What we look like matters. Most people would like to think that we, as a species, are not so shallow, but the reality is that we are. We judge, criticize, and determine the value of many people based on their physical presentation, their hair, skin, height and, very often, their weight. This can send a message to the younger generations that your appearance is equated to the level of acceptance they may receive from peers. While such things, like bullying, can affect both young boys and young girls alike; girls are more likely to take those criticisms so deeply that they become obsessed with meeting those physical expectations that they cease to care how they accomplish that goal. For many young girls, teens and women this manifests into eating disorders. Such disorders can involve a number of unhealthy habits like obsessing about food quality, caloric contents, obsessive focus on intake and output, over exercising, unacceptably low food consumption and binge eating, which is when an individual consumes massive amounts of food in one sitting that usually results with purging, or the forced vomiting to eliminate the calories they just consumed. All of these outlets can have serious ramifications on the body physically and psychologically. The modern era there are many of instances of females with eating disorders and those numbers continue to rise. Review of the research shows that these increasing numbers can be attributed directly to low self-esteem, poor self-image, social gender expectations and modern media influences are all contributing to the issue. Treatment is available, but can have mixed success and relapse rates (Hogan & Strasburger, 2009). The only ways to thoroughly and effectively impact the eating disorder epidemic suffered by so many girls and women, young and old, is prevention. There is a greater need to reeducate youths about media imagery, invest in greater anti-bullying initiatives, encourage greater measures to teach female children greater self value and build their self esteem and self image instead of diminishing it. In order to resolve the issues it will be necessary to undermine all of its root causes contributing to the epidemic.
Women have throughout history often taken efforts to meet the societal pressures of appearance required by their society. In the British history, which then bled into the American paradigm, the wearing of corsets led women to squeeze themselves into creating the smallest waste possible regardless of their starting size. This was by and large, uncomfortable and can be physically damaging in the long run, but meeting an idealized interpretation of beauty, acceptance and value as a person has only increased over the years. Today woman are going to the extremes of starvation, other unhealthy habits like binging and purging, as well as, the taking of diet or illegal drugs. The statistics show that more than 85% of people suffering from eating disorders are girls and young women (Stephen, Rose & et. al. 2014). That said decades of research and study have been conducted in hopes of understanding the causes, signs, symptoms, effects, treatments and preventions that will have the greatest impact on the modern day eating disorder epidemic. There are a number of different eating disorders that may be developed; four of which are the most commonly suffered and researched.
Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders that affect the majority of women in their late teens and early 20s. Someone with anorexia, essentially, refuses to eat in a quantity sufficient enough to maintain healthy body weight. This refusal to eat is compounded by a fixation with not gaining weight, or rather of focus on not getting fat. Regardless of how underweight they may be. Anorexics very often, also, engage in excessive exercise regimes that burn far more calories that the sufferer is taking in. Anorexia is additionally accompanied by the sufferer having had or presently having a negative experience related to their weight, where weight loss and gain has now become intertwined with individual self value and desired societal acceptance (Sidiropoulos, 2007).
Bulimia Nervosa: Another of the most common forms of eating disorders, many women are caught in the vicious and unhealthy cycle of bulimia. Bulimia Nervosa is synonymous with the unhealthy practice of binging and purging. Again this involves the sufferer fasting, often for days at a time, then binging on a large amount of food and then vomiting that intake before it can contribute to any overall weight gain. Bulimics will also engage in the use of diuretics, laxatives and enemas in order to eliminate as much from their body as they can. Like everyone suffering with an eating disorder, the fear of gaining weight is overwhelming. The process of binging and purging can become a physical addiction, reaching a point where the sufferer can no longer control the, now, ritual vomiting (Rushing, Jones & Carney, 2003).
Orthorexia: This particular condition is not accepted by all professionals as an eating disorder because it is fairly rare. However, in the modern era the prevalence of this particular issue is growing and its similarities with more common eating disorders cannot be denied. These individuals are far less focused on the caloric content or the portion of the foods consumed, but with the quality or “purity” of the food involved. People suffering from this condition fixate on eating the right foods or the healthiest foods; they want no contact with any other foods. In its most obsessive form it can lead the sufferer to actually fear touching “impure” or “bad” foods. This can lead to weight loss, emotional deterioration, and physical damage that can lead to heart failure (Varga, Konkolÿ-Thege & et, al. 2014).
