Women are the hardest-hit by a pandemic of eating disorders. Can we reverse this dangerous trend?
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), an estimated 20 million women across the United States exhibit behaviors consistent with anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge-eating disorder and other forms of this life-threatening condition. Despite nationwide surveys pointing to increased public awareness and medical resources, new eating disorder cases have been emerging since 1950. In fact, this issue is often misunderstood, stigmatized and stereotyped in our image-obsessed culture. But why is the number of affected women disproportionate to the level of compassion in mainstream society?
To investigate — and ultimately answer — this question, we’ll need to contextualize where America’s “cult of thinness” originated. During the 1960s, male fashion designers began adapting their creations for angular physiques, which contrasted with the voluptuous figures extolled in previous decades. Next, this trend infiltrated print media where a female-centric audience became exposed to magazine editorials saturated with an enticingly modern — however unattainable — feminine standard. With this steady stream of propaganda redefining the benchmark for beauty, women were indoctrinated into a “heteronormative” social order that gauged their humanity on physical appearance (read: body weight).
This subtle expression of male dominance and female objectification both marginalizes and dehumanizes women. An unforeseen percentage of this demographic — across various age brackets — subscribes to the dogma that personhood is measured in pounds. When imperfect humans are confined to such perfectionistic norms, the consequence becomes rampant illness, insecurities and feelings of insignificance. Ignoring this trajectory could risk the future of our daughters, our nieces, our sisters, ourselves — but where’s the antidote for cultural debasement and physical detriment?
Lena Dunham praised Glamour for not retouching her image / via Glamour magazine
While most eating disorder treatment methods address each isolated case, eradicating the environmental triggers might curb this pandemic in a more sustainable way. For example, as women, we can shift our rhetoric. Stop regurgitating beliefs of the “patriarchy” and accept our diversities instead. We can turn our disenfranchisement into camaraderie and disempowerment into social reform. Ultimately, we can subvert the mass media’s “thin-equals-superior” agenda, which ignites comparison, competition and sabotage within this female tribe. Rather than labeling one another “opponents” in the pursuit of an illusion, we can join forces to legitimize the intrinsic beauty each woman manifests — no airbrushed retouching needed.
If we change our own attitudes, would this distortion of feminine standards and plague-like spread of eating disorders maintain its foothold? Or would identity, idiosyncrasy and individuality become the new cultural current? Together, let’s expand public consciousness, shatter misrepresentation of our bodies and acknowledge each person’s unique significance that no scale could ever weigh.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week takes place from February 26 through March 4, 2017. To find out how you can participate in this annual event and promote awareness throughout your own community, visit NEDAawareness.org/get-involved. If you or someone you know is affected by this disease, call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237.