Anika, Age 17
|A study conducted in 1984 found that 75% of women thought that they were "too fat." 15 years later, those statistics have only increased. 95% of the female population has dieted at some time and at any given time 50% are on a diet. Not dieting for health purposes, but dieting to lose weight, to achieve the perfect body. Why has this virtually impossible task of achieving Rebecca Romjin's body become so incredibly important? There is no simple answer; it is a combination of factors. Social pressures may influence us: think of the super thin models in Seventeen and the skinny yet busty images that teenage celebs like Britney Spears and Jennifer Love Hewitt offer us (for more information on negative media images and how they affect us, go to Media).|
|Female feelings of lack of control, fear, and insecurity, which are especially present during the teenage years, may confuse us. This poor body image may be linked to other causes as well, such as genetics, etc. Consequently, a majority of women feel horrible about their bodies. Of course, this includes the millions of teenage girls who are also influenced.|
An alarming number of girls do develop eating disorders (for information on causes, definitions, how to help, and etc. go to Eating Disorders). However, the majority of teenage girls do not fall under the category of anorexic or bulimic; instead many experience a period of severe dieting or bingeing and purging. The vast majority of girls ages 12 to 25 suffer from some type of "disordered eating." This means that a huge number of our sisters, friends, and peers feel fat, count calories, obsess over their looks and weight and let their self-esteem depend on a scale reading. Witness the story of Nikki, age 15.
I guess I'm not too happy about the way I look; I would need to lose about 15 pounds to look good. I have skinny friends, constantly dieting, which makes me feel worse. When we go to restaurants, I hate being the only one eating. Sometimes I try to diet but I never can stick to it. Images of beautiful, thin women with huge breasts and high cheekbones are everywhere, and the guys in my school drool over them in a way that they never look at me. I don't have the courage to have an eating disorder. Instead I just try not to think about how fat I am, although it usually doesn't happen.
Almost all of us have felt like Nikki at some point: we have all experienced feelings of inadequacy related to weight or appearance or envied others with more "desirable" bodies. In most cases, like Nikki's, we just occasionally try to diet and allow our self-esteem to depend on our bodies, not as healthy entities, but as objects that can be manipulated to fit a certain stereotype (for more on that stereotype refer to Media). In other cases, many girls go through a phase of borderline eating disorder-they are not actually anorexic or bulimic but they are dangerously close. Fifteen-year-old Amaya has felt the same feelings of hopelessness that Nikki experienced. However, she acted on those feelings with more persistence.
I've felt sickened by my body for so long that I can't ever imagine actually liking myself. I feel so sad that it's all I focus on, all I think about but nothing else seems to matter as much. I know it sounds stupid, but I really think that my life would improve if I could just lose some weight. I try to diet but I always end up eating too much and feeling guilty. My friends always tell me to eat more, that I'm thin, but they are much skinnier then I am and just don't understand (going shopping with them feels more like a competition than an activity). I hate feeling full; when I'm full I can actually feel myself getting fatter. I've tried throwing up but it just felt gross. My friends tell me I have an eating disorder but I don't. I feel like saying, "If I had an eating disorder, would I be this fat?"
Amaya does not have a full blown eating disorder, but she does have "disordered eating." In some cases this food/weight obsession is only a passing phase, in others, it becomes an addiction. We do not understand why some girls develop eating disorders and some simply hate their body. There are generally issues of depression and genetics involved (refer to Causes of Eating Disorders) but there is no simple reason why some girls dwell precariously close to the edge, others dangle, about to fall, and still others leap headfirst into the abyss.
The important thing to remember is that no matter how far along any girl is, feelings of self-hatred related to weight are destructive and must be fought. Think how negative these feelings and their consequences are. When we compare ourselves to our friends we do not unite but create competition. When we feel we should look a certain way, we are changing ourselves to fit into someone else's definition of perfect. These feelings will only continue and worsen as we reach adulthood. To become happy, strong, productive adult women we must strive to fight stereotypes and banish these feelings of hatred and not being good enough. They only lead to depression and helplessness. We must empower ourselves through education and by not allowing ourselves to fall prey to stereotypes perpetuated by the unbelievably greedy media or those men (and women) who want to keep women in their place (thin, weak, passive- screw that!). It is not easy but it can be done.