– Good Nutrition
Eating Disorders & Low Self Worth
Is your teen experiencing depression, eating disorders, cutting?
Warning – Some of images may be too disturbing for some viewers.
Also keep in mind that is page is geared toward women, we also see this in men. It’s becoming and epidemic and it has been coined “Manorexia”
American women are living in a time when ultra-thin bodies are in. Flipping through the pages of a woman’s magazines, there are entire sections devoted to diet and exercise tips as well as pictures of extremely thin models. Week 4 in our curriculum is devoted to how our culture, through images of the media, portrays an unhealthy body standard for American women to live up to. As the full-figured female body was replaced by the ultra-thin, yet toned body, our country saw an increase in eating disorders and a preoccupation with obesity. Some women internalize our society’s thinness ideal and when they can not measure up to the ridiculous standards set for the female body, they often develop a negative body image. Negative body images can lead some individuals into unhealthy eating patterns and eating disorders.
CHANGING TIMES: HISTORY OF THE FEMALE “IMAGE IDEAL” During the 1800s the Rubenesque woman was part of the ideal female body image. Until the early 1900’s, for a woman to have extra weight on her body and look voluptuous was a sign of good health and wealth.
This painting, The Three Graces , done by artist Pieter Pauwel Rubens in 1639, shows what he thought was the ideal female form.
Painted in 1887 by Pierre Auguste Renoir, The Bathers is example of what Renoir’s ideal female body looked like.
History – Our Culture
In the early 1900’s, our culture saw a shift from this plump, voluptuous female form to a thinner frame with less curves. The new female ideal of the 1920’s was the thin, short haired flapper. Consumer culture began to shape the female body image through cosmetics, fashion, Hollywood, and advertisements. People started dieting and sports became popular pastimes as exercise began to be viewed as a healthy activity to enhance the body. “Thinness was the new sign of wealth. The picture on the right shows an image of a 1920’s flapper as well as how commercial advertisements began to portray the what an ideal female body image should look like. In the 1950’s the ideal female body image was Marilyn Monroe, she was a size 14. Most likely, in today’s standard of the ultra-thin body type, she would be considered overweight.
In the 1960’s the waif-like look became popularized by the supermodel Twiggy Lawson. This was the first time in history that an underweight woman became the standard for the ideal body image.
In the 1970’s singer Karen Carpenter (left) began her battle with anorexia nervosa. She died in 1983 from heart failure related to the disease. America began to pay more attention to eating disorders after this unfortunate loss. The aerobic exercise craze of the 1980’s reemphasized fitness for women”. One study conducted by Wiseman, Mosimann & Ahrens (1992) analyzed body measurements of Playboy centerfolds (1979-1988) and Miss American contestants (1979-1985). The researchers also analyzed 6 popular women’s magazines ( Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Day, and McCall’s ) for the number of diet and weight articles they contained. It seems the trend in the 1980’s, showed from their results, was to become even thinner and more tubular shaped. In this context, tubular shaped means that women’s bust and hips were decreasing as their height was increasing. Results of the study showed that 69% of centerfolds and 60 % of Miss American contestants were below 15% of their expected body weight in regard to their age and height. Maintaining a body weight below 15% of the expected body weight as one of the major characteristics for anorexia nervosa. There was also a significant increase in the number of diet and exercise articles. This evidence supports the notion that the cultural expectations of women’s body standards is to be ultra-thin. Hence, the message our culture is sending to women appears to fit one of the major characteristics of having an eating disorder. The study also shows how our America began to emphasize exercise and fitness in addition or in place of dieting. It should be noted that this study was conducted in 1992, and today these trends continue even more. Not only are “ideal” women supposed to be ridiculously underweight, but they are also supposed to be physically fit and toned without being too muscular. The picture under Karen in 1988 illustrates how the ideal female image ideal is thin and toned.
TODAY Unrealistic Bodies
Here is a cover of Harper’s Bazaar featuring Gisele Caroline Bündchen (circa 2002) which looks very similar to the 1988 Cosmopolitan cover above. Both models are very thin, toned and have very little fat on their bodies.
Unfortunately, the unattainable, ultra-thin female body image has not changed much from the late 80’s to today. The top picture is a image of what models tend to look like today. It really illustrates just how thin the body ‘ideal’ for women has become (which is apparent by her hip bones that are protruding through her skin). Because the media has surrounded women with so many images like these and our culture has accepted this body type to be the ‘ideal,’ it makes sense that most women feel that their bodies are inadequate because they are basing their comparisons to these super slender body images that they come in contact with every day.
