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Eating disorders and the Media

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    It almost everywhere you look. Pictures running rampid on magazine covers,

    advertisements, billboards: everywhere. Standing in the line at the grocery store, flipping

    through a magazine, or just glancing at the advertisements on television. It is quite

    evident by looking at the emaciated pictures of young women and surprisingly men too,

    what the media considers as the “ideal” figure. This perception society has created, plays a

    major part in our countries obsession with thinness and extreme dieting. America’s

    obsession with health and diets and the fashion industry and television exhibiting waif thin

    models as “sexy and voluptuous”, gives a distorted notion sending many young women the

    wrong idea about body image. In today’s society these eating problems, such as anorexia

    and bulimia, are becoming all too common. Yet, the question still remains, what are the

    causes and factors contributing to this destructive behavior, and what kind of impact is the

    media contributing to these problems?

    Although there are only a few quantitative studies on the issue of eating disorders

    and the link between the diseases and the media: the research that has been done is quite

    informative and interesting. Hopefully though, in time more research will fill in some of

    the links to the enigma of eating disorders. The fashion industry, television, and society’s

    norms have all promoted not only a distorted perspective of what a “beautiful” person is

    defined as, but influenced many to deception therefore leaving many with an eating

    Looking at the television one can easily notice all of the ads and diet commercials

    claiming to have to newest and hottest diet. With these ads and societies norms, many are

    led to believe once the weight is lost, we they will be happy. Surely everyone has noticed

    the magazines while standing in line at the grocery store. Most of them claim to also have

    the latest and best diet. What happened to last months diet claims? Without a doubt,

    dieting has become a insane obsession in North America. Billions of dollars are spent

    trying to look the way society tells us we need to look. People go to extremes from

    starving themselves to paying for various cosmetic surgeries. It is very unusual to find

    actors and actresses in Hollywood overweight-because that is not accepted in today’s

    society. Many actresses and actors that seen on television have endured countless hours

    of strenuous exercise and have deprives themselves of nutrition in order to maintain a thin

    figure. Television is obviously a big influence on many teens. Thousands of girls are

    starving themselves this very moment trying to attain what the fashion industry considers

    the “ideal” figure. The average model/actress weighs 23% less than the average women

    (Bulk 46) yet what society is telling us is that this is normal. When I was watching the

    Grammy’s a few weeks ago I was disgusted when I saw some of the celebrities. Most of

    them looked like they had not eaten in months-seriously. I do not know what is so

    glamorous about this look, but it seems to have caught on, and many are jeopardizing their

    health trying to achieve this look. So who is to blame for our countries obsession with

    thinness? Fashion industries, Hollywood ?? Think again, the American public is the one

    keeping them in business. The public is the one buying the magazines, purchasing the diet

    foods, and also guilty of paying big bucks for the various cosmetic surgeries.

    It is a known fact that eating disorders are on the rise, and the statistics are even

    scarier(McMurray 30). From a very young age we are lead to believe that the only way to

    be accepted and fit in, is to be thin. Along with this we are also lead to believe that those

    who are thin are more successful and happier. It is no wonder that many colleges and

    universities around the country are reporting an increased prevalence of eating disorders

    among many female students. One out of four people between the ages of 12-21 have

    some sort of disordered eating, whether it be anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive over eating

    (Couture 47). Researchers feel though, that the prevalence of eating disorders among

    female college students is not a necessarily a new phenomenon, but is now receiving more

    attention due to not only the media’s, but Hollywood’s fixation about weight and

    slenderness being associated with being attractive. Obesity is not very attractive nor health

    conscience either, but the weight of a person is not relative to how they should be

    judged. During the 40’s 50’s and 60’s curviness was considered desirable. The norms set

    during that those time periods were infact very different to those say of the 90’s and today.

    Marilyn Monroe for example, is probably considered one of the biggest sex symbols in

    American history, even though she wore a size 12 at one time in her career(Arndt) .

    Models and actresses today at most wear half that size. Colleen Kay Hutchin, Miss

    America in 1952 weighed 143 pounds during her time as Miss America(Caballero 21).

    Caballero, who is the head of the Miss America pageants is aware and concerned of the

    trend in extremely thin contestants and winners. Caballero states, ” Our concern is not so

    much the physical health but the mental health of the girls watching…because Miss

    America is held up as a role model.” Caballero fears that excessively thin winners will

    contribute to the social pressure to be skinny that sends some adolescents into eating

    disorders. Society has forgotten what comes from within is what is really important. It is

    unfortunate that in today’s society, people have forgotten what is inside a person that

    counts, not what is on the outside. The American society needs to start loving and

    accepting each other, not for what they may look like. Yet, every time you walk into a

    store you are surrounded by images of emaciated models wearing the latest fashions. Does

    this really affect the young women and men ? I think it does, because even I find myself

    wondering if I was skinnier or prettier would I be guaranteed all the “happiness” and

    attention that all of the models, and actors and actresses are believed to have. I asked my

    little sister this question thinking that since she is in middle school, a time when youths are

    greatly affected and influenced by their appearance, and was surprised from her reply.

    Actually, I was shocked by her answer. My sister informed me of one of her friends who

    already takes diet pills!! Diet pills in eighth grade seems so unreal to me. She also said that

    many girls do not eat lunch because they are afraid they are going to get fat. This was very

    disturbing news, because I know from personal experience how eating disorders can not

    only control, but ruin your life. This disease that affects many young women as well as

    men, is complex psychiatric and psychological condition that can be deadly.

