “Am I Fat, Who the Hell Knows?” Research cited in that post would seem to contradict this new study; it found that obese people often don’t lose weight because they don’t think they need to. I’ll let the researchers arm wrestle over all those seemingly contradictory findings. I’m sticking to my theory that it’s all about our sad and somewhat bizarre disconnect from the reality of our bodies.

What is obese? What is skinny? At what magic number must I move from the Missy to the Women’s department? Why is this size 10 smaller than that size 10? Can I really have flat abs in 10 days? Is that a big butt or a bodacious booty? Are those real?

We’re so confused. And for some reason, we have chosen to live in an alternate universe that tells us we’re fat and makes us feel bad.

Being fit is great and can be fun. I’m all for it. And eating right is wise and can be delicious. At this point, we all know that, and we know how to do what we need to do. Anyone who doesn’t know is willfully not paying attention.

But why are we so endlessly fascinated by fat or not fat? What good is the obsession doing us? And why are we letting the media move into our brains?

Stop. Get back into the real world. Stand in front of a mirror. Look at yourself. Even the parts you don’t like. Are they really that bad? Look at the parts you like. Aren’t they nice? Listen to what loved ones say. Look at how they look at you. Do they show any signs of wanting to throw up at the size of your thighs? I didn’t think so.

Now, go make the best of what you got. Have fun. Think about other stuff. Stop obsessing. It’s boring and counterproductive. If you’re still worried about your weight, check out this earlier post, about research which found that women who learned ways develop better body image lost more weight than women who relied on diet and exercise alone. Makes sense: Why would you learn to take care of a body you dislike?

I’ve considered putting a moratorium on weight-loss posts on this blog, but probably won’t because I’m not above pandering. But as soon as you stop reading them, I’ll stop writing them.

Photo by Sarah Korf via Flickr (Creative Commons).