Body Dysmorphic Disorder: This is one of the most rare disorders that can extend not just to the eating habits of an individual can become a kind of obsessive behavior that can be incredibly unhealthy for any individual. Science, in recent years, has learned about human beings have a predisposition and fixation with symmetry. For example, the people who are deemed “most beautiful” are those who facial feature are most symmetrical between the two sides of the face. Most people are not perfectly symmetrical; everyone has an eye that is slightly askew from the other, one limb that is longer than another, and one ear lower than next. However, people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder are fixated and obsessed with those asymmetries. Finding their own imperfections and going to great and sometimes destructive lengths to achieve greater symmetry. When it comes to weight, people with this condition may become focused on making sure that what they take in, how much food they eat, is equal to the amount of waste that she produces. That said these individuals may weigh and track nearly everything they consume and then weigh and track their own feces and urine. Over time this fixation can lead these individuals to avoid social gatherings but engage in behaviors like excessive grooming, mirror avoidance, continual changing of clothing, even picking at their own imperfections until they make themselves bleed (Phillips, Wilhelm & et. al. 2010).
Given the continuing prevalence and potential health dangers associated with eating disorders, having a greater understanding of the root causes, the consequential effects, the commonality among females and what that means, treatments, and future preventative measures that need to be taken to have a genuine and tangible effect on the issue.
The different disorders that fall under the umbrella of eating disorders have no singular universal cause. Experts explain that the source of eating disorders can be attributed to a number of psychological, biological and environmental factors. The core of the disorder is the obvious fixation with food and eating. Somewhere in the psyche of these young women the value of their self image and the self esteem become intertwined with their relationship with food and body weight (Fragkos.& Frangos, 2013).These issues of self image and low self esteem become intermixed with expectations based on gender roles prompted by society. However, one of the most significant contributors to the development of eating disorders, particularly, in pre-teens and teens, is our modern media and the advertisements that can be found there, be it television, film or the internet. Young women today are inundated with images of women who are considered the most attractive and the most desirable. Young women want to be seen as attractive so they work to emulate the looks, styles and even the body types of those presented in the media. Unfortunately, the idealized and perfect women with no cellulite, toned forms, unblemished and rail thin or, like lingerie models, naturally buxom and voluptuous are unrealistic goals. Very few women actually fit into that category naturally. In fact, many of the models and actresses that are seen on magazine covers and other print ads also do not actually fit into that category (Hogan, & Strasburger, 2009).However, with the magic of modern software imperfections can be blurred, waistlines and thighs thinned out, and backsides and breasts enhanced. So the ideal body image being shared does not actually exist. That said when young women work to emulate that figure and are inevitably unsuccessful and then they take it out on themselves; it is their own fault and they are not trying hard enough. These feeling are only made worse and compounded when these individuals are bullied for their body type or general appearance within their social world, like school or social media (Stephen, Rose & et. al, 2014). For many young women it is all about acceptance and being a “pretty girl;” based on criteria that is often fabricated and airbrushed. The unattainable ideal continues to breakdown and diminish their self esteem and self image, encouraging them to extreme measures, like fasting, over exercising or binging and purging, or some combination of all, in order to achieved the impossible,
Effects and Consequences:
Eating disorders have a huge impact on the sufferer’s psychology; the obsessive behaviors and unrelenting focus can lead some to self imposed isolation, ever-lowering self esteem and damaged self image. Many with an eating disorder see something very different when they look at themselves in the mirror that others see. Even when an eating disorder sufferer weights less than 80 pounds, all of the bone are exposed through the skin and they are too weak to walk on their own, they still see their bodies as being overweight and that they could lose more and look better. It is not just the emaciated bodies that are a consequence of eating disorders, the internal damage is even more severe. As the body is starved of needed nutrients it begins to break sown and feed upon itself. When there is not more body fat to consume it will turn on the body’s muscles and internal organs. In the most severe of eating disorder cases, when gone untreated, the sufferers often die of heart failure or other organ shutdown (Stephen, Rose & et. al, 2014). Eating disorders can damage the hair, skin, and, in the case of binging and urging, the stomach acids constantly being vomited up can decay the sufferer’s teeth. None of these things are ever going to improve anyone’s appearance but someone suffering with an eating disorder cannot see that. Eating disorders can lead to other unhealthy behaviors of relying on illegal or dangerous diet drugs to amplify their fasting and exercising in order to achieve greater weight loss and less caloric intake. These drugs, of course, carry many of their own side effects and consequences that when taken in excess can lead to many other negative outcomes. With an already compromised body these drugs are all the worse (Sidiropoulos, 2007). Young women with eating disorders have a greater likelihood of overdosing because of their eating disorder. The consequences of eating disorders are very serious and should not be taken lightly,. These pre-teens, teens, and young women are slowly killing themselves and are completely unaware of it.
