Tag Archives: body image

The Red Bracelet Encourages Starvation

anorexia, bulimia, fashion, death, starvation, eating disorders, mental health

Isabella Caro was a fashion model who died from anorexia at 28. Before she died she posed for a campaign on anorexia awareness.

The other day I ended up on some anorexic’s blog. I was researching a story about zombie fungus and then wanted another name for fuzz, which lead to lanugo (the light fur babies are born with and that anorexics get because there isn’t enough fat in their bodies to keep them warm). I was derailed from my story research for three hours as I surfed through blogs on anorexia.  I became more disturbed as I learned a whole host of new terms. There is a whole lingo that I didn’t even know about. It includes ana, mia. pro-ana and thinspo. What is this? It’s a short form for anorexia, bulimia and those that support these eating disorders. Thinspo is pictures of scrawny and skeletal people from celebrities to everyday people as a form of inspiration to keep going with the “diet.”

Support?

I knew of eating disorders and grew up with my own. I know of people struggling and fighting to be healthy before they kill themselves with starvation, or become grotesquely obese. I know it’s tough and many women die. Others have their health affected for the rest of their lives. I know that the movie and fashion industry, as well as even professional gymnastics are partially to blame for perpetuating an unhealthy ideal, which is unattractive and deadly. I know all this.

What I didn’t know was that there was a sub-culture of people who are supporting each other in their choices to starve themselves into skeletons and prepare for an early grave. From the blogs I surfed, these seem to be people mostly in their teens, and mostly women. They’re not just on a quest to lose weight and be a healthy weight. They want to achieve a BMI of less than 17.5 and weigh 100 lbs no matter their height or build. A BMI under 18.5 for most people is considered underweight.

Eating disorders can cause a host of health problems and conditions. They include but aren’t limited to: lanugo, stress fractures, osteoporosis, dehydration, kidney failure, hair loss, dry skin, gastric rupture, erratic heartbeat, peptic ulcer, pancreatitis, gall bladder disease, cholesterol issues, impaired organ function, impaired mental capabilities, high or low blood pressure, reproductive problems, blood sugar issues, diabetes, death. If one does recover, some of these symptoms never go away.

As I read the blog I thought it was a joke at first, and that the few comments of  “congratulations,you’re getting thinner” and “don’t give up hope; you’ll get there.” were tongue in cheek. But as I went from one person’s blog to another’s, with pictures of skeleton legs, I grew alarmed. A girl with legs so boney there is no shape was trying to diminish her calf muscle. Another or the same was happy when there was a gap between her legs at the very top of the pelvic girdle. Another wants to know how you keep your boobs when you’re starving yourself. Another  comments that she’s pissed off her blood sugar is high when she’s eating between 700-1000 calories a day.

Nicole Richie, eating disorder, ana, mia, aanorexia, thinspo, starvation

Nicole Richie, normal and anorexic. The picture on the right would be considered Thinspo. Creative Commons: tollieschmidt, flickr

I won’t list most of these blogsites because I think these people need serious help before they die over an obsession. There is something seriously wrong with a culture that perpetuates the existence of such a debilitating and often deadly condition. Several of the blogsites mentioned Ana Boot Camp or the ABC diet.  They also talked about wearing a red bracelet. So I went to the site. It seems the red bracelet is supposed to show support for someone dealing with a disorder, let them know they’re not alone. All right, that’s fairly noble. Don’t make these people feel worse when they’re so mentally unhealthy. But the more insidious aspect of this is that it’s not for supporting a person as they go through therapy to gain back a healthy way of eating. The undercurrent is that these young women can share and encourage each other to keep dieting and losing weight to point of death.

The Ana website sounds good at first when you read part of the disclaimer that says: This website is for support for those with an eating disorder who feel alone and by themself with this issue. I support the recovery of the indivdual when they are ready and will never support those who ‘want an eating disorder’. (sic) When you read farther down you get this: As well, if you are looking to get anorexia / bulimia by being here then please leave now. You will not find information contained within this web site, forum, or any site linked to / from this website on how to become anorexic or bulimic. Well that’s good, right? Don’t help people further their eating disorders. Support them in getting over it.

Unfortunately it’s not true as the Ana commandments are listed:

1. If you aren’t thin you aren’t attractive.
2. Being thin is more important than being healthy.
3. You must buy clothes, style your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, do anything to make yourself look thinner.
4. Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty.
5. Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself afterwards.
6. Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly.
7. What the scale says is the most important thing.
8. Losing weight is good/gaining weight is bad.
9. You can never be too thin.
10. Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success.

