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Articles > Rant May, 03, 2011

Size Zero Students

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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.

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  1. Louise

    I love this article. I had Bulimia for a year and a half so I don’t know how you’ve managed to cope with four years! I totally agree, I was bullied for years about my weight and how I looked which eventually ended up in an eating disorder. I hate going on social networking sites and seeing posts from girls barely 17 saying ‘I’m so fat’ ‘ I need to be thinner’ but really, says who? I would do everything in my power if I could to stop all this, but it’s just gone too far now. If girls and the media knew anything they would know that men love girls that are curvy, not sticks. You can be healthy and you can be beautiful, you can exercise and eat right and live a normal life without giving in to eating disorders because having had one…I know they’re not worth it as much as you probably do. What sucks is the after effects of an eating disorder, like now even though I’m healthy again I’m still never really going to know what I look like properly, because of everything I put myself through, every name I was called and everything I said to myself. I hope you find some recovery, and get past your eating disorder just like I did, you sound like a very strong girl.

  2. Louise Denney

    Harriet, it is scary. I have an 11 year old, very slim daughter who is already asking me if she should be thinner and if her bum is too big. It makes me so sad. The media obsession with healthy eating is bad, but far worse is the fashion indutry. Size 0 models in magazines, clothes that would only ever suit a stick insect (low rise jeans, leggings and jeggings, shorts over tights) Look back to the forties and fifties, icons such as Marylin Monroe, Jane Mansfield, and many more all at least a healthy size 14 and clothes were made to flatter their wonderful curvy figures. All of us (not just women) come in all shapes and sizes so clothes should be designed to suit different people. No-one feels good about themselves when they cannot live up to the unattainable (and often tweaked) images of perfection. Come on you fashion designers, make clothes we can all feel great in, no matter what our shape!

  3. V.S.M.

    I would like to thank Harriet for being so candid about living with anorexia. It is all too common for people to judge and make assumptions about other peoples situations and usually with no knowledge of what it feels like to be battling day after day.

    What I see in Harriet is the desire to communicate to others what her life experience is like, to share and educate, and be respected as an individual living with a disability. This takes courage and guts, and I feel a richer person for being better informed by her.

    I hope Harriet’s article reaches others, and encourages them to think twice before judging and instead choose to support and encourage any individual struggling with a disability to feel included and respected in equality.

    Harriet, you’re a shining star.

  4. oatbake

    A much needed backlash, written with grace but not lacking in impact. stellar article Harriet!