When you hear the word beautiful in reference to another woman, what do you think? Is it her smile, her personality, or maybe her glowing eyes? For many women, beauty relates to size; how small her waist is, what size jeans she wears, and what the number on the scale is. Why is this- and what are the (unintended) effects?
Maybe it’s be related to the fact that “the average Miss America winner is 5’7” and weighs 121 pounds, but the average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 165 pounds” Women have an unrealistic standard of beauty they feel they must conform to, and feel unless they do, they will not be seen as beautiful. Many women take extreme risks in order to lose weight and become thinner, and as a result may develop an eating disorder.
At an early age, body shaming is becoming a norm. Young girls hear phrases such as “too fat” and “I need to lose weight” and begin to question their own bodies. These internalized messages contribute to the alarming 20 million women have developed an eating disorder, 95% of those being between the ages of 12 and 26. These women start taking diet drugs, exercising excessively, or eating less, in order to lose weight.
The media also plays a huge role in eating disorders. When we watch TV or read a magazine, we see advisements for the newest weight loss drugs and fad diets; not to mention the photo shopped images making women look an unrealistic size. Many of these weight loss drugs on the market have harmful side effects (See the NWHN’s article on diet drugs for more information.) We can’t escape the media, but what we can do is start to show that every body is unique and beautiful, without women feeling as though they need to go as far as an eating disorder.
The common types of eating disorders associated with trying to lose weight are anorexia nervosa– commonly seen as restricted eating and excessive exercise and bulimia nervosa– consuming large amounts of food followed by vomiting, use of laxatives, or extreme exercise. Both eating disorders have serious potential health risks such as:
- Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Muscle loss and weakness
- Severe dehydration, which could result in kidney failure
- Fatigue and fainting
- Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Potential for gastric or esophagus rupture from vomiting
This year, NEDA’s 2016 Eating Disorder Awareness Week Theme is: 3 Minutes Can Save a Life. Take 3 minutes to complete a screening to see if you have, or are in danger of developing an eating disorder. Early intervention is the key to success when it comes to treating eating disorders. Start the conversation early with a friend if you think they might need help.
The number of women suffering from an eating disorder is alarming, so it is important to be aware of signs and take action early on. Always remember that each woman is a different- you don’t necessarily have to be a smaller size in order to be healthy. Love yourself for who you are in the body you were given.
For more information and other statistics like those above, visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.