Eating disorders prevention

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Posted by HSG on February 24, 2005 at 15:27:30:

As many of you are aware, next week, February 27th to March 5th, is Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that require care by trained professionals. This is not a subject to be approached lightly, or with lay information, or half-knowledge. Moreover, discussing eating orders is always problematic, because of the dangers of unwittingly provoking "learned behaviour." Kate Dillon once admitted that her own battle with anorexia was initiated, in part, by viewing a television movie on the subject. Without due diligence, seemingly preventative measures can have the opposite effect, giving these practices some kind of "forbidden" glamour that they absolutely do not possess.

However, increased public awareness of these ailments is badly needed, and over the years, many plus-size models, from Emme onwards, have become involved in campaigns to promote such awareness. Greater knowledge about these conditions may help parents identify their symptoms in their children--or better yet, may prevent parents from expressing the kinds of attitudes that help trigger these conditions in the first place.

With that in mind, let's examine the following article. It purports to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of anorexia, and in a way, it is precisely that. But it also reveals more than it says, and identifies just how badly prevailing attitudes about size need to change, to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.

Here is the link:

The problems with the piece begin right away. The writer may not realize it, but by immediately associating "diet" with "health," his article delivers a mixed message, which is all the more unfortunate since it was diet starvation that clearly ruined the health--and took the life--of the victim whose story he is relating.

Also, pay especially close attention to this statement, on the part of the mother of the victim:

Charla Maitre describes her daughter as big boned or full- figured when as a high school senior she decided to lose weight. By graduation, Rachel had dropped from a size-12 to a size-6.

What a tragic example of how societal standards distort people's perceptions of reality. Note that, even in retrospect, after all that happened, the mother still does not describe her daughter's appearance on the eve of her disorder as "perfect," or "gorgeous," or a "blossoming goddess," or "already ideal." If she had, then it would have indicated that the mother considered the weight loss unnecessary to begin with. But rather, she describes her late daughter's "before" appearance as . . . "big boned." And she applies this term to someone who was a meagre size 12.

Size 12 is not "big boned"--let alone any less flattering adjective--but is entirely normal, and below the national average size of women.

So the victim's environment was not as size-positive as one would have wished.

Also, consider the statement that immediately follows the above excerpt:

At 5-feet-3, she weighed what seemed to be an ideal 110-pounds.

"Ideal"? To whom is 110 pounds "ideal"? To magazine editors? Perhaps if 110 pounds was not viewed as "ideal" to begin with, but rather, if the timeless measure of plus-size beauty was the dominant ideal, then tragedies such as this might not ensue.

(Of course, we have no way of knowing what the actual attitudes of the family were. We are examining this article strictly as text, on the basis of the information that it presents, because it is sadly typical of the experience of many young women today, and could prove useful to other families in similar situations.)

The rest of the piece is somewhat more helpful. It clearly identifies how, far from reaping health benefits, the victim's obsession with weight loss destroyed her. Rather than giving the victim control of her life, the ailment controlled her.

The brother's statement that,

The anorexia just totally consumed her life. And once it got that far, she never had a life,

is also instructive, and makes the circumstances of this case that much more tragic. Just think of all of the wonderful things that this poor girl could have been doing with her life, instead of sentencing herself to starvation and exercise torture. She could have been out with friends, dancing, dating, dining (yes, dining), sightseeing, listening to music, reading . . . anything.

This also points out the greater tragedy of weight control in general. We (as humanity) have spent millennia trying to free ourselves from the burdens of harsh physical labour, and to furnish ourselves with all of the sustenance that we need, to give ourselves the freedom to enjoy more fulfilling lives--lives that nourish our higher capacities, and not just our physical beings. Freeing ourselves from starvation and physical travail has been one of our most liberating accomplishments. And yet, people living in the modern world are deceived into willingly (willingly!) giving up those more pleasurable pursuits, and reducing themselves to the kinds of conditions involving food deprivation and hard labour that plagued humanity throughout the ages--all in pursuit of a physical standard that isn't even attractive.

* * *

The article quotes one eating-disorders researcher as saying that "early intervention is the key" to staving off anorexia, and she is undoubtedly correct. However, what could be even more valuable would be eliminating the triggers that compel young women to obsess over weight in the first place--so no intervention would be necessary at all, because the problems would not arise.

Or to put it another way, it is our thin-supremacist society as a whole that needs "intervention" most urgently.

One strategy for preventing eating disorders could be to help young girls who are thinking about weight control realize that they could be doing a dozen other things instead--all of them far more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Also, positive reinforcement on the part of parents who have daughters with curves could work wonders. Instead of intimating that a daughter would look "ideal" at a size 6, they could describe her that way when she is a size 12--or better. And complimenting rather than criticizing any natural weight gain could also enhance a daughter's self-esteem, and help her build up psychological defenses against negative imagery.

And finally, note the article's admission that "many aspects of anorexia remain a mystery." It says much about the misplaced priorities of the mass media when one considers how much attention is given to supposed "weight epidemics" (with studies that are later proven to be factually inaccurate), when here is a true health crisis, one which can lead directly to a patient's death.

Perhaps with more media attention in this sphere, these ailments would become less mysterious.

Kelsey O. (Wilhelmina L.A., 38-37-42)--an ideal, just the way she is:

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