It would be better to say, here is what many anorexics believe but you should not follow these. The site also goes on to give recipes and ways to feel full without eating, and a diet regime (Ana ) where you never eat more than 500 calories and as low as 50 calories (or fasting) per day. There are Auschwitz victims who ate more than that, and they still starved. So the claims that the site does not encourage bulimia or anorexia are false. But then it’s being maintained by a 17-year-old anorexic in England, whose mental faculties could very well be impaired by her disorder. I’ve talked about the mental impairment that happens with depression, and the feeling of isolation and shame that comes with an eating disorder. I would however, never support continuing with a disorder, or encouraging people to lose more weight than is healthy, and what these young women think is ideal will affect them for the rest of their lives. I would encourage getting help, refusing to look at pictures of anorexic celebrities, and finding someone to talk with about the problem.

In fact, if I had a child, with the way today’s culture seems to favor the ultra thin,  I would watch her (or him) closely to make sure they were eating properly. And I still say that I’d rather be overweight than underweight. At least with a few extra pounds your body has more resources for recovery. I feel shocked and sad that there is such a culture out there where skeleton women encourage each other to look more like death, not even warmed over.

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The Skinny On Models

fashion, anorexia, bulimia, eating disorders, plus sizes, health

In the fashion industry, this is a normal size. Creative Commons: scrapetv.com

I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Back many years ago when I was in the throes of my eating disorder, classified as bulimia, I attended some group counseling sessions. Now my bulimia was not the normal one, where you gorge and vomit. I didn’t vomit. I starved myself, then gorged and then my bodily functions did a bit of a natural purge, but it was an uncontrolled desperate, self-hating way of eating and never on healthy foods. People with eating disorders never gorge on carrots or celery.

Now this counseling group was in the evenings at the psychiatrist’s home. I was the ugly duckling amongst the swans, but those swans were emaciated, walking sticks. Pretty much all of them were models dealing with anorexia. I remember the doctor asking once, “How many people have known someone who died from an eating disorder?” I didn’t but probably 80% of those models had known someone who starved themselves to death. The video below shows Isabelle Caro who died a few years after this was made at the age of 28. She looks 60.

And yet, twenty years later, we still see that the modeling, acting, dancing  and gymnastic sports industries have a prevalence toward the ultra thin person. Ultra thin to the point of sickeningly unhealthy. When I hear that models are considered plus size from size 8 and up I get angry. What does plus mean with sizing? Well, it means more than normal or average. Plus sizing when I was a kid was for truly large ladies, like sizes 18 and up.

anorexia, eating disorders, models, fashion industry, plus sizes, modeling, fashion, health, starvation

What astounds me is that this woman, by her dress, feels she's still beautiful. Creative Commons: evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com

Being classified as a plus size 8 means that you’re going to think you’re bigger than average, that there’s something wrong and abnormal about you. The fashion industry is probably the worst, with the movie industry coming in second. Seriously, these people should be smacked severely for causing needless deaths and psychoses. When children of six are worrying about their weight or being too fat, there is a lot wrong with the world. Albeit, as a pudgy child I didn’t have it easy and children are notoriously cruel, but our culture shapes what they consider aberrant.

I have Amazonian friends. They’re nearly six feet tall. Some are slimmer than others, because nature makes us differently, but none are fat. You can bet that by height alone they’re all going to be over 150 pounds and they’re going to be considered plus size. For that matter, maybe all of my friends (except one who is tiny and has size 5 feet but still has a bit of a tummy) would be plus size by modeling standards.

Hanging clothes on living skeletons who are lit and pomaded to look partially healthy gives no one the hope of looking the same in such an outfit. The pictures here are the extremes but models are often far underweight and on their way to an early death. Actors are told they’ll be fired from their roles if they put on so much as 10 lbs. Unless you’re a comedian; they’re allowed to be fat because fat is funny. And these supposedly normal size models…they stand a high chance of suffering throughout their lives, should they live that long. They’re not just missing fat, they’re missing muscle mass, not to mention nutrition to run a healthy body. Telling someone they’re fat doesn’t make them healthier if they starve themselves into nonexistence.

fashion, plus models, starvation, anorexia, eating disorders, modeling,

From Plus Model Magazine: Katya Zharkova next to the fashion industry's ideal.

There is  the beginning of a backlash in the fashion industry but obviously it’s slow when Twiggy (who was 110 lbs) would now be considered plus size. The clothing store Le Chateau perpetuates the skinny myth, where you’ll be hard pressed to find L, but you’ll find S, XS, XXS and XXXS. Shame on you, Le Chateau.  Plus Model Magazine embraces lush, curvy models, and the magazine looks a lot at unhealthy body image. This last image indicates the difference between the skeletal model preferred by the fashion industry and the body ideal that is more common for all women. There are very few women, a small percentage, who could be healthy and skinny enough to be a model without starving themselves.

So, don’t believe what you see in fashion and in the movies. Those aren’t real people sizes. If you’re wearing a size 12, that’s not a plus size. That’s average. And, mothers, don’t let your daughters grow up to be models.

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Filed under Culture, fashion, health

The Mind and Eating Disorders

I’ve talked before about the eating disorder I grew up with. It was always accompanied with self-loathing and vows to never binge again. Those vows were always broken. I felt I couldn’t remove myself completely from eating because we obviously need food to live. It wasn’t like alcoholism, I told myself, because you can remove yourself completely from alcohol. In many ways it was just like alcoholism.

One reason to eat all of something was instant gratification. The more my life sucked the more I could find instant pleasure in eating. I could not get enough of the taste. But then of course it was the catch-22 of hating myself for eating so much, feeling fat, sometimes gaining weight (though not always because I’d cut out most other foods), being hungry, eating sugars. Around and around and around.

When I finally sought help, I couldn’t go for counselling because it’s not covered by the health care system. But psychiatry is. Psychiatrists sort of counsel but they love to give out medications. I mentioned in my other post about the Prozac and then the Fenfluramine. Every week when I went in to see the psychiatrist he’d ask me how many times I had vomited. I would say, “Remember I’m the bulimic that doesn’t puke?” It didn’t give me much faith that he couldn’t note this in my chart or get it right.

We never talked about how I felt, why I couldn’t control my eating or why I had a bad body image. We talked about my writing, in the least likely way to relate to eating disorders. He told me, oh you’ll lose weight on these drugs. This psychiatrist specialized in eating disorders and had evening sessions at his home for people to talk about their experiences. I’d go and there would be a bunch of skeletal models and me, the bulimic, the fat one. It didn’t inspire me to feel like I wasn’t the only one with my problem. Instead I felt like the only weirdo amongst the weirdos. But still, all of those models knew at least one person who had died from anorexia. I didn’t. I think I only attended one of these meetings.

It’s said that people’s serotonin levels balance how much they eat. Too much and they eat little. To little and they eat a lot. I don’t believe my serotonin levels were out of whack to begin with but with the years of the disorder I do believe that they became unbalanced and that’s why I never felt full. I don’t know if this is accurate but it did seem to change. After about a year of taking the drugs and not losing a pound, of fruitless “counselling” and seeming to go nowhere, I quit the drugs and I quit the psychiatrist.

I did realize then that in fact my eating behavior had changed. I felt full when I ate. I could now have some chocolate in the house, or ice cream and not eat it all in one sitting. I still rarely keep these things in my place for fear of triggering the disorder but I can have them in small quantities now. When I’m depressed or unhappy there is still the urge to gorge but it’s more controllable. I feel less out of control and I can rule the food as opposed to it ruling me.

When people look at an overweight person and arrogantly say, She/he should just lose some weight, they need to understand it’s not an easy thing. True, dieting in and of itself takes time and isn’t easy but there are many factors than someone judging by looks alone can’t know. There could be genetic factors such as thyroid issues, metabolic such as a sluggish one or high cortisol factors, emotional factors such as past abuses, psychological such as phobias and blocks, and other external factors. One can’t know unless they’re in those person’s shoes. And even the person dealing with eating disorders and weight issues may not know. I’m not a medical professional so I can’t name all of the aspects that could affect a person’s weight but to gain or lose weight is not always as easy as just willing it.

The brain is a powerful tool and it can kill us. People with eating disorders struggle enough within themselves. Not one, whether thin or fat, wants to be that way. They either see themselves as fat when they’re not, or possibly thin when they’re not. However, an overweight person or a skinny person does not automatically mean an eating disorder. As I said, there are other factors and some people are naturally not in what we conceive of as the norm for body size, and some are happy where they are. But one thing is for sure, the more ridicule the person with a disorder receives the harder it is for them to get to a state of mental health.

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