Pursuing Plasticity

barbie body

This Huffington Post infographic titled, “Is a Barbie Body Possible?” shows how bizarre a life-sized Barbie would actually be by looking at the physiological issues that would occur if  Barbie was a real person. The first frame displays a table comparing measurements for the average woman in the United States with the measurements of a life-sized Barbie of equal height. The most striking difference is the disparity of the waist measurements, which is 35″ for the average woman and 16″ for Barbie. It is noted that she would only have room for half a liver and a few inches of intestines. Barbie would be incapable of lifting her head and would have to walk on all fours due to her disproportionately thin neck, wrists, and ankles.

The conclusion of this visual argument is that it would be physically impossible for Barbie to function as an actual human being. So what does this say about our society’s idea of the “ideal” female figure? In this example the Barbie doll represents the distorted body image held by the majority of women in the United States. This thin propaganda could be trigger an eating disorder when placed in the hands of the malleable young girls. Parents need to implement positive self-image in their children (especially young girls), since signs of disordered eating can develop as early as 5 or 6 years old. Studies have shown that eating disorders have steeply increased in recent years, partially due to the constant exploitation of people’s negative body image in today’s marketing schemes. Truth is, models, actresses, and Barbie dolls will always be around to threaten our self-esteem. But actually trying to conform to these emaciated bodies will only lead one to destroy their health through starvation and purging. Besides, Barbie wouldn’t look so glamorous in real life crawling around with half a liver. So next time you find your child comparing herself to a plastic doll, gently remind them that Barbie isn’t real, she’s actually a freak of nature.

A Silent Epidemic

Males and Eating Disorders

On the National Eating Disorders Association website, I came across this interesting infographic about males with eating disorders. The graphic sites muscularity in the media, lower willingness to seek treatment, and sexuality as all notable factors in the issue. Muscularity in the media is comparable to thinness in the media for women. It’s just that men are more likely to strive for a fatless body for muscle definition rather than definition of their ribs or collarbone. I believe that the idealized muscular body image in the male gender role is a healthier figure to pursue than many of the female “ideal” models because it at least promotes a healthy lifestyle of excersize rather than self starvation. I think this is also probably the reason for the prevalence of eating disorders has a  7 to 1 ratio from females to males.

However, I don’t think it would be wrong to hypothesize that this figure could be the outcome of under-reporting on the male side. This is because the perceived “femininity” of these disorders creates a whole new set of issues. The male gender role projects a negative attitude towards seeking psychological help because it is supposedly “not manly”. Think about it, a teenaged girl in a treatment center for eating disorders probably wouldn’t necessarily feel very out-of-place but it would probably take a lot of courage for a middle aged man to walk into the same building. Numbers show that this negative pressure is placed mainly on heterosexual males as 42% of men who report having an eating disorder identify as gay (although they only account for 5% of the total population). We have concocted this twisted stereotype that only women can develop eating disorders based on sexist undertones that dictate some of our social norms. As much as we tend to think otherwise, disorders don’t discriminate– against race, age, or gender.

Berating the Bump

0405-kim-kardashian-in-touch-splash-2009

Kim Kardashian may have made a name for herself by (ahem) putting her body on display for the public. However, she has received massive amounts of criticism from magazines and tabloids for gaining weight during her current pregnancy that is absolutely absburd. Exhibit A is this ruthless, melodramatic cover of InTouch saying that Kim is living her “worst nightmare”, eating “five desserts in one sitting”. The editors then juxtaposed a candid shot of her eating an ice cream cone back in 2009 before her pregnancy next to a current picture of her eight months pregnant. Going solely off this photographic “evidence” it would appear that Kim had gained all that weight from sitting on the couch eating ice cream cones rather than from growing another human being inside of her. We saw some of this same twisted reaction to pregnancy with Jessica Simpson last year during her first pregnancy when People magazine said that Jessica’s morning sickness was “a good thing” so she doesn’t get too plump.

The media’s obsessive critiquing of pregnant figures is proof of the causes for disorders like Pregorexia, which is a dangerous combination of pregnancy and anorexia. Wikipedia lists some effects of Pregorexia on the fetus such as low birth weight, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, hypertension, and depression. Merryl Bear, the director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre in Toronto described it; “there are more challenges to a pregnant woman’s self-perception that are exacerbated by the images and the stories of celebrities who get pregnant, have their babies, and throughout the process … just have their pre-pregnancy body with a bump.” Our society has an unhealthy phobia of body fat that has long ago crossed the bounds of what is healthy. A pregnant woman should be trying to provide adequate nutrition to her child and definitely not dieting. We as consumers need to stop buying into this brainwashing the tabloids are spewing out and learn to accept the reality of human anatomy and the reproductive processes. Besides, who needs to look sexy in a bikini 3 weeks after giving birth to a child anyway? So InTouch, please chill out.

