Essay on Eating Disorder - Dying to Be Thin
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Dying to Be Thin
Seeing an empty box of over-the-counter diet pills in the bathroom at school a couple of weeks ago really got me thinking: what is the ideal body image that we throw at teenagers today? More and more we see people equate success and popularity with beauty and, especially, with being thin. The media, one of the biggest influences on young people, is crammed with images of "the perfect body," and American life seems to revolve around health clubs, diet pills, and fat-free foods. As contributing factors to eating disorders continue to rise in everyday life, so do the statistics. Fifteen percent of the teenagers diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa will die this year, and as many as 1 in 5 college students are engaging in some form of bulimic behavior. Anorexia is found chiefly in adolescents, especially young women, and female anorexics outnumber males 15 to 1. With numbers this high, someone you know, literally, may be dying to be thin.
In medicine, Anorexia Nervosa is a condition characterized by an intense fear of weight gain or becoming obese, as well as a distorted body image. An anorexic will claim to "feel fat" even when emaciated, and will refuse to maintain a normal, minimal body weight. Visible signs of Anorexia include:
* fear of food and situations where food may be present;
* rigid exercise regimes;
* dressing in layers to hide weight loss;
* use of laxatives, enemas or diuretics to get rid of food.
Treatment techniques for Anorexia include family therapy, group therapy, support or self-help groups, and individual psychotherapy. Given the proper treatment, approximately 50% of diagnosed anorexics will recover completely within 2 to 5 years.
Bulimia, characterized by compulsive binge-eating and purging, is very closely related to Anorexia Nervosa. Victims of these two disorders may share many of the same behaviors and concerns, especially the intense fear of becoming fat. For bulimics, food becomes an obsession and an addiction. Some visible signs include:
* strict dieting followed by eating binges;
* disappearing after a meal;
* excessive concerns about weight;
* expressing guilt or shame about eating.
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Thin Eating Disorder Body Weight Diet Pills Family Therapy Contributing Factors Perfect Body American Life Young Women
Bulimia predominantly affects young women, although 5-10% of its victims are male, and is more widespread than Anorexia. Bulimia is treated in much the same way as Anorexia, but has a higher success rate for recovery.
With proper treatment, teenagers can be relieved of the symptoms of Anorexia and Bulimia and can be helped to control these disorders. Help from family members, early detection, and especially an acceptance of people of all shapes and sizes by society will help lower the statistics and lead to fewer teenagers with these terrible conditions.
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Many women are concerned with their appearance. Too many of them are caught up with the image of being skinny and pretty. By seeing all the beautiful, thin women in the media and in society, they may feel insecure about the way they look. Therefore, they try and do anything they can to acquire that appearance. Methods they use to try and achieve this are by self-starvation, known as Anorexia, or induced vomiting, known as Bulimia. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are only two of the eating disorders that often result from their incessant desire to be thin and "beautiful."
Eating disorders, such as these, also occur amongst men. However, it is less common. "Standards for males simply are not as extreme or as inimical to normal body builds as are women's standards" (Fallon, Katzman, and Wooley 8). It is not just the biological aspect, though, that makes this occur more often in women. Fallon, Katzman, and Wooley claim
On even a practical level, women's self-image, their social and
economic success and even their survival can still be determined
largely by their beauty and by the men it allows them to attract,
while for men these are based largely on how they act and what
they accomplish. Looks simply are of secondary importance for
male success. (9)
Beauty and fashion are also in part with their desire for social acceptance and success. Women try to meet an unreasonable weight standard because fashion requires them to. Men are encouraged to be strong and powerful. As they work to develop their power in the gym and at work, they associate "thin" with "skinny" and "weak." Even though female models often look frail, (which men hate in themselves), female thinness is not classified as "skinny." Instead it is popular and defined as glamorous and sexy. This maybe helps explain why only five-to-ten percent of people with eating disorders are male.
Anorexia nervosa is the persistent pursuit of thinness. A person suffering from this eating disorder refuses to maintain normal body weight for his/her age and height. He/she weigh eighty-five percent or less than what is expected for their age and height, and deny the dangers of low weight. He/she is terrified of gaining weight and becoming fat, even though they are distinctly underweight. Young girls do not begin to menstruate at the appropriate age, and in women, menstrual periods stop. In men, sex hormones fall. Also, often included with anorexia nervosa are depression, irritability, withdrawal, and peculiar behaviors such as strange eating habits.
Bulimia nervosa is the diet-binge-purge disorder. A person with this eating disorder binge eats and feels out of control while eating. He/she vomits, misuses laxatives, exercises, or fasts to get rid of the calories. Dieting is done when not bingeing but then he/she becomes hungry and binges again. He/she believes self-worth requires being thin. Their weight may be normal, unless anorexia is also present. Like anorexia, bulimia can kill. Bulimics act cheerful but are often depressed, lonely, ashamed, and empty inside. Also, due to their feelings of unworthiness and difficulty talking about their feelings, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and deeply buried anger is almost always included. There is a great deal of other eating disorders, but anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the most common.
What causes eating disorders? There is not one simple answer as to why they do this to themselves. One factor is biological. Research suggests that abnormal levels of brain chemicals incline some people to anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors. These people are more vulnerable to eating disorders than others.
Another factor is psychological. People with eating disorders may have unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. To them, everything is good or bad, a success or a failure, fat or thin. "If fat is bad and thin is good, then thinner is better, and thinnest is best-even if thinnest is sixty-eight pounds in a hospital bed on life support" (Anorexia Nervosa). Some people with eating disorders use them to try and take control of themselves and their lives. They, as well, often lack a sense of identity. They try to define themselves by developing a socially approved and accepted exterior. They also frequently are rightfully angry, and do not know how to express their anger in healthy ways. They turn it against themselves by starving or stuffing.
Family may be a factor. Parents who overvalue physical appearance can unintentionally contribute to an eating disorder. On the other hand, so can those who make critical comments, even jokingly, about their children's bodies. These families tend to be overprotective, rigid, and ineffective at solving conflict. There are often high expectations of achievement and success they feel they need to fulfill. The children try to resolve their problems by controlling weight and food.
Another factor is social. Television, movies, and magazines are examples of media that bombard people with messages about the "advantages" of being thin. "Impressionable readers and viewers are told, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly by the actors and models that are chosen for display, that goodness, success, power, approval, popularity, admiration, intelligence, friends, and romantic relationships all require physical beauty in general and thinness in particular" (Anorexia Nervosa). Females are affected by eating disorders and cultural demands for thinness. Women, these days, have been urged to be as thin as is currently fashionable.
Triggers are other factors that can cause eating disorders. If people are vulnerable to eating disorders, sometimes all it takes to start them is a trigger event that they do not know how to handle. A trigger could be something as harmless as teasing or as devastating as rape or incest. Triggers often happen at times of transition where increased demands are made on people who already are unsure of their ability to meet expectations. Dieting is probably the most common trigger of disordered eating. "It is a bit simplistic, but nonetheless true, to say that if there were no dieting, there would be no anorexia nervosa. Neither would there be the bulimia that people create when they diet..." (Anorexia Nervosa).
We live in a culture where it is normal to feel that we should be thinner, prettier, firmer, and altogether better. "We dedicate our time, energy, and obsessive attention-in short, our lives- to trying to "fix" our bodies and make them "right" (Fallon, Katzman, and Wooley 152). Our troubled relationship to our bodies turns into our troubled relationship to our selves, and is the cause of the outbreak of eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. The relationship between self and body not only supports women's disordered eating, but is also the foundation of their identity. It is an issue that contains the junction of mind, body, and culture. A start to the treatment of disordered eating is to deal with the negative body image that the person has. The occurrence of negative body images in girls is due to their feeling that they need to live within the safety of a "perfect" image that exists in the culture. Body image is the image of the body that the person sees with the mind's eye. It is a product of the mind's imagination and is not to be confused with the real image the body projects to an outside observer. For example, common with anorexia, a person feels fat when, in reality, they are very thin. They look in the mirror and instead of seeing their physical appearance; they see the image of themselves that they create in their mind.
Over time, being thin has become the goal of many women. "...thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal" (Wolf 482). To be beautiful is what everyone strives for. To several women, "thin is beautiful." The ideal female weight is represented by actresses, models, and Miss Americas. "Consequently, 90-95% of American women feel that they don't 'measure up'" (Fallon, Katzman, and Wooley 8). Therefore, they will do anything to "measure up" and meet the standards the actresses, models, and Miss Americas exhibit.
Being a teenager, I feel that we live in a culture where being thin is attractive. I feel this way because throughout high school, a majority of the guys would pine after the thin, pretty girls. The girls, "with meat on them," would often be jealous of, therefore, feeling they are not thin enough to be beautiful. Low self-esteem and eating disorders would then result from these feelings. I, personally, do not think that "thin is beautiful." Not only by your exterior, but what kind of a person you are and what you have inside, makes you beautiful.
Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. Updated September 2001. http://www.anred.com. November 27, 2001.
Fallon, Patricia, Melanie A. Katzman, and Susan C. Wooley, eds. Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders. New York: Guilford Press, 1994.
Wolf, Naomi. "The Beauty Myth." Signs of Life. 3rd edition. Comp. and ed. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. New York: St. Martin's Press. 2000. 481-89.
Beth Decker wrote this essay. Please do not use any part of it without her consent!
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