    Although the exact causes leading to eating disorders still remain a mystery one

    thing is for sure, many college students are a high percentage of those who are affected by

    this disease. It is no wonder that one in six female college students has some sort of

    disordered eating( McMurray 30). For many, food is a comfort or security in a time of

    confusion and stress. The transition from high school to college is an important, most

    being freshman and leaving home for the first time in their lives. This experience can be

    traumatic for many, and the unrecognized dependency of parents and lack of experience

    making adult decisions on their own can cause problems functioning in the less-controlled

    college environment. Living in a dorm or apartment with other students means getting

    along with others, withstanding the normal coming and going as students leaving for

    school. This situation among the other stressful situations college introduces, can leave

    many students vulnerable therefor more susceptible to problem eating. For students who

    already feel vulnerable to problem eating, this situation can may cause more feelings of

    helplessness, thus worsening the problem even more. In a recent edition of People

    magazine, a researcher analyzed and studied the rise in eating disorders among college

    campuses, and came up with some surprising conclusions. The researcher found that the

    connection between an unfamiliar place and insecurity using problem eating to gain

    control. Also, being in an unfamiliar place, social acceptance is a major issue and also

    another key in eating disorders. Many young women feel as though if they are skinny then

    they too will be accepted. These young women are surrounded by images of rail thin

    models in magazines and actresses on television who are thought to be beautiful, so they

    too think that is they are thin then they will be accepted and therefore, happy. Many girls

    who are already very self conscious may look to catching a guy to fulfill their emotional

    needs they lack. In doing this they believe that they have to look a certain way or be a

    certain size to be wanted. “This situation carries all the dynamics that can also contribute

    to problem eating”, states Chelsea Waters in her biography Diary if an Eating Disorder.

    Many girls then turn to extreme dieting and bingeing and purging to control the situation.

    Although many researchers have found college stress and lifestyle change, and social

    acceptance to be a major factor in the prevalence of eating disorders among college

    students, family life is also another key factor.

    There are many psychiatric and psychological reasons behind eating disorders,

    including both mental and emotional anguish. Psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Couture has found a

    connection between the family relationship and the effect it has on young women and men.

    Dr. Couture found that women especially have been abusing food since they were small

    children. As children they learned to reach for a sweet instead of a potential friend. Also,

    certain variables also contribute to a young women’s problem with food. For example,

    most dorm cafeteria’s serve food mainly high in fat and protein. Students who study late at

    night and become hungry cannot access healthy food like they would at home. Therefore,

    many female college students find themselves handling stress by bingeing or starving

    themselves. Several researchers trace difficulties with food and eating habits back to family

    origin. Those students suffering from bulimia or bingeing and purging, often came from

    families characterized by lack of parental affection, negative, hostile, and disengaged

    patterns of family interaction, and alcoholism. Researchers also found a link between

    childhood sexual experiences and bulimia. Families in which the mother’s daughter from

    each other, also show a correlation with anorexia and bulimia. For many young women,

    poor eating habits evolve as a way of exerting some sort of control in a difficult family

    situation. Many women suffering eating disorders report that their families lack

    commitment, help, and support, so instead of reaching out and expressing their

    frustrations and anger, they feed their eating disorder with this negative feedback. Those

    who came from a family with such problems also reported suffering from other conditions

    such as: depression, social phobia, and hostility. Cynthia Bulk, another Psychiatrist, found

    that many anorexics and bulimic hold fears similar to those with social phobia. These

    people have issues about social situations and are insecure and ashamed of their bodies. In

    that sense, many suffering from eating disorders feel like if they achieve their goal weight

    they too will find the happiness associated with what our society values as slenderness and

    Researchers are still looking at the factors of eating disorders, from the stressful

    college transition, family life, and the media’s impact , to find some answers to this myriad

    and perplexing disease. Researchers feel that the prevalence of eating disorders among

    female college students is not necessarily a new phenomenon, but one gaining recognition

    because of the prevalence and acceptance and exploitment in the media. Although there is

    a great deal of information between the family origin and the resulted eating disorder

    behavior, and the stress of the impersonal college living with maladaptive eating, the

    information on the link between the media and eating disorders is quantitative.

    It is a tragedy that our society is partly to blame for eating disorders due to the

    value they place on being thin. It is also very unfortunate that so many young women and

    men are starving their bodies and souls to fit what our culture has considered to be “ideal.”

    People have forgotten that what is inside a person that counts, not what is on the outside.

    The American society needs to learn love and accept themselves, and also begin to love

    their bodies, no matter what size they are. Along with that, the children need to be taught

    to be proud of who they are. People come in all shapes and sizes, and should be accepted

    them for who they are not what they look like. It is scary when children as young as the

    age of ten are becoming obsessed with dieting and their bodies. They are becoming afraid

    of what our society says is unacceptable and is looked down upon: being fat. If a child is

    raised to love and accept who they are and what they look like, they will be less likely to

    strive to fit into society’s unattainable standards. Society cannot control what the media

    says or what they may claim, but they do not have to support it. Stop buying those fashion

    magazines that just make you feel bad! Stop believing all the lies told by the fashion and

    diet industry. Our society needs to learn to be realistic and focus on learning to love and

    accept themselves. No number on a scale and fitting into a smaller dress size will make

    anyone happy. Real happiness can only come from within.

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