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Starving for Perfection
She walks down the hallway with her books hugged tightly to her chest, hoping to be unnoticed. The lunch bell rings and she heads towards the cafeteria with many, many thoughts racing through her head. Yum! Chicken sandwich for is on the menu for lunch. She gets her plate and slips into her regular seat. Her friends are already there and she enthusiastically joins in the conversation. When she is done eating she walks her tray up to the dishwashing window and then heads down the hallway, away from the cafeteria, away from the noise, away from the truth. (asyndeton) She looks over her shoulder a couple of times as she scurries down the dimly lit hallway, making sure that no one is following her. When she reaches the women’s bathroom near the shop class, the most unused bathroom in the school, she races through the door and into the nearest stall where she then proceeds to shove her finger down her throat until she starts to gag and cleanses herself of her sin of eating. She does it again to make sure that her stomach is completely empty. The girl washes her hands and her face then puts on a fake smile to hide the pain and guilt she has inside and heads back to the real world, the artificial world. Sadly, this is the story of many teenage and college girls across the nation and the world. (pathos)
So, how did she get here, to the degradingly low point of forcing herself to throw up? (rhetorical question) (pathos) Just as one does not take one sip of alcohol and decide to become an alcoholic, one also does not wake up one morning and decide to develop an eating disorder or have unhealthy body image. (logos) It is a process that starts its roots when one, tiny seed is cultivated into a young, innocent mind via the three headed dragon know as the media. (metaphor) The average American is exposed to five thousand advertising messages in a given day (“The Media, Body Image and Eating Disorders”). This is disturbing considering that adolescent girls’ main source of information comes from the media, the same mass media that is obsessed with thinness and artificial perfection (“The Media, Body Image and Eating Disorders”). In the ever-advancing technological world of today, it is hard to disconnect from personal devices and the media. (zeugma) With televisions blaring in homes, restaurants, shops, and even in schools across the country, the amount of media messages teens receive is understandable. One out of every 3.8 commercials portray messages of what is or is not attractive, by the world’s standard (“The Media, Body Image and Eating Disorders”). There has been a decrease in the amount of positive media and teenage girls’ weight. (zeugma) The downfall of uplifting television, movies, and music has been linked to a teenage viewer’s dissatisfaction with her body. (irony) “42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner” and “81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat” (“Facts”). Where has the innocence of childhood gone? (pathos) Children should be outside playing with friends or doing family activities, not counting calories nor having an unhealthy preoccupation with their weight. If a young girl already has a distorted paradigm, it will definitely come back to haunt her as she grows, changes and is exposed to the “real world.”
In a culture that glorifies thinness and has narrow definitions of beauty, it is a miracle that more girls are not diagnosed with clinical eating disorders (“Facts”). An eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, is a type of distorted eating, whether it is overeating, under eating, or causing one’s self to vomit after consuming food. Eating disorders are not just about food. Rather, they are psychological infestations caused by, in the case of media influence, distorted body image, body image being the way in which one views and feels towards one’s body (Serdar) (“A Healthy Body Image”). The culmination of puberty, adolescence, and constantly being pelted with media advertisements that inadvertently degrade the viewer, cause for females to face the already tough task of growing up. (pathos)(logos)
Campbell Soup Company, a regular Norman Rockwell corporation, released a new advertisement in November 2000. (allusion) In the short, thirty second commercial, featuring a nine year old girl and boy, the boy offers the girl some soup which she kindly refuses with the excuse that she is watching her weight. The boy rebuttals this by advertising the low calorie nature of the soup which wins the hungry girl over (“The Media’s Influence”). One view, Joe Kelly, saw the advertisement and was shocked considering the content of the ad and the time slot it occupied. “Girls watch that every day…The message that pre-pubescent girls should be worrying about their weight; should be eating low fat food, low calorie food. That’s the last thing kids that age should be thinking about. It’s ridiculous. Their bodies haven’t even begun to change…” was Kelly’s response to the advertisement (“The Media’s Influence”). He also expressed that “…kids shouldn’t have to suffer because we continue to let out culture get away with narrowing notions of…what it means to be female” (“The Media’s Influence). (ellipses) If one of the most all-American companies has come to the same degrading of women as the rest of the world, what good quality content is out there anymore? (ethos)
Barbie: an American pop culture icon. Who would not want to be Barbie? She has it all, she does it all, she has the perfect body. (asyndeton) The doll, who in real life would be six-foot and weigh one hundred one pounds, does not only have fictionally proportionate bodies, they also teach children that having materialistic possessions and being thin and beautiful will all make one happy. It works for Barbie, why would it not work for the young, innocent consumer? It only works for Barbie because she is not real. Although she has commendable public-serving jobs, such as being a flight attendant or a dentist, she is not s good role model for young children. At the impressionable age, children need real role models who are not falsified in any way and who love their bodies no matter what (“The Media”). Having positive role models, as opposed to negative role models like television actors or actresses or movie stars, would encourage young girls to blossom into their own person and be happy with their bodies. Be happy with their looks. Be happy with who they are. (anaphora)
When one thinks super models, it is hard to ignore the negative connotation it lugs like an over packed, hand-me-down suitcase. (personification)(simile) Models and the fashion industry are notorious for their struggles and controversies with eating disorders. The average female model weighs twenty-five percent less that the average woman and “maintains a weight at about 15 to 20 percent below what is considered healthy for her age and height” (“The Media”). (ethos) While the advertising companies have the notion that thin models sell better, there is no evidence to support this claim. Research that counteracts this has found that “[healthy,] average-sized models are just as effective in advertising products as ultra-thin models, as long as they are equally attractive” (“The Media”). Ultimately, it all comes down to money, and the industry believes thinness sells. Advertising companies will stop at nothing to make their product rise above a competitor’s product. They will even use “beautiful,” emaciated girls in their advertising. The sad fact is that a “young woman with anorexia is twelve times more likely to die that other women her age without anorexia” (“Facts”). (pathos) If that alone does not spark some feelings of necessary implementing of change, stop reading. If change is necessary, continue reading.
