eating disorders in adolescent men and women

It is no surprise that the majority of media outlets substantiate the growth of body image insecurities in men and women. According to Rader Programs, “50% of commercials aimed at women mention physical attractiveness.” And while the American media intake is already on the rise, it is projected that by 2015 the average American will consume media for 15.5 hours a day. The emphasis on physical attractiveness as a priority will be choked down the American woman’s throat for roughly 8 hours daily–but what goes down must come up. The narrow standard of beauty that American women have been forced to swallow already is coming back up, along with a plethora of repercussions, in the form of vomit.

Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness in adolescents (ANAD). 86% of women, according to the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, report having struggled with an eating disorder by the time they turn 20. In America, children are learning that one of the worst things a person can be is fat. According to Heart of Leadership, “Girls’ self esteem peaks when they are nine years old…80% of children who are 10 years old are afraid of being fat…Young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents.” Incidentally, the obsession with being thin, and thereby beautiful, is coinciding with a time in which obesity is on the rise. According to Rader Programs, “Mannequins closely resembled the shape of the average woman in the 1950s…Since then, there has been an increasing disparity between mannequins and the average woman. By 1990 the average hip measurement had increased to 37 inches while mannequins had decreased to 31 inches.” It seems that as the masses are amassing more weight, models and mannequins are shrinking.

The first-occurring logical solution the body image epidemic is to popularize images of beautiful women of varying, realistic, shapes and sizes in the media. But the incongruity between the fantastic bodies of men and women in the media and between the regular bodies of reality is one that Americans have grown used to. Former plus-size model Leona Palmer writes in her article “Naked: Plus Size Models in Magazines,” “The fact is that simply picturing a woman of average size in a magazine has an incredible shock value today.” The focus of this article is to pose the question of why the shape of plus-sized models, instead of being embraced and supported as beautiful, is being sensationalized as a sexy and exotic rarity. The prevalence of this sensationalization is contributing to the preponderating notion that fat women have to rectify their size by meeting as many other standards of beauty as possible.

The real fix for the body image epidemic is not one that can occur on a corporate level. Companies such as Unilever are pounced to prowl on any insecure consumer, and are ready to cash in on anything that will make the consumer trust the company. In a marketing course I took on Northwestern’s campus a couple years ago, I learned that the most effective marketing strategies, implicated by Mac and Google, include showing the consumer that the company shares its values. It includes gaining the consumer’s trust as an ally. Unilever has instated this strategy in its company Dove, who has launched a “Real Beauty Campaign.” However, Unilever has also cashed in on the other side of the body image issue with its company Axe, which regularly preaches that its hair gel is an unflagging aphrodisiac to scantily-clad D-cupped women in jungles.

No, the real fix for the body image epidemic cannot be a crusade carried out on a corporate level. Quite the contrary, there must be a personal remedy for a very personal issue. How a woman views herself, although heavily influenced by outside factors like media, is only dependent on the woman herself. In order to begin to value the bodies that they have, contrary to what eight hours of media intake may tell them, women need to focus less on appearance and become more comfortable in their skin. If it takes walking around the bedroom only wearing underwear to get used to one’s body, then that is what must be done. If it takes covering up the mirror for a day, then that is what must be done. If it takes reducing disparaging media intake, then that is what must be done. For women to begin feeling that they are more than their flaws, their flaws must first be recognized as normal so that they can then be forgotten.

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