One in 5 women suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. And if you think of an eating disorder as any kind of disordered attitude toward eating, it's probably closer to 4 out of 5. The NEDA reports that as many as "10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia."
I care deeply about this issue because I was one of those statistics.
During high school and college I had a very unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. I felt that being "thin" was the only way I'd be accepted by society or find a life partner who loved me. My eating disorder was caused by a variety of issues and life experiences.
Life experience is shaped by many factors including parents, teachers, peers, and the mass media. The media, and in particular advertising, targets its audience's fears and insecurities, offering its advice or products as the only remedy.
Consciously or subconsciously we are shaped by advertising. And that's not surprising, considering that the average American is exposed to 3,000 ads everyday. A lot of these ads present unrealistic images of what women and men "should" look like in our culture. For instance, have you ever looked through a magazine or watched a television show and had one of these thoughts pop into you head?
I'm too fat.
I wish I looked like that.
I'm not good enough.
Jean Kilbourne has studied the correlation between public health problems and advertising for years. She argues that advertising doesn't necessarily cause violence against women, eating disorders, or addictions, but fosters a culture in which we increasingly devalue and objectify women, men, and children.
If you're not convinced, take 5 minutes and watch this presentation:
In a world that constantly tells us that we're not good enough, it's essential to take care of your body and mind. Below are a few strategies I use to stay healthy.
If you're feeling depressed, seek support from a counselor, friends, family members, and teachers. For instance, in college I started taking feminist theory classes and developed a huge community of peers. The conversations I had with these new friends changed the way I viewed my body and culture.
Writing is cathartic. Writing helps me get out the kinks and wrinkles in my brain and stop worrying so much. And as cheesy as this sounds writing is a great way to work on positive self talk and work through frustrations you see in the everyday world.
Consider starting a journal.
View all media with a critical eye.
It's crucial to remember that media messages and images are constructed. The goal of advertising is to get you to buy products. Advertisers create messages based on what they think you want. You can counteract these messages by choosing the type of media you view. For instance, I go for long walks, read books, and do yoga, rather than watching television or picking up the latest fashion magazine.
Help promote healthier body images in the media.
Discuss advertising images you see with friends and family members, write letters to offending companies, and avoid buying products by companies that consistently send out negative messages.
In our culture you can buy anything you want, but empowerment is not for sale. You can try to buy your identity, shape your body through plastic surgery or the latest diet, but those behaviors won't bring you happiness.
Happiness comes from loving yourself.
Eating disorders are potentially life threatening illness. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder help is available.
Photograph by Aunt Mona.