30 April 2013
Beautiful, a term defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a combination of qualities such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight”, is a term that most people want to be perceived as (“Beauty”). Celebrities who fit this definition act as role models for women who want to look like they do, and magazines and television advertisements are constantly telling women how they too can be “beautiful” by selling them weight loss products, exercise programs, and other image enhancers. The constant exposure to the media’s version of beautiful is not something that is often thought of as negative. However, their portrayal of what is beautiful has become distorted over the years, to the point where achieving this “thin-ideal”, which will be defined later, is nearly impossible for women if done through healthy means. Because of this, many women develop body dissatisfaction, which can lead to serious and dangerous consequences, such as the development of eating disorders, in order to be “beautiful”. While there are many factors that can be linked to eating disorders, research has found that the media’s influence on society’s portrayal of extremely thin females as the ideal body is directly correlated to the increase in body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and other harmful conditions found in women. By analyzing this from a feminist perspective, it can be argued that not only does the media’s influence on the idealization of thinness effect females physical and mental health negatively, but it also acts as reinforcement for the patriarchal culture prevalent in today’s society.
There is a wide range of eating disorders, ranging from minor to severe. Body dissatisfaction, which is “a psychiatric condition in which the affected person suffers from a flawed perception that views some part of the body or physical feature to be defective or unsightly, although an observer would not share said opinion” is considered minor, although it is also considered a precursor for developing a more severe eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa (“National Association”). According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, bulimia nervosa is “characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food, and feeling a lack of control over the eating; followed by a type of behavior that compensates for the binge, such as purging (vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting, and/or excessive exercise.” Anorexia nervosa is “characterized by emaciation, a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy body weight, a distortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight, a lack of menstruation among girls and women, and extremely disturbed eating behavior” (“National Association”). One of the classifications for anorexia nervosa, found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV, is that the person is fifteen percent below the ideal, healthy body weight. While anorexia and bulimia nervosa are the most commonly known eating disorders, more than half of eating disorder sufferers may actually have what is referred to as EDNOS, or eating disorders not otherwise specified (“National Association”). Those who fall in this category don’t meet the strict criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa, but have significant concerns about eating and body image. “Most patients don’t have pure forms of eating disorders, and they may cross over from one disorder to the other from time to time” (“National Association”). In other words, while many suffer from an eating disorder, they most likely will not qualify for the diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia nervosa because they have symptoms that fit both disorders.
The subject of eating disorders is one that most are familiar with. The understanding that eating disorders are ‘bad’ for your health is common knowledge