It might be model behavior not to eat, but the rest of the nation faces an obesity epidemic of mammoth proportions. Managing editor Deborah Cassell debates the ironies of America's fascination with body image.

A former colleague of mine used to joke: “I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of widths.” A fellow Elvis fan, he and I used to make the drive (while singing along to “Suspicion,” “In the Ghetto” and other golden oldies) from the Memphis, Tenn., airport to Tupelo, Miss., (Big E’s birthplace) twice a year for work.

My co-worker would have run in fear for what I found at Graceland on one particular trip. Among the hoards of (hungry) fans touring the King of Rock n’ Roll’s house on Elvis Presley Boulevard (I’ve been there three times) was a man wearing a shirt that read “Don’t feed the models.” He must have weighed about 400 lb.

I could not help but chuckle at the irony, especially since I was in the home of Elvis Presley, who late in life turned into a hunka hunka burnin’ love himself - possibly from eating all those fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. (Yum.)

All jokes aside, that shirt spoke volumes about what might be the biggest divide in our nation. No, not race or socioeconomics, but body image. If the media’s right, then half the nation is too fat, and the other half is too thin. Goldilocks would be hard-pressed to find someone who’s “just right” in our obese/anorexic society.

It isn’t just adults who are overweight. Childhood obesity is a huge concern among parents, schools and even the federal government. Today’s mothers are giving birth to bigger babies who are growing into even tubbier toddlers. If you’ve seen that episode of “The Maury Povich Show” featuring the 120-lb. 4-year-old, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is that girl who simply needs a snack. I don’t know how many times I’ve been tempted to walk up to a pencil-thin 20-something and force-feed her a cookie (no, not the low-fat, low-cal variety). Anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders aren’t just for after-school specials; they’re commonplace realities among insecure students of all ages, from junior high to college.

Health professionals blame the media for America’s obsession with weight. Vogue, New York Fashion Week and reality TV shows such as “America’s Next Top Model” (a guilty pleasure of mine, I admit) tell us that thin is in ... no “butts” about it.

A minority of people support a different mantra: Fat is phat. (That’s slang for super cool, yo.) For example, the Oxygen reality show “Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance” celebrates plus-size women in all their glory, naming one lucky contestant Miss F.A.T. According to Mo’Nique, there are no biggest losers in this bunch.

Tipping the scales in this direction of thought is a recent study that suggests it’s okay to be a little overweight. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta say that a few extra pounds do not increase one’s risk of dying from cancer or heart disease. On the contrary, this might actually protect against other causes of death, they claim.

If so, then we are well on our way to living long and fatty, uh, happy lives.

Reuters has reported that by the year 2015, 75% of American adults will be overweight, while 41% will qualify as obese. Disneyworld execs must be paying attention, because I heard on the radio that the theme park is supersizing its TeaCups ride so that heavier Americans can sit and spin.

So much for New Year’s resolutions to get in shape. No one’s ever succeeded in fulfilling one of those empty promises to self anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. I could stand to lose a few pounds. (So could my cat.) But I’m less concerned with own vanity than I am about the number of people for whom high blood pressure, cholesterol problems and diabetes are a foregone conclusion.

Perhaps more folks (including Elvis, whom I recently spotted at a 7-Eleven) should be scared of widths.

Editor’s Note: Feed the models yourself at