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Contributed Article by Stephanie Brooks, MS, RD
There is tremendous pressure for people, especially women and girls, in the U.S. to be thin. Our culture believes that unless you are thin you cannot be happy, successful, attractive, powerful or accepted. Much of the pressure to be thin comes from the media. Typically thin people play successful, popular characters in movies and on TV and fatter people are portrayed as lazy, unsuccessful characters. In addition to media influences, family members, friends, schoolmates and colleagues can feed the value of thinness. How often do we hear family members talking about how dissatisfied they are about their thighs, how fat Uncle Bill has gotten, or how Cousin Jane would be so pretty, if she could only lose some weight. We also get this chatter when we hang out with friends. Questions and comments such as “Does this make me look fat?”, ” I ate so much I’m going to balloon up to an elephant” and “I can’t believe Darlene, she’s gotten so big. She better start watching herself or her boyfriend might leave her.”
The constant barrage of these comments sets people up to be dissatisfied with their body image and chips away at their self esteem leading them at times to take drastic and unhealthy measures to try and control their bodies sizes and shapes. Unfortunately, fifty percent of 9-year-old and eighty percent of 10-year-old American girls diet. This practice is dangerous as these girls will likely not be getting enough energy and nutrients, such as, calcium, iron, zinc, protein and fat, needed for growth and development. Some more interesting facts:
- The number one magic wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner.
- Fifteen percent of young girls have substantially disordered eating attitudes.
- More than five million Americans suffer from eating disorders.
- Young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents.
- Ninety percent of those afflicted with eating disorders are adolescent and young adult women.
- Girls develop eating and self-image problems before drug or alcohol problems; there are drug and alcohol programs in almost every school, but rarely are there eating disorder programs,
- Girls of dieting mothers are more likely to diet and develop eating disorders.
What can we do to help?
We need to evaluate our culture’s and own desire for thinness and phobia of fatness. We need to stop discriminating and judging people based on their body size and shape. We need to discuss with each other and our children what true beauty is. It is a daunting task to try and change a culture, however, we can start by making changes in our own minds, homes, neighborhoods and schools. On May 16, 2001 New Moon Publishing (www.newmoon.org) is celebrating girls and women with Turn Beauty Inside Out Day. The goal is to expand definitions of beauty from outer to inner beauty.
Some ideas to celebrate inner beauty:
- Avoid negative comments about your or anyone else’s body.
- Tell people what you admire about them. For example, their strength, courage or dedication.
- Make cards for friends telling them why you think they are beautiful.
You are beautiful because:
- you listen to me when I need you.
- you make me laugh.
- you stand up for what you believe.
- you care about others.
Take time to have a good long conversation with your family about what is beautiful about each member:
- Write letters to the editors of magazines and newspapers about inner beauty.
- Make a mobile with affirmations of why you are beautiful.
- Screen movies, TV programs and advertisements about girls and women.
- Tell each person you see today what you appreciate about them.
Perhaps the above ideas will get us thinking about inner beauty and will eventually trickle throughout our society so that one day people will be free of body disparaging thoughts and actions. Maybe then we won’t have eating disorders and self-image concerns and we can concentrate on having fun and living our lives to the fullest. I hope you enjoy celebrating your inner beauty and decide to celebrate not only on May 16, but every day. Families and eating disorders.
Council on Size & Weight Discrimination, Inc., P.O. Box 305, Mt. Marion, NY 12456
New Moon Publishing, www.newmoon.org
Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention, www.edap.org
Published Date: October 12, 2007
Last reviewed: By Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on 22 Aug 2011
Page last updated: June 12, 2012
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Online Resources for Eating Disorder Help & Treatment