It’s a Small World After All

Something that came to my attention when I came across Marcella Raimondo’s Indiegogo pitch on Multicultural issues with eating disorders is that we as a society tend to conceptualize eating disorders as only affecting affluent Caucasian females. It is true that eating disorders disproportionately affect females over males 2 to 1. However, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder (among others) don’t discriminate against race, sexual orientation, cultural background, or socioeconomic standing. In fact, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition, of all the factors that determine who develops an eating disorder, 50- 80% of those factors are genetic. As for societal influence, when women and men of all races try to adhere to a specific culturally ideal body shape, the likelihood of developing an eating disorder will increase, although this ideal body shape may vary for different racial groups. Studies have shown that “because of increasing global acceptance of dominant white socio-cultural values regarding body weight and image, increasingly more …cultural groups are developing greater dissatisfaction with their weight (Grogan, S., 1999).”

This misconception and stereotyping of the cross-cultural prevalence of eating disorders often lends to disorders not being screened or treated in certain multicultural populations. “Multicultural populations were also significantly less likely than Caucasians to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms (Becker,A; et.al. 2003).”This is a serious flaw in our health care system that we are overlooking certain ethnic groups as potential carriers of these disorders. We as a society need to shed a light on these minority groups and make sure that they are receiving equal access to educational and treatment programs as everyone else. In the future, this could mean incorporating discussion of eating disorders into health class curriculum in schools and requiring doctors to consider eating disorders for patients of all backgrounds.

Oh, How Times Have Changed…

Oh, How Times Have Changed...

I came across this picture of a vintage weight GAIN ad in a Tumblr post and it immediately reminded me of my public issue of eating disorders. This ad was released in the ’40s by a company called Wate-On, whose slogan was “True Beauty Includes a Full Figure”. Today, consumers would most likely be shocked to come across an ad such as this. We would probably assume that the editor made a mistake and accidentally switched the skinny figure as the “before” photo.

However, today we have gone from drinking 6.5 oz sodas to 42 oz sodas and the average American now weighs 26 pounds more than they did when this ad was released (The Washington Post). This issue has shaped our society into a culture of weight-loss pills, liposuctions, and runway models that weigh less than the average 12 year old and there is no longer any market for weight gain. But perhaps in emitting this idea that curves are attractive has caused media attitudes to push too far in the other direction.

One of the leading causes of eating disorders in our country is the media’s portrayal of what is considered attractive. We have models like Candice Swanepoel, Miranda Kerr, and Kate Moss to serve as constant reminders to impressionable girls that they need to lose weight. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, about 70 percent of girls (grades 5-12) said magazine images influence their ideals of a perfect body.

Maybe if we as a society strove to appear like the model on the right in the Wate-On ad rather than the super thin model there wouldn’t be such a stigma in America that EVERYONE needs to lose weight. Advertisers today will only show consumers glamorous, naturally tiny models to breed and feed off low self-esteem and get them to pay for something they will never have. Maybe if today’s magazines showed bodies like Marylin Monroe’s rather than the size-nothing models there wouldn’t be so many girls starving themselves to death in America. I think it’s time to break the mold… and make it something we can fit into.

Starting Out

To start out, I wanted to outline my goals for my public issue so I can stay on track with my project.

1. Raise public awareness.

One of the biggest issues with eating disorders is that most people don’t understand them (although they may think they do) and this hinders peoples advancement towards treatment and recovery. We as a society have a duty to educate ourselves on prominent mental health issues such as eating disorders so we can handle them in the most effective way possible.

2. Prompt people to get help.

This sort of goes in accordance with my first goal as it deals with educating people about symptoms of eating disorders and methods of treatment. In my interviews I asked two former sufferers of anorexia and bulimia what the hardest part was about overcoming an eating disorder. They both had the same answer: realizing you have a problem. This has been said time and time again by alcoholics and drug addicts alike and it rings true for eating disorders as well. Presenting people with the right information to prompt the realization that they may have a life-threatening disorder, is a major part of getting people recovered and saving lives.

3. Gaining greater recognition from the government.

Another obstacle in the fight against eating disorders is insufficient recognition and funding from government. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It is crucial that our government recognizes the gravity of this disease and start to provide adequate funding.Bills such as the FREED (Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders) Act would:

  • Expand research into prevention and treatment of eating disorders
  • Improve the training and education of health care providers and educators on eating disorders
  • Improve national monitoring and data collection on the prevalence of eating disorders
  • Take steps to prevent eating disorders by developing evidence-based prevention programs
  • Provide additional avenues for effective and affordable treatment of eating disorders

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/30/al-franken-sponsors-eatin_n_559042.html)