The media industry is immense and it may seem an insurmountable task to rebuke the falsified female image that is being thrown at the target audience, but the change can start at home. Seemingly small changes like limiting television exposure and encouraging kids to get outside and be active will increase their happiness and self-esteem (Derenne). A PBS series on eating disorders says this:
“The most important gift that adults can give children is self-esteem. When adults show children that they value and love them unconditionally, children can withstand the perils of childhood and adolescence with fewer scars and traumas. Self-esteem is a universal vaccine that can immunize a youngster against eating problems, body image distortion and exercise abuse, as well as other psychological problems and life dilemmas. Providing self-esteem is the responsibility of both parents” (“Prevention Strategies”).
Quality television would also aid in the fight. If only it could revert back to family-healthy programs like Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show, but that is an unrealistic hope. What can happen, however, is the government setting aside funds to create media driven advertising campaigns to “provide information to kids and families about good nutrition, exercise, and healthy self-esteem” (Derenne). Magazines can opt to use healthy, real, average-sized girls in their publications. To combat the ingrained ideal that thinness equates beauty may be difficult, but it is possible. Perhaps is children were to receive consistently healthy and beneficial messages at school, home and from television and the internet, the pro-healthy messages would be more effective. (logos)
Some may concede that the media does not cause eating disorders, that a girl probably had a prior mental illness before developing a full-fledged eating disorder. BBC News Online was told that “[t]he media can have influence on people’s thinking, but the media do not cause eating disorders” and he is partially correct in saying this (“The Media’s Effect on Eating Disorders Around the World”). (ethos) An eating disorder starts as an idea of unworthiness of inadequacy which turns into a thought pattern which ultimately leads to action, which in this case is distorted eating. (logos) If a teenage girl is already struggling with low self-esteem and unhealthy body image, viewing an advertisement with a happily portrayed, extremely thin woman is going to pull down her self-worth even more. One may also argue that if someone is going to develop an eating disorder, it will happen, regardless of television or magazines. Contrarily, exposure to degrading media content will push a girl to the brink of starving herself or forcing herself to throw up much sooner than if she had not seen that one commercial or flipped through that fashion magazine. (pathos)(logos)
The world is changing the view of women; women are changing to the view of the world. (anastrophe) Sadly, women are fine with starving themselves just to look good in front of the camera. When she goes home and takes off her mask, she falls apart. America, where is your compassion? Where is the humanity that society has become numb too? What will it take before action is taken to free women, young girls especially, from the trap of eating disorders and total conformity? Joel Yager, M.D., is quoted with this, “Every society has a way of torturing its women, whether by binding their feet of by sticking them into whalebone corsets. What contemporary American culture has come up with is designer jeans” (Derenne). This is so true. Take a quick peek into an American high school and this is evident around every corner, in every cafeteria, around every bathroom stall door.
Derenne, Jennifer L, and Eugene V Beresin. “Body Image, Media, and Eating Disorders.” Academic Psychiatry 30.3 (2006): 257-261. Print.
“Facts.” Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family. PBS, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pbs.org/perfectillusions/eatingdisorders/print_preventing_facts.html>.
“A Healthy Body Image.” Perfect Illusions: Eating Disroders and the Family. PBS, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pbs.org/perfectillusions/eatingdisorders/print_preventing_healthybody.html>.
“The Media.” Something FIshy. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.something-fishy.org/cultural/themedia.php>.
“The Media, Body Image and Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org>.
“The Media’s Effect on Eating Disorders Around the World.” Louisiana State University. Louisiana State U, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.lsu.edu/faculty/jwither/Essays/Health/Anonymous1_Essay.html>.
“The Media’s Influence.” Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family. PBS, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pbs.org/perfectillusions/eatingdisorders/print_preventing_media.html>.
“Prevention Strategies.” Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family. PBS, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pbs.org/eatingdisorders/print_preventing_strategies.html>.
Serdar, Kasey L. “Female Body Image and the Mass Media: Perspectives on How Women Internalize the Ideal Beauty Standard.” Westminster College. Westminster Coll., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.westminstercollege.edu/myriad/index.cfm?parent=2514&detail=4475&content>.