Skinny is In

The Causes, Effects, and Misconceptions of Anorexia

Andrea Bocelli ft. Katharine McPhee - The Prayer

By: Aly Johnson

What is greater than God and more evil than the devil? The rich want it. The poor have it. And if you eat it or drink it, you will die. The answer? Nothing. Nothing is greater than God or more evil than the devil. The rich want nothing. The poor have nothing. And what I’d like to inform you all on today is that if you eat nothing or drink nothing, you could die. The loss of appetite and inability to eat is known as anorexia. In its most drastic form, this disorder is characterized by the fear of becoming fat and the refusal to eat, leading to debility and even death. Why do we care? Because the media has construed an inaccurate image of the ideal woman, causing a skyrocketing increase in the number of adolescent girls who are unhappy with their bodies, to the point of self-induced hunger. I’m going to explain some causes, effects, and misconceptions of anorexia so that you all may be better educated in how this wretched disorder has devoured so many women. We will look at how the fashion industry creates unnatural ideals, how young girls resort to unhealthy weight-loss techniques, and how our lack of understanding has prevented us from helping women who silently struggle with wanting to be ideally thin.

First off, the pressure on a model to be thin is immense. Because her professional success depends almost entirely on appearance, she obsesses over her body 24/7. Yet, the physical standards that she feels pressured to meet are unrealistic. With the help of photoshopping, digital alteration, and image manipulation, many images of women are “perfected” to fit some seriously un-human and unrealistic ideals that we view over and over. To reinforce and normalize this ideal image, the media promotes models and actresses that are underweight or extremely thin through digital manipulation on screen and print media. On March 12, 2014, Doctors Lexie and Lindsay Kite, authors of Beauty Redefined, say that the feminine ideal is, “Blemish-free, wrinkle-free, and even pore-free skin, thanks to the wonders of digital manipulation as an ‘industry standard’ that is openly endorsed and defended by magazine editors and media makers the world over.” Though the causes of eating disorders are not entirely understood, it is evident that models are exposed to a bountiful array of risk factors. Many are often discovered before the age of fourteen, at a time when their bodies – and feelings about their bodies – are in a state of instability. Libby Rodenbough writes in The Culture of Beauty on March 28, 2011, “In eighty-six percent of reported cases, the onset of an eating disorder occurs before age twenty. Compound the susceptibility of youth with a profession that entails continual – and competitive – monitoring of body measurements, and it’s no wonder so many models fall victim to eating disorders.” Similarly, Dutch model Marvy Rieder, explains, “Every model is afraid of being measured. Every model is afraid of the centimeter.”
However, this fear is not limited to the world of fashion. Dr. David B. Herzog, director of the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders at the Massachusetts General Hospital, has advised the CFDA on matters of model health. “Most people who look at pictures of high fashion models do not develop eating disorders,” he says. “In the people who develop eating disorders, there's a sizeable percentage that have little interest in fashion. It is not at all a direct correlation, but the thin ideal that the industry has had a role in developing...has a big impact on how people feel about themselves.” Often one of the first symptoms to manifest is poor body image. According to a study from the University of Central Florida, nearly fifty percent of girls aged three to six were already concerned about their weight. Forty-two percent of first through third grade girls say they wish they were thinner. More than half of white, adolescent girls who are a normal weight view themselves as fat. They are more afraid of gaining weight than getting cancer, losing their parents, or nuclear war. But here’s what happens when a young girl resorts to unhealthy weight-loss techniques and eventually falls into the pit of despair.
In the beginning, she may receive admiration and praise as she starts to lose weight. The attention feels good. But privately, she feels that she still needs to lose more weight. She may exercise for long periods of time to make sure that she keeps losing weight and level off. One of the first signs of anorexia is that she makes her diet regimen more and more strict. This means making what seem to be sensible choices at first—cutting out all red meat, skipping dessert, and choosing low-fat or nonfat alternatives to foods such as cream cheese and salad dressing. But soon, she begins restricting her intake of other foods, too. She may limit herself to white meat and vegetables and reduce the size of her portions. Eventually, her diet may become so extreme that she’ll hardly eat anything at all.
This storyline of events leads to one of the greatest misconceptions of anorexia and how our lack of understanding has prevented us from helping women who silently struggle with wanting to be ideally thin: appearance. Many of us assume that when a girl is struggling with anorexia, she will eventually grow noticeably thin. But I’d like to finish off by sharing that athletes face an immeasurably great risk for the development of an eating disorder like anorexia, and there are growing numbers of athletes with eating disorders. Women who participate in “appearance sports” such as diving, figure skating, gymnastics, and dancing are speculated to be battling an eating disorder. High incidence of eating disorders also occur in endurance sports that emphasize low body weights, have weight classifications, and contain revealing clothing. Athletes’ personalities tend to be perfectionists, overachieving, competitive, compulsive and people pleasing. These traits, when focused on the body, can have devastating consequences. Athletes can become so preoccupied with controlling their percentage of body fat that, when they diet, they often go to extraordinary lengths. Severely restrictive dieting is the most common method, but many also engage in the purging methods of vomiting, laxative abuse, and diuretic abuse. Initially, competitive performance may be unaffected, but ultimately the athlete’s health and performance will start to dwindle. Because of the addictive nature of eating disorders like anorexia, even though their performance may suffer, many eating disordered athletes find it difficult to stop their self-destruction, leading to permanent and irreversible medical damage. Coaches, parents, teammates, and friends need to be alert and on the look out for the early signs of eating disorders among athletes. Often, the eating disorder is well concealed, and the symptoms are misinterpreted as athletic burnout.
So here we are, near the close of this shpeal. But before I finish, I want to recap on what we learned. We’ve seen how the fashion industry uses photo shopping, digital alteration, and image manipulation to “perfect” and perpetuate the ideal body. We’ve explored how young girls develop eating disorders from the images of “perfection” bombarding them by the media. And we’ve discovered that a girl doesn’t have to be skinny to show that she’s battling anorexia. I know, from experience, what an eating disorder like anorexia can do. Though I wasn’t the one to struggle with it, someone very dear to me did. So, I want to leave you with an inspiring thought on your mind that’s applicable to many aspects of life. “Promise me you will always remember: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Author's Note

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