Friday, March 1, 2013

A feminine critique: Eating disorders eat away at life

by Ruthie Kovanen, Guest Columnist

As many as 24 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. Among these people, 95 percent are between the ages of 12 and 25, making adolescents and college students the most vulnerable group.

The National Eating Disorder Association has found that eating disorders stem from a mixture of psychological, interpersonal, social and biological factors. Eating disorders often act as a coping mechanism for individuals experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and troubled familial or peer relationships.

With all of the psycho-social stressors of college that can amplify the aforementioned contributors, it’s no wonder college students are so susceptible to eating disorders. Being away from home for the first time, navigating a new social network, balancing school, work and play while experiencing increased pressure in regards to the future all cause major stress and anxiety.

Aside from stress about homework and deadlines, pressure from the media can amplify concerns about weight, eating and exercising habits. Our culture is highly obsessed with thinness, partially due to the media’s very narrow definition of beauty.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), "the body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5 percent of American females."

The constant depiction of a body type that represents only a small fraction of the greater population is an excellent moneymaker for advertising companies, but damaging to the self-perception and health of the greater population. Advertisements frequently consist of highly edited photos, which can provoke feelings of inadequacy in consumers. Because of societal pressures to be thin, the prevalence of dieting among children has increased. Eighty percent of 10-year-olds worry about becoming "fat" and 42 percent of first through third grade girls — aged six to nine — wish that they were thinner.

The feelings of inadequacy brought upon and perpetuated by the media are many times the catalyst for highly restrictive eating behaviors and extreme exercise that pushes beyond healthy limits. Twenty-five percent of college women have said that they make use of bingeing or laxatives in order to control weight.

Eating disorders are certainly not just a "women’s issue," however. Many young boys and men suffer from eating disorders or distorted body image. In fact, 10-15 percent of people struggling with eating disorders in the United States are men. Men, like women, experience pressure from the media and their peers to achieve a certain body "ideal," which often consists of an extremely muscular physique. This pressure often manifests itself in unhealthy eating habits or extreme exercise routines. Because many men have the perception that eating disorders only apply to women, they are often reluctant to seek out treatment.

If you think that you or a friend are suffering from an eating disorder, disordered eating or exercising habits, or low self-esteem/body dissatisfaction, you are certainly not alone. There are a myriad of great resources right here on campus such as the Women’s Center, the Health Center and the Counseling Center. Great web resources include http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org and http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com.

Rather than viewing your body as a "trouble zone" with fat that needs to be "blasted" away, feed your body what it needs and move in ways that promote and sustain health. Broaden your definitions of beauty and attractiveness, and encourage others to do the same.

Ruthie Kovanen hails from the great state of Michigan, is a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University and is studying anthropology, Hispanic studies and women’s and gender studies. Aside from reading and writing about feminism, Ruthie enjoys chatting over a cup of coffee, baking bread and spending time outdoors.