Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Thin-spiration among youth

I am so disturbed by all the pro eating disorder blogs and sites that have been cropping up over the past few years. By sheer unfortunate accident, I stumbled on to a blog about anorexia and thin-idealization the other day. For lack of words, well, I am truly saddened by this. The odd thing is that, having done mountains of research and writing on the subject of poor body image, I am still shocked when I encounter it. Especially now that there's an easy-to-access forum for kids with eating disorders (i.e. to get tips, share current weight stats, and provide general "thinspiration" for other teens).

In the very core of me, I am trying to avoid making this into a circus (which is why I am not mentioning the links). I don't want to further fuel the spectacle that is and was eating disorders in the media (because, although I don't believe that the advertisers are solely to blame, I do give them a lion's share of the responsibility). Frankly, I don't want to provide attention to the subject for fear that the inevitable will occur: "Oh, look at those freaks!" blah, blah, blah. As if eating disorders occur in a vacuum, where only seriously deranged kids succumb to them.

The reality is that there have been body image disorders and body modification trends since the beginnings of recorded time. Medieval nuns participated in extreme fasting, which has since been labeled "holy anorexia," and still occurs today. During the height of Elizabethan fashion, whale bone corsets constricted the waists of many higher ranked femmes, whose organs would often atrophy. Some women required the corset simply to sit upright. And let's not forget the painful process of foot binding, where the feet of girl children where broken and bound with rags until they were successfully deformed.

During the conservative and upwardly mobile 80's, eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, reached new heights of popularity in the media and in the lives of the rich and famous. It appears now that we are in another (no thanks to the current uber conservative US government) decade of superficiality. Whether you blame it on national wealth and privilege, the media, celebrities, religion, etc., it looks as though eating disorders are back in full force in the lives of our young. Thank goddess I am childless!

It's even stranger to me, that for all the reasons one could succumb to an eating disorder, the excuses are still so rooted in dualism: The body is corrupt / mortal and must be sublimated / reworked / punished. Rooted in the assumption that the body is
"the intolerable weight" that keeps us down, and its punishment leads to spiritual heights (as it was written during the formation of our current monotheistic religions), this belief has morphed into the "no pain, no gain" mentality of the upwardly mobile, fashion and age obsessed Western culture that we reside in, or are forcing others to reside in.

Our culture's obsession with all things new, only lends itself to the re-making of the physical as it ages, grows, changes. The plastic surgery industry practically deifies youth and looking young, as if aging naturally is suddenly un-natural. Our sterilized gentrification of the body is the bread-and-butter (so to speak) of some of the richest industries. We pluck, gorge, mutilate, sterilize, castrate, demonize, and deny our adult bodies and wonder why our youth have such an unhealthy relationship with their appearance.

This is no attack on the thin or waif-like, either, as eating disorders also play out in obesity. While I do support a healthy portrait of the female body, I do not believe being obese to the point of causing serious health problems "revolutionary." Again, it is simply the counter-response to our already warped relationship with our body. We cannot claim ignorance in North America. We have all the research constantly shoved in our face. We know what eating disorders can do. I wonder what the next step is?

It's up to us to regain some control over our own physical and mental health. Believe me, the health care industry is dying to get ahold of the latest trends and use them to propagate new "miracle cures" and treatment programs. Real, proactive answers are not coming from an industry that makes money off of disease.

There are some wonderful organizations out there doing their part to end negative body image, like About Face . Still, it's not enough...

What are some of your ideas? Anything happening in your city to address the issue of poor body image and eating disorders among youth?



Blogger Terry said...

I'm happy to say that (at least according to, advertisers in Europe have dicovered a neat new way to model such things like lingerie and clothing. They are just picking 5 or 10 women at random from the street and using them in their ads. The feedback has been enormously positive since women interviewed say they can identify better with the women in the ads since they have "normal" body shapes. I'll try and find the article...lets hope its a trend.

3:19 PM  
Blogger June said...

Great post! Besides strong media manipulation which lots of young girls can only hardly resist there is often another reason of eating disorders and it´s deep unresolved conflict with parents (mostly with mother), in this case a girl uses her eating disorders as hidden "manipulation tool" - only long-term therapy can help. Plastic surgeries in a very young age is alarming and in my opinion must be connected with lost connection with one´s inner self (general feature of western civilisation).

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found you over at the Goddess blog via your comment. I see you only have an archive for two months so I'm assuming you've just started blogging? If so, welcome to the blogosphere! (if this is just a new version of an old blog well I'm glad I found you). I'm also a Torontonian feminist who works in digital media. So we've got a bit in common. I thought I'd point you to another blog you might like that I just started reading myself the other day. It's a great, funny US feminist blog called Utopian Hell. She wrote a post recently that is not so disimilar to what you're writing about here. Here's the URL (you may have to cut and paste it):

All the best.

User: Mel

(arghhh I hate the blogger comment interface!)

8:06 AM  
Blogger aleah said...

Thanks, Mel! I will check out your blog and add it to my list of favs. Welcome and thanks for the links of interest!

8:49 AM  
Blogger zombieswan said...

A great book on this:

Unbearable Weight, Susan Bordo. ISBN: 0520088832 It's fascinating what Bordo traces as the root and theory behind this.

6:14 PM  
Blogger aleah said...

Hah- Check my profile. I LOVE Susan Bordo's writing. Unbearable Weight is hands down the most comprehensive book on the subject of eating disorders / body image.

7:40 AM  

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