The social pressure of being thin
In a society that touts stick-thin figures as presentable, achievable and even admirable, there seems to be a fine line between dieting and starvation, with the pressure to look slender often resulting in dangerous consequences.
The media glamorizes the unrealistic bodies of a few, leading to obsession over unrealistically thin bodies and a strange sense of pride in being unhealthy underweight.
The social sentence is tacit and lapidary: to be successful in life you have to be thin.
While adult women undergo hunger regimes to stay within the parameter, girls do whatever it takes to lose weight. They count the calories they consume, throw up food to avoid feeling guilty, use laxatives and diuretics, undergo strenuous days of exercise, and if none of that makes them feel thin, there is always the option of eating absolutely nothing.
The sociocultural context is a factor that influences the development and maintenance of inappropriate eating behaviors.
It is very common to seek to conform to the feminine stereotype of youth, beauty and perfection. Young, beautiful, with a professional career, a mother with a perfect partner. The bar of demand for women is increasingly unattainable and detrimental to our own physical and mental health.
The social pressure of staying thin imposed on the female gender, influences the development of inappropriate eating behaviors and the development of psychological discomfort related to intake (such as worry about being overweight). Society pressures women to fulfill a role of feminine beauty that leads to the development of harmful food practices. Even without becoming a complete picture to be classified as a disease, food practices included in the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia can usually be observed in non-clinical samples of women. Or put another way, many “healthy” women perform behaviors that are not, but being so frequent they cease to be considered abnormal. An example would be going an aggressive diet to get into a wedding dress.
There are behaviors that are considered feminine and that are closely related to the prevalence of such disorders. Example: value the ideal of beauty more than academic and professional achievements; a girl is called beautiful many more times than, a boy, handsome boy, etc.
Women more committed to maintaining and improving their physical appearance and more committed to pursuing a slim body and / or romantic ideal, will be more likely to manifest eating behaviors of food restriction, bulimic habits, among others. Many of them are very normalized among the female population.
Adolescents and many women, live intensely the values and majority of customs as their hallmarks.
They make assessments of physical appearance and associate self-esteem with body appearance. Under social pressures, certain families worried about the weight and a diet is added, thus the risk of suffering some type of eating disorder multiplies. Also, this risk has spread to many women at the age of menopause, who resist losing their youth.
What is an eating disorder? An eating disorder is a mental illness, in which there is a set of alterations in behavior and attitudes towards food, weight and body image. Contrary to what many people think, this type of disease not only has to do with the limitation of food intake and although it is difficult to determine what causes them, the consensus among specialists suggests that it is a set of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors.
A problem for girls? No, anyone, man, woman, of all races and ages can suffer an eating disorder.
However, girls are more than twice as likely to suffer from it since these disorders are related to insecurity in themselves, low self-esteem, social pressure for a body of certain proportions and the desire for control. The family, the media and the social environment have to do with the image they have of themselves and the expectations of beauty and appearance that are generated by the simple fact of being girls.
For example, there are studies that indicate that fathers and mothers focus more on the intelligence and aptitudes of male children while they focus on the appearance and weight of daughters as early as two years. On the other hand, the media play a preponderant role in physical and beauty expectations, showing women of unrealistic measures, which represent an impossible standard for all women. All this, coupled with a family history of depression, feelings of worthlessness, sadness, anxiety, and perfection make diets or weight loss tools to control or stabilize the pressures they feel.
So what can we do to combat the media’s often inaccurate portrayal of both eating disorders and the human body? I am not sure, but I’m open to suggestions.
However, we don’t have to buy into these images. Each one of us with an eating disorder can talk to people and convey the truth about these illnesses — that people often die of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, and those who do not die suffer a multitude of side effects, some permanent, ranging from heart problems to Type II diabetes to erosion of teeth.
We can also take the media’s portrayal of people with a grain of salt, realizing most of those images are altered and no one can obtain that level of perfection.
Real people have flaws, with imperfect skin and hair and bodies, and that is what makes each one of use unique and interesting.
For true prevention, it is important to counteract the values and sickly stereotypes that have been installed in our culture, especially among the youngest. Get women to have more self-esteem for their personal achievements and not for the opinion of others or to be a good mother, partner, daughter … In trying to be perfect for others, they cease to take care of themselves.
At La Jolla Recovery, we want to remind both women and men that eating disorders can be co-ocurring to substance use disorders such as drug and alcohol abuse. The journey towards recovery might be one that requires attending some of these eating disorders as well as trauma and mental health. We are here to begin your journey and refer to mental health professionals such as bulimia and anorexia in order to attend your unique needs.