Sunday, May 27, 2007

More on distorted body image

To tell you the truth, at times it's appalling how the ideal of thinness has become so deeply ingrained in us. Sometime during my second year in college, I've noticed that I'm nearly the only one who still brings sandwiches – with cheese and olives or peanut butter - for lunch. It seemed most of my fellow students lived off carrots and diet rice crisps.

There was one especially exhausting period when I used to come home very late and was too tired to eat anything but a salad before going to bed. I was close to falling asleep any time, day or night. I was anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated and all that, together with literally having no time to eat, resulted in losing weight.

And guess what, I started receiving compliments. Yep, that's right. "Oh, I see you've lost weight, good for you!"; "you look so great!"; "I wish I could be as thin as you!"

What's wrong with them, I thought? Can't they see I'm about to collapse from unhealthy pressure? My weight back then was lower than what I had in 7-th grade. I was so exhausted I didn't even feel hungry. How could anyone think I looked good when I felt so awful?

When exams were finally over and I went back to eating and sleeping like I used to, my normal weight gradually came back. I was pleased. Finally, I stopped looking like a ghost and had some color in my cheeks again.

Do you know what I got? Genuine concern and plenty of tips. "I see your diet isn't working anymore, do you want to try mine?"; "You should really stop with all those peanut butter sandwiches; it will ruin everything you've worked so hard on!" … Huh? I finally returned to my healthy and normal state. Why would I want to starve myself?

It really gives me a sick feeling when I hear a fellow student calling herself 'a cow' for eating a low-fat yogurt, claiming she has hidden fat stores (where, for God's sake?) that she simply needs to shake off in the gym. All that, while she knows her BMI is on the lowest end of normal! But no, she wants to return to the 43 kilos she was once in junior high. Do you know how dangerous it is to be underweight? Much more than being overweight!

A 'good day' is when she overcomes her hunger. A 'bad day' is when she 'gives in' and eats more than what she needs to survive. No, she doesn't have anorexia – not yet, at least. The sad part is that soon she will start counseling poor women who are ready to give just about anything to lose that 'extra' weight (which is just their normal weight). She might even counsel women who have eating disorders. How is she supposed to help them when she hates her body so much?!

How have we reached a point when women are ready to trade their health and well-being for some distorted beauty ideal?

22 comments:

Candy said...

It IS sad Anna, I agree.

PandaBean said...

I am a "pleasently plump" individual, a little bit over the plump side. I once weighed 275lbs. I lost 50lbs and while I haven't kept it all off (back up to 240lbs), I've felt lots better since I did, and I still do. My point is, that originally, my goal weight was, what I thought, a "conservative" 150lbs, which at 5'6" is a BMI that is still borderline obese. I then spoke with a natural health consultant (not a professional, true, but a very knowledgeable person) and they said for my hight and body type I should aim for 175lbs, /minimum/!

This made me re-think that BMI chart I had been using for my goals and I think it's skewed just ever so slightly on the too skinny side. I see all these commercials on TV "I lost 15lbs" "I lost 20lbs" and get a little miffed at them, they /need/ those 20lbs to be healthy! I could go on and on about what was a healthly weight 50+ years ago, but I don't want to take up all the comments space, I'll save it for my blog sometime.

I also see a lot of this distorted body image with my mom. She is going to be 47 in August and is still trying to get back to the weight she was in high school! Hey Mom, I love you, but you're not in high school any more! She did get there once, but she looked unhealthy skinny. Now she's re-gained some of that weight and looks great, when she wears the right size clothes and not super-large, extra-baggy clothes, but she refuses to see it and always talks about how miserable she feels being so "fat".

Ah well, all I can really do for my mother is pray for her at this point.

Anna S said...

Pandabean,

The BMI chart is far from accurate, of course. It's a very rough estimate.

But if someone's BMI is around 19-20 (you CAN'T be overweight with a BMI like this!) and they still talk about what ugly fat cows they are, it's scary.

Sarah said...

Great post Anna. It IS just as unhealthy to be too slim as it is to be overweight (the difficulty being that some see a perfectly healthy weight as being 'overweight').

Becky said...

I agree with you Anna. Anyone who has ever been very ill and lost so much weight as a result would gladly trade a healthy body for a thin one. Well said!

Lean Not said...

Good post, Anna. We cannot look like Barbie dolls, nor should we want to.

Perhaps you could write a post on what we could do to prevent this fixation in the next generation? Where did we get the idea that scrawny is beautiful/healthy, and how can we train our future daughters to have the right view in this matter?

Christie Belle said...

What a sad thing. It is really scary that this young woman will be directing others in the matters of health, weight, and food. It really sounds like you will be excellent in your field of study. You sound like you are healthy and doing it the right way! Good for you.

Buffy said...

Yes, I sometimes wonder if this cult of stick-thin is not the biggest challenge that young women face now in the Western World. I feel horrified with some of the models you see and the way some of our younger actresses look. I wonder if their arms or legs would snap in half. What happened to celebrating a woman's curves? And the stupid thing is that most men do not even find it attractive. Skinniness on that level must send out the subliminal message that you're either too poor to eat or you're very unhealthy.

UltraCrepidarian said...

