Starve Till You Drop : Eating Disorder

eating-disorder.jpg Picture this: A voluptuous woman being serenaded by a handsome man in a movie, a full-figured woman advertising clothes or cosmetics on television, a matrimonial ad without ‘slim’ being an essential attribute of any aspiring bride, or how about a ramp model with flesh (Gasp!). I’m reasonably sure that I can safely assume that most of you will be struggling with these visualizations. Gone are the days when chubby cheeks and love-handles only added to a woman’s charm. Glorification of curvaceous figures has been rejected as an archaic concept, and yesteryear’s beauties like Madhubala and Meena Kumari would not be given a second look in today’s the-skinnier-the-better world. In the present day, if an actor so much as gains a single pound, criticism at its worst rears its ugly head. Ramp models face an even tougher ordeal. In order to have a career in the fashion world, maintaining a body-weight that is significantly less than the healthy norm is a non-negotiable requirement.

The World Health Organization considers a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) to be between 18.5 and 24.9. The world’s top models have an average BMI of 16.3; BMI below 15 are not uncommon. Shockingly, models have died after succumbing to the pressure of maintaining emaciated bodies. Recent death of an Israeli supermodel again brings to the fore the urgency of the situation. What is rather more perturbing is the extent to which this grave problem reaches beyond the world of glamour and touches our world, the world of the average person. Research has established that people are dependant on the media to define the ideal body-type. Unfortunately, the ideal body-type as portrayed by the media is a skinny frame. The media creates positive associations with this body type. Being thin becomes synonymous with being beautiful, confident, successful and, most of all, desirable. In short, a thin body is a pre-requisite for a happy, contented life. Is it any wonder that women with normally proportioned, that is, non-emaciated frames are victims of negative self-perceptions? Studies have found that most women are dissatisfied with their bodies, and quite a sizeable percentage of them are always on some kind of diet. The alarming increase in the number of young girls suffering from eating disorders is evidence of the fact that girls are willing to risk their health, and in some cases their lives, to attain the ‘perfect’ body as propagated by the media. So what is the consequence of the exaltation of the extremely thin body-type? Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are two deathly, yet extremely common, eating disorders. Both tend to affect girls far more than guys. While victims of Anorexia tend to starve themselves and may exercise excessively in order to lose weight, those suffering from Bulimia eat huge amounts of food but immediately vomit or use laxatives after meals to prevent the inevitable deposit of fat in the body. These disorders create a distorted image of the victim’s body in his/her mind galvanizing an obsessive frenzy to lose weight. Many young girls have lost their lives to these disorders while the number of girls destroying their own bodies is increasing everyday. Depression and low self-worth are the other obvious repercussions of the growing social approval of skinny frames. So then arises the undeniable question about ‘responsible media’, its meaning and its implementation. But the media thrives on public demand. The media is exactly that – a medium for the expression of the widely-held opinions of the society as a whole. Without societal endorsement the media has no power, no authority. Following this logical progression of thought, I come to the conclusion that it is time for ‘societal responsibility’ to become a more important issue than anything else. After all, whatever we might say, it is the society that defines people’s lives killing the very concept of individuality. Such immense responsibility must be met with the wisdom to conceive the right ideals that benefit all. Of course it would be best if we could all ignore external pressures and be individuals for a change, but that’s asking for too much I guess…

Amrita Sidhu