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Eating Disorders: Personal Or Social Problem?

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In today's society, there is much attention being given to the subject of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia; unfortunately it is because these disorders seem to be becoming more and more common. The question that remains is whether eating disorders such as these are simply personal problems of the individuals, or if they have become a social problem that needs to be addressed more aggressively. Having grown up in this society, I see this issue as a definite social problem. To say that these increasingly common eating disorders are personal problems, implies that the causes of them are personal as well, which I believe is not the case. A social problem is something that goes against society's goals and values; it would seem to me that being exposed to something that causes a potentially life threatening disease would go against most people's goals. The media in this society increasingly dictates to young women that in order to be desirable, you must be painfully thin with a very specific body type that is unrealistic to most of us. Young women are being pushed into disordered eating in an effort to live up to the media's representation of what women should look like, and this is definitely a social problem.

Anorexia involves depriving oneself of food in order to lose weight, and bulimia is when a person eats, but then forces themselves to vomit up the food they have consumed in hopes of losing weight. The common thread between these two disorders is the end result, weight loss in the most unhealthy of ways. When anorexia goes too far, the person may be hospitalized, as they are starving themselves to death. Though they get so thin that they are unable to get out of bed, they still refuse to eat because they are afraid they will gain weight. If anorexia is not treated the person may go into organ failure and can die. Persons with bulimia often have a great deal of pain as a result of continuously vomiting up stomach acid, which burns away the tissue in their throat. In addition to this, starvation can lead to hospitalization, organ system dysfunction, and sometimes death as with anorexia. Even those who have gotten extensive therapy and counseling for their disorders often continue to struggle with the disease for the rest of their lives. These are very serious life threatening diseases which are all too common, and need to be addressed by our society, since it is a main component of our society which seems to be perpetuating the ideas that lead to such disordered eating.

The average size of models and actresses that the media continuously portrays as desirable, are sizes 2 to 4. The average American woman is a size 12 or 14. It is no surprise then, that so many women in our society are struggling to lose weight in order to more closely resemble the size 2 models we are told we should look like. We are constantly being shown pictures of women who are 5'11" tall, 100 pounds, and being told, "this is what sexy women look like" or, "anyone who is larger than this is fat"; when in reality that size is simply unattainable by most women no matter how hard they diet and exercise. A typical model's body type is in the vast minority, however it is so over represented by the media that it sends out the illusion that women who are of a larger, curvier size are the minority, and that they are outcasts. It is extremely rare to flip open a magazine and see any women in the advertisements who accurately reflects the average American woman's body type or weight. It seems like anybody over a size 6 is considered fat. It is no wonder that after all of these repeated messages being sent out through our society, that young women are falling into eating disorders in their attempts to fit into the tiny mold of what they are told they should look like. Also, in many of the trendy stores that teenagers shop at, clothes are not even available to girls that aren't overly thin, pant sizes may only go up to a size 8. If you don't fall below that size, you are unable to wear the trendy clothes, and are made to feel inferior. The clothes have become so small, that girls who wear a size 6 have to buy tops in a size "extra large" in order for them to fit. A teenage girl who is a petite size 6, the size of some top models, is being told she is extra large, and therefore she cannot gain any weight because she will not be able to buy the clothes she likes anymore. This is just another way that our society tells young women they need to be smaller, even when they may be slender to begin with.

Another way that the media is contributing to the increase in eating disorders is through the huge wave of fad diets, weight loss books, weight loss exercise machines, weight loss pills, and weight loss program centers. You cannot turn on a television channel without seeing a commercial for various methods of losing weight. The large majority of these programs, pills, and plans are ineffective in healthy weight reduction and only cause more problems for those who do need to lose weight. Also, those women who do not need to lose weight are made to feel as if they should. With so much emphasis put on weight loss, many women who are of healthy weights already begin to feel as if they too need to lose weight.

If it isn't bad enough that the media only shows fashion models who are much smaller than most of the women in our society anyway, the new trend is for the images of these women to be digitally retouched and airbrushed so as to make them appear even smaller than they are in real life. Not only are we being shown these pictures of models who are a minority body type anyway, and being told that we should be that size, but now the photographers are going in and digitally making the models look slimmer, elongating their legs, and altering their skin color to make them an even more unrealistic ideal. The authors of "You Can Never Be Too Thin" -- or Can You? A Pilot Study on the Effects of Digital Manipulation of Fashion Models' Body Size, Leg Length and Skin Color point out that the "thin ideal" portrayed by the media is a cultural construct, and that our society has become such that "merely being a woman in society means feeling too fat". They also explain that girls as young as middle school are often preoccupied with the thin ideal as many of them try to look like girls or women on television or in magazines. For many young adults, the response to this kind of perpetuated ideal can



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