A recent poll in the Metro found that a third of women at university would trade a year of their life in return for their ideal body. This does not shock me. Whether we care to admit it or not, we all judge, and are judged, by our looks. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if nothing else taking pride in your appearance makes you feel happier and more confident. Now, speaking mainly to the girls, how many times have you put on your favourite lipstick/heels/dress and instantly felt uplifted? However, there is a thin line between taking pride in your appearance and wanting to drastically change your appearance. Food and slimming is never far from the headlines. Since the “size zero” debate became hot news, the emphasis has begun to shift towards maintaining a “healthy” shape, but are we as a society still dangerously addicted to dieting?
Media promotion of slender celebs has been criticised for being the cause of eating disorders, however, to put it all down to this gives the public a skewed idea of what an eating disorder is. It makes people believe that people with eating disorders are vain and motivated purely by wanting to look like the images they see in magazines. I wish it were this simple. I have lived, (if you can call a life blighted by anorexia living), with an eating disorder for four years and would like to set the record straight as I don’t think people fully understand what is meant by anorexia.
For many in the media, anorexia is simply a buzzword to top off their story; it’s the icing on the cake, or rather, the dressing on a pretty limp salad. Anorexia is seen as an extreme fashion trend followed by vain celebrities and so the seriousness of the condition is ignored and its sufferers are ridiculed. For example, I have lost count of the times I have been heckled in the street or been told to “go eat a burger” by ignorant strangers. Imagine the uproar if I were to do the same to an overweight person. Being underweight is seen as a lifestyle choice, which for some it may be, but for those who are underweight as a consequence of an eating disorder it is not a choice, it is a sentence. Sadly for up to 20% it will be a life-sentence. It is offensive that sufferers are seen as vain; if I was only interested in my looks do you think I’d choose to look like a 12 year old? Women who diet to be like top models are not the same as women who have eating disorders. We diet to destruct; choice is a luxury we do not have.
So what is anorexia? It is a serious mental disability which gives the sufferer an irrational fear of gaining weight. According to BEAT (a charity set up to help people beat eating disorders), 1-2% of young women have anorexia, though this could be significantly more as many go undiagnosed. It is a common though false belief that anorexia is caused by a shallow desire to look like celebrities. That is not to totally dismiss the media’s impact as newspapers, magazines, TV and the internet are inescapable! The unrealistic pictures of celebrities, information on fad diets, “healthy eating” tips and bombardment of body messages are responsible for nurturing these mental disorders and allowing them to become firmly embedded. Though the sad truth is that ignoring the media (if, hypothetically, this were possible) will not stop an eating disorder from developing.
Eating disorders can occur for many complex reasons; stress, anxiety, childhood experiences, genetics even; all are contributors. Though probably the most important factor is the personality of the person affected. Typically, people with eating disorders are perfectionists who thrive on reaching self-imposed goals. Some see this as a virtue; I see it as a curse, for there is nothing more lonely than being your own opponent and critic. And so you see, the media is just the catalyst, sparking an illness which would have occurred sooner or later. Because that is what anorexia is; an illness. If more people understood this, sufferers wouldn’t be made to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control.
And on a final note, you may have noticed that I haven’t used the word anorexic. I am more than my disability; I am a person, a student, a friend with anorexia.