Supersize Us? No, Downsize Us!

by Amanda Holt

News of Starbucks’ new “Trenta”-sized drink has rekindled the popular discussion: Is bigger better?

As someone who has desperately stumbled into a coffee shop asking for “the biggest size you have,” it doesn’t take much consideration of our culture to realize the answer is largely, for Americans, yes.

We have the Monster Burger, the entire-bottle-of-wine glass, the whole-pot-of-coffee mug, the Hummer, the world’s largest cruise ship, the Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show, 6-foot-long burritos, Willis Tower.

We have breast implants, the Ford F-650, 152-inch TVs, 50,000-square-foot houses, Michigan Stadium, Lady GaGa, Mall of America, hydraulics, the “blowout” hair-do, and are you exhausted yet?

Whether or not you personally possess such items or embody “bigness” in clothing or action, it is abundantly clear that mainstream America values ostentation.

The question becomes, then, should bigger be better? What does America lose in valuing bigger salaries, bigger food, bigger stuff and bigger lives in general?
The most obvious thing we lose — have lost — is our health. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “32.7 percent of U.S. adults 20 years and older are overweight, 34.3 percent are obese and 5.9 percent are extremely obese.” Add those statistics up, and a whopping 72.9 percent of American adults are above a healthy weight.

While the obesity epidemic is certainly complex, it seems as though our obsession with “bigger” is manifesting physically.

The obesity argument, while unarguably important, is only one among countless reasons to reconsider our prioritizing “big” and “more.” This obsession also negatively affects our environment as well as our culture.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States’ manufacturing sector, responsible for producing our big and numerous possessions, emitted 1,401 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2002. Climate change, like obesity, is complex, but, also like obesity, is made worse by our “big” lives.

Our relationships to our fellow humans also suffer when we focus on “bigger is better.” The pursuit of more is inherently individualistic. We don’t buy Hummers to share with those without the means to buy their own, but so they can ride in our shadows. We don’t spike or curl our hair to see the beauty and value of other people in our lives, but so there can be more of us for others to look at and presumably admire.

A “bigger is better” society contributes neither to a healthy body nor to a healthy social or physical environment. Since I suspect we are all guilty participators in this cultural phenomenon in some way, maybe it’s time we all start looking for ways to downsize our lives.


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