Knowledge is power

Sunday, 25 March 2012

As part of my course at uni, i've been doing a lot of research into the way we are influenced regarding body image, particularly focusing on women. The project has led me to some terrifying statistics; up to 69% of female uni students will experience episodes of bulimia at some point, by the age of 13, 60% of young girls have begun to diet (Sternhell). These figures seemed to me at first glance unbelievable, so I cast my thoughts back to me, at the age of 13. I was weight conscious and attempting to diet, however, I cannot exactly use myself as an example of a 'typical' woman when it comes to relationship with food. I was most certainly not the only one worried about their weight though, many girls I was at school with expressed concerns over their bodies. I remember vividly standing in the selfridges changing rooms with my bean pole of a best friend, both of us agonizing over our hips. We found solace and comfort in the fact that we were both preoccupied with the same body worries. Why? What drives to worry, regardless of age, or sex? Although most do not take it to the eating disorder extreme, weight preoccupation is clearly a prevalent issue in our society. Many blame the media, the size zero models parading down the catwalk, the cover of heat magazine supporting a statement about yet another celelbs weight, the fad diets. To an extent, this is fair. Being thin is glorified and praised, sometimes disgustingly so. During my first hospital admission, I was granted weekend leave. Mum and I decided to go shopping and for a drink. We were in Knightsbridge when I was approached not once, but twice, by people questioning me about if i'd ever considered modeling. Both stated I had the perfect figure. I am 5 foot 2, not model material. I was approached because of my weight. Even remembering it makes my skin crawl, I was a walking skeleton, wandering around the shops with people staring and nudging each other. I had lost all the color from my face and every rib was prominent. I did not smile. After being cooped up in my unit for the past week, with only a few hours contact with anyone but medical staff and other anorexics, the amount of people milling about in Harvey Nichols was daunting. I was terrified to try on any clothes, scared after my mere week of re-feeding and my weight gain of just over a kilo, nothing would fit. I was the furthest from beautiful anyone could be. These people were not interested in attractive people modeling their products, they wanted a clothes hanger. "You are a real size zero!" one of them had said, "great". Size zero at this point was too big for me. It was not beautiful, it was not aspirational, yet these people thought it would sell products. Sick. There has been so much talk about things changing in the industry, about size zeros not being used...I think I proved this is not the case. My illness and wasting was being praised. I'm pretty sure if my mother had been in possesion of a gun at the time, Harvey Nicks would still be scrubbing blood off the walls.
We cannot simply blame the media for the influx of eating disorders in the Western World and weight conscious ten year olds. Yes, they do not help, but I did not starve myself to look beautiful. I would like to make that clear. I'm pretty sure not one of the girls I was in hospital with thought their bones were beautiful, or were striving to look like a catwalk model. Eating disorders and self starvation have been around for a lot longer than Victoria Beckham or Paris Hilton, they were not understood or recognised as they are today, but their is evidence throughout history of women (predominantly) starving themselves. In the 12th and 13th century there was a phenomenom called 'the holy anorexia', women starving themselves in order to show total devotion to God. This was praised and glorified. In the 16th century fasting women were condemned as witches and burned at the stake (and I thought inpatient treatment was bad!) Clearly we cannot simply blame the media and the size zero phenomenom for the skinny trend, however, there is no escaping the fact that it has increased the pressure for men and women to look a certain (unrealistic) way.

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