Poison, Giraffes, and Tyra: Eating Disorders and Body Image in America

October 30, 2007
By Nomin Ujiyediin, West Windsor, NJ

Poison, Giraffes, and Tyra: Eating Disorders and Body Image in America

I suppose almost every girl goes through a phase where she thinks she is fat. The skipping meals, the frantic daily weighing, the hours spent on the treadmill. I myself have experienced this period of self-loathing and worry. But one has to ask oneself: Does it really matter? Is it really worth it, to go through all of that trouble and work, to look like those women on America’s Next Top Model, who, incidentally, bear a striking resemblance to a herd of underfed giraffes? Should stick-thin celebrities like Kate Moss and Nicole Richie really be role models, or should girls look up to more accomplished, talented, and intelligent (not to mention naturally-built) women, such as America Ferrara and Chelsea Handler? Young women today set too much store by superficial criteria, especially by the numbers on the scale. Girls should not compare themselves, or their bodies, to models or other women in the media.

Most of my friends think they are fat. And while I can understand how unhappy they must feel, it concerns me, and frustrates me that I must be the one who has to constantly counsel them about their body image. It’s hard, day after day, to try to convince them to realize that they are normal, that they should be buying lunch, and shouldn’t be concerned about how much their stomach sticks out compared to Reese Witherspoon’s perfect six-pack. But the thing is, you can’t convince them. They will always remain self-critical and unchanged. I worry about how far my friends are willing to go to achieve what they think is a perfect body.

After hours spent in health class spent learning about the topic, I know exactly what effects eating disorders can have, mental, physical, and emotional. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate among psychiatric disorders; 10% of those who develop the disease eventually die. I find it disturbing, the lengths at which some girls are willing to go to be what they consider “beautiful”. I wonder how these people’s body images could have become so distorted, and how their self-esteems could have plummeted that far. And quite frankly, I’m frightened. I’m afraid for the lives of the girls I know, and for the thousands of girls out there who I don’t know, and I worry about what can be done.

But no one really seems to care. The media doesn’t really take notice that the images it projects on a daily basis are tainting the minds of young women, making them feel inadequate. Recently, a runway in Spain banned all models with an unhealthily low body mass index of below 18 from participating in Madrid’s fashion week. That is a start. But how about all of those American celebrities still dominating the pages of frequently read teen magazines, such as CosmoGirl! and Teen Vogue?

And what amazes me is how hypocritical these abovementioned publications can be. For example, each month, Seventeen magazine features a section with clothes designated for each body type, articles on eating right and exercising, and stories written by teenagers who have suffered from eating disorders. But the advertisements and photo spreads inside still present women built like twigs.

Why does the media focus so much on weight? Most women’s magazine covers often promise to relay the latest addition to Kirstie Alley’s diet plan, or depict formerly overweight women posed inside their old fat pants, bearing the legend “I lost 215 pounds!”. If one watches a television program such as Extra! Or Entertainment Tonight, most of the so-called “news” focuses on the ever-changing appearances of Hollywood A-listers. Recently, the tabloids have been delivering updates on the weight of Tyra Banks, television host and former supermodel. At 5’ 10” and 160 lbs., she clocks in at a healthy weight for her height. However, the media has been criticizing her for her recent weight gain, despite the fact that she is not, and has never been anywhere near, overweight. What does this say about our society? What does this say about our newspapers, and our “trusted” means of delivering information to the public? What does this say about the mentality of many Americans, that they would shun a woman who doesn’t take care to eat only 300 calories a day?

Some may argue that this is not an important problem. Certainly the American government and health care industry does not think so. Eighty percent of those who have experienced treatment for eating disorders are discharged without the proper amount of care. Health insurance companies generally do not cover the costs of therapy and rehabilitation needed, which can range from $500 to $2000 a day. But how can one ignore the statistics? Unfortunately, an estimated 1 in 200 Americans have an eating disorder. Ninety-five percent of those are between the age of 12 and 25, and anorexia is the third most common chronic illness that affects adolescents, making this issue especially relevant to young people.

We, as citizens, are left to wonder: What has caused this problem, and is there a solution? Is it the fault of the shallow, appearance-obsessed media, or the poor attitudes and low self-esteems of teenage girls in America? Perhaps the “thin” beauty ideal will disappear with the times, and go out of fashion like so many other trends. Or perhaps it will remain among us, a plague consuming the minds and souls of young people. Maybe one day, my friends will grow out of their poor body images. Or maybe, they will spiral downward into an eating disorder that will eventually claim their life. It is impossible to know what lies in the future, but I know this: That I will never let myself, or anyone I know or love, to succumb to the poisonous superficiality that is so prevalent in the world today.

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This article has 1 comment.

emmgr2 GOLD said...
on Sep. 10 2011 at 4:20 pm
emmgr2 GOLD, Purcellville, Virginia
14 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Judge each day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant"- Robert Louis Stevenson

 I absolutely loved the article, but I think some of the wording could be tweaked. For example, '10% of people who develop the disease eventually die.' No, 100% of all people die. Maybe change it to '10% of people who develop the disease die of causes related to the disease.'

If you just made those few corrections I think it would be altogether one of the best, most informative, and most influential articles on this site.  


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