Eating disorders and body altering techniques are glorified in today’s media, leaving people, particularly children and teens, with a skewed view of what it is to be “normal”.
What we should be focused on is how an individual can safely obtain the physique they wish to have, techniques designed to battle counter-productive practices, and the importance of embracing one’s body the way it is. In some television programs, there are often scenes that depict young people exemplifying destructive eating behaviors. These acts are laughed off as if they are to be expected, placing eating disorders in a positive light. If popular media continues to glorify such detrimental habits, our country will surely reap the consequences.
Remember the family-friendly 90s classic Parent Trap starring America’s sweetheart Lindsay Lohan? What about the seemingly endless films that child stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen appeared in? Every little girl in America wanted to be them and every parent in America was more than willing to pop in those movies and let their children be swept off to another world. While Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins might have been a positive role model as young girls, they are now epitome of what not to do. Their lives are constantly in the public eye for drug use, endless partying, and most importantly, how rapidly their bodies grow thin. The young girls that idolized these women as children may very well still look up to these fallen starlets and mimic their behavior, no matter how destructive; after all, imitation is the highest form of flattery.
How one sees their body can be the beginning of an eating disorder. Far too often, society associates being thin, with hard working, beautiful, strong and self-disciplined. On the other hand, being fat is associated with being lazy, ugly, weak and lacking will power. Because of these harsh critiques, women are hardly ever completely satisfied with their body. However, women are not alone in being self-conscious about their bodies. Men and women alike often feel a great deal of pressure to achieve and/or maintain an imagery, and sometimes, attainable appearance.
Over time, the ideal body image has changed, causing people to adapt to new standards of beauty. For many centuries, being thin implied that you were poor and had no means of eating in excess. Being a full figured man or woman was a sign of wealth and beauty. Beginning in the 1800s, the word diet began to creep into our vernacular. Initially, dieting advice was only aimed at men because women were expected to be curvy and voluptuous. During the turn of the century, woman became more active and began playing sports. At this time, we started seeing weight as a part of science with the study of calories, ideal weight and body mass index. Come the 1950s, curves were brought back with a bang by Marilyn Monroe. She singlehandedly resurrected curves with her dramatic hourglass figure and became a powerhouse sex symbol after appearing on the first issue of Playboy Magazine in 1954. Even so, as the decades went on, a little extra flab became something to be ashamed of and slender became the idolized figure.
Many kids — particularly adolescents — are worried about how they look and may feel self-conscious about their bodies. “This can be especially true when they are going through puberty, and undergo substantial physical changes while facing new social pressures” (Levitt, Sansone, Cohn) , and transitioning from middle school to high school. Sadly, for a moderate number of kids and teens, that worry can lead to an obsession that may grow into an eating disorder. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa cause dramatic weight fluctuation, interfere with normal daily life, and can permanently affect their health.
People with anorexia have an extreme fear of weight gain and a distorted view of their body size and shape. As a result, they strive to maintain a very low body weight. Some restrict their food intake by dieting, fasting, or excessive exercise. People with anorexia try to eat as little as possible, and take in as few calories as they can, frequently obsessing over food intake. Anorexia causes health issues such as hair loss, permanent bone loss, fatigue, constipation, kidney failure, abnormally low heart rate and blood pressure, etc.
Bulimia is characterized by habitual binge eating and purging. “Someone with bulimia may undergo weight fluctuations, but rarely experiences the low weight associated with anorexia”(Lawrie, Sullivan, Davies) . Both disorders can involve compulsive exercise or other forms of purging food eaten, such as by self-induced vomiting or laxative use. Bulimia, like anorexia, causes a variety of health complications such as irritation of esophagus, stomach, salivary glands and throat from persistent vomiting, gastric erosion of the enamel, irregular heartbeat and more. It is important to remember that eating disorders can spin out of hand very easily and are difficult habits to break. Eating disorders are serious clinical problems that require professional treatment by nutritionists, doctors, and therapists.
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