It was fashionable to be fat throughout most of history. Obesity was attractive because it was considered to be a sign of wealth. Those who could obtain enough food to keep themselves and their family well fed were people with money. In the past century, however, food has been abundant in most of the developed nations, and thinness has become fashionable. Eating disorders have increased significantly over the past thirty years. The two most common eating disorders include anorexia and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is a disease in which women become very self-conscious about their weight and have an intense fear of becoming fat. They go to such extremes as starving themselves in order to keep thin, and some use additional methods such as vomiting, taking excessive amounts of laxatives, or exercising profusely. Bulimia nervosa on the other hand is an eating disorder in which the patient eats large amounts of food in a short period of time, also known as binge eating. Another symptom of bulimia is ridding oneself of food through vomiting, using laxatives, or over-exercising, commonly known as purging.
Women with anorexia nervosa or bulimia often experience fatigue and decreased energy, headaches, personality changes, and abdominal pain. If an eating disorder is left untreated, it can lead to serious health damage, even death. These eating disorders are usually brought on because a girl is unsatisfied with her own body image. Oftentimes she feels out of control, and restricting her intake of food is one way to regain control. The patient has a sense of power over food, and this makes her feel more secure about everything else going on in her life.
Many times, girls with low self-esteem are the victims of eating disorders because they often seek approval from their peers. By being thinner, they believe that they will become more desirable. Studies have shown that the majority of women with eating disorders are adolescents. What makes a young woman associate thinness with beauty? Many are now beginning to believe that the media has much to do with how women view themselves. Young women see thin models and actresses in magazines, advertisements, and television shows. The media have portrayed the successful and beautiful protagonists as thin.
They have promoted the image of thinness through popular programming.. Thinness has thus become associated with self control and success. The average American woman’s body weight has increased over the past thirty years, yet the models that represent American women have become increasingly thinner. The media’s portrayal of happy, successful women being extremely thin makes a huge impact on women’s perception of beauty. When girls begin to compare themselves to the famous and thin women they see on television, or in magazines, they equate thinness with beauty, and many strive to become beautiful.
An increase in the number of diet and health articles and advertisements had also risen along with the number of eating disorders. Articles on weight loss can be found in almost every issue of women’s magazines, and new “miracle” diet books are constantly being published. Many of these diets are unhealthy, and some are even dangerous. Weight loss advertisements are found in almost every type of media, and women are constantly obssessed with the topic of weight. Many young woman can overlook the stream of thinness and diet propaganda that they encounter, but an increasing number of women are not so lucky.
As the media puts more and more emphasis on thinness, more women become dissatisfied with their own bodies. Some may argue that the media has nothing to do with a woman’s perception of herself. They believe that women want to look at people more beautiful than themselves, and that thin models inspire people to take better care of their own bodies. But researches suggest that exposure to thin models resulted in lower self-esteem and decreased weight satisfaction. Studies prove that the media does directly relate to and affect a woman’s body image and self-esteem, which is directly related to eating disorders.
There are ways that women can overcome social pressures about weight and appearance. One way to recognize stereotyping in the media and to appreciate and respect persons of all sizes. The media often portrays obese people as funny or stupid and they are frequently shown eating large amounts of food. Thin people, on the other hand, are portrayed as smart and successful. Acknowledging stereotyping will help to respect people of all sizes, and to accept all sizes as equal. Women also need to learn to reject negative messages from the media and to accept themselves as they are.
When women stop measuring themselves against the almost impossible standards that the media have set, and learn to like themselves, they will become happier with themselves and will not worry about their weight or appearance. One needs to find comfort in activities, people, or goals rather than food or appearance. When a woman learns how to love and care for herself correctly, she will be content with her appearance even if she is not what the media would portray as the “ideal” woman.