Eating Disorders - Media Influence on Body Image
I ran across this article while researching bulimia and eating disorder treatments. It says everything that I want to say about the media and its influence on young women and the obsession to have the "perfect body". I wish I could reach out to those suffering from eating disorders and just convince them not to buy into the images they see on TV or magazines. The only reason those images are out there is to convince people to spend money. If fat was the "in" fashion, there would be tons of images and infomercials trying to convince the public that they are not fat enough and their "miracle" program will put on the pounds and make them beautiful.
It is devastating that young girls and women still put so much emphasis on how their bodies compare to that of models and celebrities. My mother recently remarked how obsessed women of her generation were with their weight, with role models like Twiggy, and how sad is it when she looks back at photos of herself when she was teenager and realised in retrospect how how beautiful her figure was with all its glorious curves. She further remarked how tragic it is that 30 years has passed and not much has changed.
Except now we seem to have an even greater prevalence of eating disorders such as bullimia and anorexia nervosa. The most prevalent reason intelligent young women ram their fingers down their throats or starve themselves near to death is because they possesss a poor self image stemming from a lack of realistic role models in the fashion and advertising industry. Recently I stumbled across an interview with a leading Australian fashion designer and several representatives of the advertising industry. I couldn't help but be amused that these perpetuators of the perfect body (ie size 8 and under) still believe that they are void of any kind of moral responsibility for projecting images into society of undernourished looking women, that suggest that this waify look is the only way women can be sexy or desirable.
The interview was conducted by Ray Martin, who for those of my readers who aren't Australian, is one of our most painful and sensationalistic journalists around, even attributing him with the title journalist is questionable. Martin seems to take great pleasure in scapegoating the minority groups in our society that have trouble defending themselves against the images his network are obsessed with depicting. Ray and his gang at "A Current Affair" appeal to the conservative tastes of some of our population. Single mothers, Aboriginals, unemployed teenagers, migrants, basically anyone who is not white, male and middle class, are regularly targeted. I'm sure you get the picture. Every country has their own version of our "Little Ray of Sunshine."
Now this interview was set out as a informal dinner of sorts, with designer Peter Morrissey, and several high level advertising executives, representing the fashion and advertising industries, and on the other side of the fence was a size 14 model, and the editor of New Woman, who was sacked for endeavouring to use realistic sized women in her magazine. I was fascinated and somewhat amused by the attempts of Morrissey and his colleagues to justify their exclusive use of thin women. The size 14 model in fact pointed out that Morrisey and many of his designer collegues didn't even produce clothes for size 14 women, despite the huge percentage of women that fall into this catogory. One advertising excecutive thought he could void his moral responsibility for the overwhelming lack of self-esteem amoungst women by pointing out that this years academy award winners, Helen Hunt and Kim Bassinger were incredibly slender, arguing that Hollywood also featured thin women as it's central role models. At this point I was jumping up and down in front of the television, wishing desperately I could be at this dinner. I wanted to point out to this imbecile that, while it was true Hollywood did have more than its fair share of bordering anorexic women, a quick glance at the rest of the nominees would have identified Kate Winslet and Minnie Driver, women who don't fit the pencil thin stereotype. So at least Hollywood does provide some alternative body types in it's stars. The fashion industry however certainly doesn't, and as gorgeous as this size 14 model at Ray's dinner was, Morrissey and his collegues informed her that her body type wouldn't sell clothes. It's interesting how advertisers and designers love to use buzzwords like "innovative" and "revolutionary" to describe their products, its a pity they can't apply the same buzzwords to their campaigns.
It depresses me to see Cosmopolitan's token effort at choosing a bigger sized model for a photo shoot, with positive and negative feedback all noted in the following edition. How I long for the day when having a size 14 model in a magazine doesn't seem like a novelty.
So I look at myself and my body type and even I can be disappointed by my occasional habit of buying into the beauty myth, sucking my little pot belly in when I try on bikinis, examining my growing cellulite, wondering if any of those new miracle cures on the market would make a difference. At Christmas I was standing in my uncle's bedroom and he remarked on how rounded my belly had got, self-consciously I sucked it in and he reprimanded me, saying he thought it was beautiful that it was good for women to have a little bit of belly. I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to take that as a compliment.
These kind of attitudes that I occasionally entertain are part of my driving force for working on yOni, because I know that if I, as an educated, confident and self aware individual, can buy into the bullshit, how hard must it be for those younger girls who haven't my years of self awareness and acceptance on their side.
Unfortunately some women spend their whole lives obsessing about their weight, and the physical and emotional damage that you can inflict on yourself can have some devastating effects. One such physical effect of that very popular eating disorder bulimia is the unrepairable damage bulimia can have on your teeth.
To start at the beginning of the story, when I was 15 my best friend came to live with my family, and suddenly decided one day that we wanted to be bulimic, (very mature) we were both unhappy with our weight, (foolishly so, we both had beautiful bodies) and decided we didn't want to give up eating (goddess forbid), so we would do the next best thing, every time we ate something fattening we would go upstairs to the bathroom and throw it up. Of course this isn't the true definition of bulimia, a true bulimic eats obsessively and constantly throws everything up. Nevertheless vomiting up our food became an addition to our teenage lives. This vomiting became almost like a game to us, we even confided in my younger sister, who in horror would come and bang on the door in tears every time either of us would go to the toilet and order us to stop throwing up. Eventually my friend grew weary of the game and realised how stupid it was, and I agreed it was stupid and we went on to find another adventure to amuse ourselves. But I never told her that I hadn't decided I would give it up and continued to do it in private on and off for at least three years. Not regularly, just whenever I had eaten a lot of junk food.
I can still remember the two things that turned me off vomiting up my food and made me stop. One day I read about the damaging effects of stomach acid on teeth, and how vomiting could cause them to decay. I also read that throwing up all the time could make you infertile. I have since found out that the infertile story is incorrect, but today after visiting my new dentist I've realised that the damage stomach acid has on your teeth is irriversible. For years I have had extensive work done on my teeth, every single one of my back teeth, upper and lower, have fillings in them. I wouldn't go to the dentist for two years and then find out I needed eight fillings. I was unlucky enough to have a really bad dentist from the age of 12 to 21, who never actually sat down with me and discussed the reasons behind this, he just patched me up, told me to stop eating so much sugar and sent me on my way. But today a new dentist examined me and was horrified to see how much decay I had, and how many fillings I had at the age of 23. She ran a few tests and determined that it wasn't anything to do with my diet or how I brush my teeth, she said I had serious decay in places that it was extremely difficult to get in. She then asked me if I had ever had any extensive illness that might cause me to vomit, and I told her about my bulimia adventures, and she decided that was probably the most likely cause.
Thankfully she didn't lecture me, instead laid out a plan to prevent any further decay. So here I am wondering how I am going to finance the thousands of dollars worth of dental work I am going to need, and wishing, oh so fervently, that I hadn't been so obsessed with my weight as a teenager and trying to solve my insecurity by vomiting up all my food.
So Maidens if any of you are bulimic or thinking about venturing in that direction, please take heed of my bad experiences and remember that women are beautiful in all shapes and sizes, and no matter what any stupid ad or magazine tells you, you are gorgeous because you are a woman and if you have curves that is just a reinforcement of your womanliness. You only have to look at Renaissance paintings to see that definitions of beauty are inconstant, and if you can individually assess for yourself what is beautiful then that is much more useful than some silly overpaid unenlightened clothes designer's definition of beauty.
For further information on the myths behind modern day constructions of beauty I highly recommend Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth.