A normal female takes a stroll down the streets of Manhattan and ends up at Times Square, probably one of the most colorful places on earth, which also has an abundant number of advertisements. As this female looks up at the pictures, she can see a Calvin Klein ad. The image portrays people who are the idols of our youth; young, thin, beautiful men and women. These young people depict the ideal body. As this female walks, she begins to notice her own physical attributes and wonders what it would take for her to look like that Calvin Klein model. Despite the fact that the greatest majority of us could never attain these physiques, many, especially young women, deeply desire to have bodies like these. And many will go to great lengths to attain their goal. This often means stringent, unhealthy diets, laxative abuse, and even forcing themselves to vomit. Although the medias portrayal of the perfect body may not be the soul source of eating disorders, they play a big part.
Anorexia nervosa is a disorder of self-starvation, which manifests itself in an extreme aversion to food and can cause psychological, endocrine, and gynecological problems. It almost exclusively affects adolescent white girls, with symptoms involving a refusal to eat, large weight loss, a bizarre preoccupation with food, hyperactivity, a distorted body image and cessation of menstruation. Although the symptoms can be corrected if the patient is treated in time, about 10-15 percent of anorexia nervosa patients die, usually after losing half their normal body weight.
Anorexia nervosa patients typically come from white, middle to upper-middle class families that place heavy emphasis on high achievement, perfection, eating patterns and physical appearance. (There has never been a documented case of anorexia nervosa in a black male or female.) A newly diagnosed patient often is described by her parents as a model child, usually because she is obedient, compliant, and a good student. Although most teenagers experience some feelings of youthful rebellion, persons with anorexia usually do not outwardly exhibit these feelings, tending instead to be childish in their thinking, in their need for parental approval, and in their lack of independence. Psychologists theorize that the patients desire to control her own life manifests itself in the realm of eating-the only area in the patients mind where she has the ability to direct her own life (Mental Health, Long).
In striving for perfection and approval, a person with anorexia may begin to diet in order to lose just a few pounds. Dieting does not stop there. An abnormal concern with dieting is established. Nobody knows what triggers the disease, but suddenly, losing five to ten pounds is not enough.The anorectic patient becomes intent on losing weight. It is not uncommon for someone who develops the disorder to starve herself until she weighs just 60 or 70 pounds. Throughout the starvation process, she either denies being hungry or claims to feel full after eating just a few bites.
Another form of anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder known as bulimia. Patients with this illness indulge in food binges, and then purge themselves through vomiting immediately after eating or through the use of laxatives or diuretics. While on the surface these patients may appear to be well adjusted socially, this serious disease is particularly hard to overcome because it usually has been a pattern of behavior for a long time.
Psychological symptoms such as social withdrawal, obsessive-compulsiveness and depression often precede or accompany anorexia nervosa. The patients distorted view of herself and the world around her are the cause of these psychological disturbances (Mental Health, Long).
Distortion of body image is another prevalent symptom. While most normal females can give an accurate estimate of their body weight, anorectic patients tend to perceive themselves as markedly larger than they really are. When questioned, most feel that their emaciated state (70-80 lbs.) is either just right or too fat(Mayohealth)
Profound physical symptoms occur in cases of extreme starvation. These include loss of head hair, growth of fine body hair, constipation, intolerance of cold temperatures and low pulse rate.
Certain endocrine functions also become impaired. In females this results in a cessation of menstruation (amenorrhea) and the absence of ovulation. Menstruation usually will not resume until endocrine balanced is restored. Ovulation is suppressed because production for certain necessary hormones decreases. Anorexia in boys has effects similar to those in girls: severe weight loss, psychosocial problems and interruption of normal reproductive system processes. Treatment for anorexia nervosa is usually threefold, consisting of nutritional therapy, individual psychotherapy and family counseling. A team made up of pediatricians, psychiatrists, social workers and nurses often administers treatment. Some physicians hospitalize anorexia patients until they are nutritionally stable. Others prefer to work with patients in the family setting.
But no matter where therapy is started, the most urged concern of the physician is getting the patient to eat and gain weight. This is accomplished by gradually adding calories to the patients daily intake. If she is hospitalized, privileges are sometimes granted in return for weight gain. This is known as a behavior contract, and privileges may include such desirable activities as leaving the hospital for an afternoons outing.
Physicians and hospital staff make every effort to ensure that the patient does not feel overwhelmed and powerless. Instead, weight gain is encouraged in an atmosphere in which the patient feels in control of her situation, and in which she wants to gain weight.
Individual psychotherapy is necessary in the treatment of anorexia to help the patient understand the disease process and its effects. Therapy focuses on the patients relationship with her family, friends, and the reasons she may have fallen into a pattern of self-starvation. As a patient begins to learn more about her condition, she is often more willing to try to help herself recover. In cases of severe depression, drugs such as antidepressants are part of therapy. Behavior improvement generally occurs rapidly in the cases and the patient is able to respond more quickly to treatment.
The third aspect of treatment, family therapy, is supportive in nature. It examines how the patient and her parents relate to each other. Persons with anorexia often become a source of family tension because refusals to eat cause frustration in the parents. The goal of family therapy is to help family members relate more effectively to one another, to encourage more mature thinking in the anorexic patient and to help all family members work together for the well being of the patient and the family unit.