I was quite cruel in my treatment of my Ex in this regard. She arrived into our relationship deeply wounded, and I contributed my own additional cruelties. I really regret it all now, and for everyone who has ever felt the sting of being "unacceptable", I offer my sincere apologies for what we have all, as a society, and as individuals, allowed ourselves to become. Hatred and loathing of body fat, and of obese persons has gotten to such a level that even a healthy level of body fat is considered bad, and we have the situation today that 10 or 12 year old girls are "on a diet", while their bodies are still trying to grow.

It's so sad. And as a consumer of media, as a product of my culture, I have contributed to, and perpetuated these horrible attitudes.

I think it was on CoffeeWife's blog, that I heard her speak of how she is treated, because she's a "pleasantly plump" individual, and it's really really awful to see how inhuman people can be.

I am sorry, really really sorry.

+W+

Anna S said...

Buffy,

Do you know how many of these models suffer from eating disorders and actually die from anorexia?

Anna S said...

Warren,

We have all been unkind to someone once. So have I, and I really regret that now. We all have our weak points and things about our looks/character/whatever we don't like. And sometimes it's difficult not to let a negative remark reduce us to dust.

Anonymous said...

I have found it difficult to navigate this dangerous territory as far as my girls are concerned. They are two completely different body types, and I want them to learn to appreciate their bodies, and take good care of their health. I think, so far, they have a normal relationship with food. My "slim" daughter does nothing to look like she does, and thankfully has a quite healthy appetite. My "average" daughter also eats a normal amount of food for her age; both girls have good energy, and are lovely, each in her own way. I do not praise one body type over another (theirs, or random women out & about, on TV, etc.). They see me eating, & enjoying my food. We all, the family, like a wide variety of food. But the competition is tough, as I know the message is everywhere that you are supposed to hate your body for needing to eat. It is very sad, and not a little bit scary.

Brenda

Anna S said...

Brenda,

Giving a good personal example of healthy behavior is excellent, I think!

Lean,

Yes, I will definitely try to write soon on what you suggested. Great idea. Thanks!

Emily said...

It is crazy Anna, indeed.... I'm glad you are different from the other girls and have a healthy body image! Blessings to you.

onionboy said...

Of course, at first blush, the following may seem terrifically trite...

Sacred Scripture both old and new testaments speak to the truth that God takes the measure of us by our inner self not our outter self.

...until balanced by another reality that states that people who are Christ's are the daily living space of the his Holy Spirit.

For me this means I do not need to be Adonis but I do need to take care of my mortal tent.

Thanks for your honest post. I came here by online friend, Warren's, blog.

O
::thrive
luminousmiseries
onionboy.ca

Anna S said...

Onionboy:

I definitely think we SHOULD take care of our bodies, which means eating healthy, exercising, trying not to smoke; outward appearance is not my top priority, but I think we should of course be clean, neat, nicely dressed (in moderation, naturally).

... and taking care of our body also means not starving ourselves because someone said we should always look like teenagers.

And whatever happens, we should not hate ourselves or our body, nor feel like failures because we're not fitting human standards.

Coffee Wife said...

Morality is now tied in with food. It's soooo sad!

onionboy said...

"outward appearance is not my top priority"

We have no disagreement there. I believe that was part of my point :)

I have no disagreement with anything you said and wasn't meaning to be contentious. Hope you didn't take it that way.

Living healthy is about living healthy not about appearances, though our appearance may be positively affected but again, that is balanced by living a whole inner life. For the Christian that recognizes loving ourselves as God loves us which to some extent affirms what you have been saying.

Owen
::thrive!
luminousmiseries
onionboy.ca

Anna S said...

Owen,

It's alright, I certainly didn't take it this way. Don't worry, you haven't seen the kind of comments I get every day :P

fairmaiden said...

we need to return to the images of beautiful women of the 1800's. They were much more realistic. Now adays its considered fat. And what about the male image becoming so thin too? My own son is being influenced by this. I try to teach him the importance of eating for his growing teenage body, but he is so influenced by the thin look of his generation. Especially the British look.

Anna S said...

Fairmaiden:

Yes, men are also influenced. I have read interesting research about it in International Jouranl of Eating Disorders. I have a post ready on the subject, and will publish it soon.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog via...I don't know what. You have an interesting perspective.

Honestly, my BMI probably barely approaches 18. I lost a lot of weight thanks to an ulcer and some serious digestive problems, and never really made an effort to put it back on. It took me years to replace my big clothes with smaller ones...why repeat that cycle? (The bigger ones burned up in a house fire). It was more pragmatic than anything.

I don't weigh myself, ever. EVER. I find I have a tendency to obsess over numbers and once I realized that a number could make or break my mood, I determined that it just wasn't worth it. I have a rough estimate in mind, per weight, and that's good enough.

What gets me are people who don't like their weight, whether large or small, and complain about it. I hate hearing people complain. If you don't like it, CHANGE IT. If women would stop talking about weight, it would be MUCH less of an issue among us. You should be happy with your size, whatever size that may be. Some might see me as too skinny, and I don't care. I determined long ago to never make an effort either way--to gain or to lose weight. Whichever way my body went naturally, I'd be okay with. Now, if other women would just leave it alone...

:)
Leanne G