Here is the “SKINNY”
Dissatisfaction with Our Bodies
Most women are dissatisfied with their bodies. One source has estimated that around 80% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies. I often hear women insisting that their thighs, butts, and tummy are “too fat.” It’s sad that the media has pushed this unnatural body standard on women. These areas store more fat in the female body yet, these are the areas that women work the hardest to tone. These problem areas, where female bodies store most fat, “are the very parts of our body that identify us as females: the rounded bellies, the larger hips, the thighs, the underarms. Why is it that women work the hardest to rid themselves of their most womanly areas? According to some researchers, it is because the ideal image today is more resembling a young male, with its tubular shape, narrow hips and toned muscles, than a female. Try as they may, most women are not shaped like this and when females attempt to attain this supposed ideal image and do not meet the demands, they often become frustrated, form a negative self-image, and perhaps, a distorted body image. Body image, in a nutshell, is the way we view our bodies, physical appearance, size, and shape and how we believe other people view the same attributes of our bodies. With all the ultra-thin media images in our culture today, it is difficult for women not to feel that their body is inadequate in some way. However, the truth is that the majority of females will never meet this cultural ideal because only 2% of American women are as thin as the fashion models they see. Statistically, “the average American women is 5′ 4″ tall and weighs 140 pounds whereas the average American model is 5′ 11″ tall and weighs 117 pounds”.
It’s not uncommon for people to believe that the media and advertisements have no effect on their beliefs or values they hold. However, this is simply untrue. Although some people believe advertisements are trivial they have significant cumulative, unconscious effects. A clear-cut example of how our cultural standards are influenced by these advertisements can be is seen in the current emphasis placed on the ultra-thin female body. Advertising creates an “ultimate standard of worth, so that women are judged against this standard all the time, whether we choose to be or not”. Therefore, advertisements are aimed at doing more than just selling their products, they supply us with ideas of normalcy and tell us what we should and should not be. Most advertisements show excessively thin, beautiful, young and flawless models displaying their products and women are repeatedly being exposed to these types of images both in printed ads, television, and movies. Being constantly shown these types of images, it becomes difficult for women to tell what is ‘normal.’ Advertising is a trillion dollar a year industry. There is a great deal of profit for organizations and corporations to make in advertising. The individuals that make these advertisements are not stupid and are aware that many women feel self-conscious about their bodies. Hence, “the images that are presented in advertising are designed to create an illusion, a fantasy ideal that will keep women continually consuming. The influential power of the diet, fashion, cosmetic and beauty industries and their advertising strategies target this… As previously stated, the mass media specifically targets women to believe that they can achieve this ‘ideal’ if they adhere to the instructions of following a prescribed diet and exercise regime. However these images are not even real, the ads of the very beautiful and thin models are altered through photographic techniques such as airbrushing, soft-focus cameras, composite figures, editing and filters blurring the boundaries between a fictionalized ideal and reality. Therefore, these ‘ideal’ images that are represented in the mass media are not only unreal but also very misleading”
These pictures support the idea that movies and Hollywood actresses contribute to the unhealthy, extremely thin body image that is the current trend in our culture.
This picture above shows another extremely skinny actress: Calista Flockhart. She looks severely underweight, but continues to be Hollywood icons sending females the same message that is portrayed in our media, namely that the ultra-thin body is in.
Eating disorders is a “severe alteration in eating patterns linked to physiological changes; the alterations are associated with food restricting, binge eating, purging, and fluctuations in weight; they also involve a number of emotional changes that affect the way a person perceives and experiences his or her body”. However, it is not the eating disorder that is the real problem at hand (although they pose extremely dangerous health risks) it is the underlying causes such as how women feel about themselves. The media portrayed, ideal female body plays a role in increasing negative body images when an individual can not measure up to these unrealistic standards. In addition, internalizing the ideal has been linked to negative body images and eating disorder symptom logy for both adolescents and adult females. Therefore, it seems that certain cultural values portrayed by the media in print, television, and movies is adding to the development of eating disorders. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. It has been approximated that nearly 7 million women suffer some type of eating disorder.
Women suffering from anorexia nervosa have an irrational fear of becoming obese, a preoccupation or with their weight and food, a distorted body-image, persistently starve themselves and deny their appetites. Anorexic women are defined by weighing less than 85% of expected body weight for their age or having a 17.5 % or less. When compared to the study of Playboy centerfold’s and Miss American Contestants it is evident that the majority of these women could be defined as having a major characteristic of this disorder. Since the ideal images from this study were taken from areas of the media, it appears that our culture is saying anorexic- like bodies are in and surrounding women with thousands of these images everyday. Although there are a number of factors that contribute to the development of this disorder, it is safe to say that the media plays a large role.
The images below portray how an individual suffering from anorexia nervosa look at severe stages. Previous research has stated that one of the major criteria for being anorexic by their weight and, by comparing these pictures, it seems that on the right could also be classified as having the disorder by simply noting how similar her body is to the anorexic women.
Bulimia is another eating disorder that primarily affects women. However, bulimia is categorized by a binging and purging cycle. Women affected by this eating disorder eat large amounts of food in one sitting (binge eating) which is followed by a purging from the body through vomiting, misusing laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. In addition, bulimics often use alternate methods such as intense exercise or fasting to balance the effects of excess calories.
Supermodel Kate Moss is known for having an excessively thin body. She became well-known after posing for a number of Calvin Klein advertisements like the one on the left. However, perhaps the caption in this picture would better explain the images that the media portrays to women. By showing these images, targeting women’s insecurities about their bodies and knowing that only 2% of American women actually have this skinny body type, the media is, in a sense, promoting “starvation imagery.”