In treating anorexia, it is extremely important to remember that immediate success does not guarantee a permanent cure. Sometimes, even after successful hospital treatment and return to a normal weight, patients suffer relapses. Follow-up therapy lasting three to five years is recommended if the patient is to be completely cured.
Many differences in symptoms are apparent between anorectics and bulimics. Anorexia nervosa patients usually are not obese before onset of their illness. Typically, they are good students who become socially withdrawn before becoming ill and often come from families who fit the anorexia prototype. Bulimics, on the other hand, usually are extroverted before their illness, are inclined to be overweight, have voracious appetites and have episodes of binge eating. Anorexia patients often have a better chance of returning to normal weight because their eating patterns, unlike those of bulimics, have been altered for a relatively shorter time.
Most researchers agree that the number of patients with anorexia nervosa is increasing. The reason it is increasing is because the idols of today are much thinner and in shape than those of 30, 40, 50 years ago. For example, in the fifties Marilyn Monroe was the perfect American woman. She was also size twelve. Today, an example of the perfect American woman would be Jennifer Aniston, who is a size 2. Thats a large difference in dress size of the ideal body from the fifties to the nineties. As stars downsize to meet Hollywoods new ideal body, the desire for that body increases and unfortunately, so does the number of people with eating disorders.
While the cause of anorexia is still unknown, a combination of psychological, environmental and physiological factor is associated with development of the disorder. Recent estimates suggest that anorexia nervosa affects one out of 200 American girls between the ages of 12 and 18. While most anorectic patients are female, about 6 percent are adolescent boys.
Eating disorders are raging on college campuses. In a poll conducted by People magazine in the fall of 1998, of 500 coeds, more than half of the young woman respondents said they knew at least two schoolmates with an eating disorder. In a second poll, of 490 college health officials commissioned by People, 70 percent said the problem was common on their campus. College woman are away from their families, and theres tremendous pressure to find their way in the world, says Jennifer Biely, Eating Disorders Awareness Prevention groups director. Food is one thing they can control(People Online).
In the spring of 1996, plastic sandwich bags began disappearing by the hundreds from the kitchen of a sorority house at a large northeastern university. When the sororitys president investigated, she found a disturbing explanation: The bags, filled with vomit, were hidden in a basement bathroom. I was shocked, remarked the president (who later learned that the buildings pipes, eroded by gallons of stomach acid, would have to be replaced. Yet in a way it made sense. Most of her 45 housemates, she recalls, worried about weight. It was like a competition to see who could eat the least. At dinner they would say, All I had today was an apple, or I havent had anything. It was surreal (People Online, October 12, 1999).
The media plays a strong role in influencing the need to lose weight. Young people are made to believe that thin is beautiful and they must be slim to be attractive. The media has the tendency to stereotype overweight people in a negative manner. Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe could not get a job, exclaimed director Joel Schumacher. Their agents would tell them, Go on a diet, get a trainer(People)
In a June 3, 1996 issue of People magazine, actress Alicia Silverstone was being defended by Joel Schumacher for the mockery in the press for have gaining weight.
At March 1995s Academy Awards ceremony, Silverstone, 19, the fresh-faced sensation of The Crush and Clueless, did the unthinkable: She appeared in public despite the fact that, like many of her teenage peers around the country, she had just added on 5 or 10 pounds. Was she congratulated for the self-confidence and assurance it took to be herself? Hardly. The tabloids, noting Silverstones role in the next Batman sequel, blared out lines like Batman and Fatgirl and Look Out Batman! Here Comes Buttgirl! and Entertainment Weekly sniped that Alicia was More Babe than babe(People).
Schumacher, whos directing Silverstone in the upcoming Batman and Robin, says he was startled by the meanness of the stories; The news coverage was outrageous, disgusting, judgmental, and cruel. What did this child do? Have a couple pizzas? (People Magazine, June 1996)
In a word, yes. In the moral order of todays media-driven universe, in which you could bounce a quarter off the well-toned abs of any cast member of Baywatch or Friends, fashion magazines are filled with airbrushed photos of emaciated models with breast implants. And the perfectly attractive Janeane Garofalo can pass for an ugly duckling next to Beautiful Girl Uma Thurman in the hit movie The Truth About Cats and Dogs. The definition of what constitutes beauty or even an acceptable body seems to become more inaccessible every year.
We are evolving toward an unnatural view of beauty. Thin women with huge breasts and stick legs, like those of 12-year-olds. What real womens bodies look like is labeled wrong and unattractive.
In conclusion, I believe teenage girls are deluged by images from television, movies, and magazines; battling with an increasingly unrealistic standard of beauty, and pay a price. This says a lot about our culture. Our society worries too much about impressing everyone else with looks. It is seen everyday in movies and media, the stars that people watch and try to look like are perfect to us. People want to look like these stars and will go to any cost to become similar to that star; even if it means harming their bodies. Our society goes too far. Some people are way too harsh on other people. Instead of excepting people for who they are, people judge by looks alone. This is what causes our society to be infatuated with being skinny and having to look like that supermodel on television.
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Out of Control. People Online 12 April, 1999: n.pg. Internet. WWW: http://www.pathfinder.com/people/991018/features/archive_disorder.html (October13, 1999)
Researcher Says Risk Factors For Anorexia Nervosa Have Genetic Basis
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Schneider, Karen S., Mission Impossible. People Magazine. 3 June. 1996
What Causes Eating Disorders? n.pg. Internet. WWW: http://shrike.depaul.edu/pdanes/hhk3.ht