Body image not one size for all

February 26, 2011 Commentary Print Print

According to the National Eating Disorders Association website, nearly 10 million females and 1 million males struggle with eating disorders every day

Over the past week, OCCC has observed National Eating Disorder Awareness Week with free screenings, an informative panel and a brown bag lunch.

Although these events, and others like them around the nation, raise awareness of various eating disorders, there is not enough attention paid to the underlying cause.


The NEDA website states that eating disorders are complex and arise from a variety of factors, including media influence.

“Media images that help to create cultural definitions of beauty and attractiveness are often acknowledged as being among those factors contributing to the rise of eating disorders.”

Young people in our culture today are bombarded day in and day out with messages and images that demonstrate the social desirability of achieving “the perfect weight.”

Singers and actors, the role models for youth today, are nearly always trim. Those who aren’t often come under subtle pressures to lose weight for health or image reasons.

From well-publicized examples such as Oprah’s ongoing struggle maintain an ideal weight, Jennifer Hudson’s work to lose weight, and the constant coverage of celebrity magazines focusing on weight gain in a negative light, media representation of anything other than a perfect Barbie doll-like figure as bad abounds in our society.

True, there are health concerns that make losing weight a valid choice, such as congestive heart failure and diabetes.

But simple changes to diet and an exercise regimen can help to maintain good health.

The problem is image. It is reinforced, over and over, that in order to be popular, successful, or attractive, one has to fit a certain mold, a certain image.

According to the NEDA, “80 percent of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance.”

That number is ridiculous. No one should have to go through life worrying that he or she isn’t attractive or successful enough over a few extra pounds.

This is a problem that, as a society, we cannot afford to ignore. For females age 15 to 24 who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death, according to the NEDA.

There are solutions. Health classes taught in elementary and high schools can educate children about the dangers of extreme dieting and different body types.

Media companies can work to change society’s mindset by not focusing so much on certain body images, acknowledging social role models like Mo’Nique and Queen Latifah, and hiring people based on pure talent instead of if they fit the popular image.

And fashion designers could focus on producing styles that don’t require their customers to look like runway models.

All of these solutions and many more could help stem the tide of eating disorders. Something needs to be done to help young people today learn to love their bodies, and soon.

Because there are kids out there, right now, who are slowly killing themselves trying to look like their heroes.


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