Prevalence among Women
In fairness there are young boys and men who have and continue to suffer with eating disorders, but the reality is that women are multiple times more likely than men to become a victim of an eating disorder. That imbalance between the genders has been and continues to be a major part of the research into understanding why these conditions are so much more prevalent in females than males (Hogan & Strasburger, 2009).There are a number of contributing factors that experts offer as the reasons that women are more often afflicted over their male counterparts. Women are more emotionally motivated, much of the time, which means they take the opinions and feelings of others, to heart, whether negative or positive, and ruminate and re-experience these words, actions and scenarios they are exposed to. A predisposition for depression also may play a significant role. Women are twice more likely to develop depression than men. Depression can lead to perpetual negative thinking; which for many women can result in self harm. like an eating disorder (Sidiropoulos, 2007).There is also a great deal of social pressures that are often more greatly experienced by women than men. For decades the female gender role was as homemakers, wives and mothers, while men were the controlling factor and bread winner. The male gender role has not changed so much, but the role of women has changed greatly. Women are not only expected to still be active and effective wives and mothers, but also bread winners; all of this they are ideally expected to do this while also being beautiful, thin, and sexy. This is not an easy task to maintain 24 hours a day and seven days a week. This creates more pressure and therefore greater stress (McKay, 2013). Greater stress can manifest into depression and depression can participate in leading women into to feeling like failures when they fall short of expectation; eating disorders become a serious threat to such young women.
Treatment of Eating Disorders
Getting an appropriate diagnosis of the specific eating disorder that the patient is suffering and seeking treatment is essential in aiding someone to overcome an eating disorder; it is generally not something that a sufferer can stop on their own. Because eating disorders have multi-layered causes, that may differ in many ways from patient to patient, it only through multi-layered approaches are going to be beneficial in the long run.
Medical Interventions: For many with an eating disorder many are not diagnosed or are treated until after they have had a health scare and awoke in a hospital. For those patients, before any other treatment can be considered or begin, it is necessary to make certain they are medically stable. Again, long periods of starvation can cause serious internal problems, including organ failures. Getting the individual’s healthy enough for treatment is essential (Grilo & Mitchell, 2010).
Psychological Interventions: Because eating disorders are at their core and psychological issue and sets of learned behaviors that can be changed, it is inevitable that counseling is essential to helping sufferers overcome and eating disorder. There are many types of therapy to choose form. Some individuals benefit around the clock care in an appropriate treatment facility, others more benefit more from outpatient care. Many patients benefit more from one on one therapy session, while others benefit more from a less private setting and are most moved by group therapy, For underage patients, many benefit from family therapy, which can also be beneficial for the families of teens with eating disorders (Bailey, Parker & et. al, 2014).
Drug Interventions: Some patients with eating disorders are required to take certain medications as part of the process of healing the physical damage caused by the disorder. But there are other medications that may be prescribed the patient’s psychologist. As mentioned, one of the greatest contributors to the development of eating disorders in women is the predisposition for depression. Many antidepressants are beneficial in helping to balance the mental states of the patients, which can make the overall treatment process more likely to succeed. There are also medicinal measures taken to encourage the appetites of individuals with eating disorders who will not or physically cannot eat on their own. (Bailey, Parker & et. al, 2014). For example, an alternative marijuana treatments have been employed in some cases. One of the side effects of marijuana use is heightened hunger, which can lead some patients to eat when they otherwise would not.
The reality is that there are many treatments with high success rates, however, that does not address the number of young women who do not seek treatment and die from the condition. That said the ideal means to combat eating disorders in the modern era is to prevent them from occurring in the first place (Sidiropoulos, 2007).Prevention is the key to defeating eating disorders. In order for that to happen though there is a need for a great deal of change and reform. There is a need for greater education in spotting the signs of eating disorders so that they can be “nipped in the bud” before they are able to become more severe. There is greater need for a reeducation of children, especially at the pre-teen and teen levels, about bullying and the effect of social media can have on their peers (McKay, 2013). However, the most significant area that requires reforms is the images presented by the media that sets an unattainable standard that these young girls can never hope to achieve. These images are the subject of air-brushing, computer editing software and enhancing additives in order to create an image that is flawless, but entirely unnatural. Young girls need to understand that and be encouraged to have greater love for themselves just as they are and less focused on appearance, but quality of character.
In the end, eating disorders are very real and can lead to terrible health consequences, including death. These conditions start small and become more and more severe over time. If there is any logical hope of preventing the development of these eating disorders then it is, without question, necessary to eliminate the core causes of the conditions which too often go unaddressed. Modern media and future technological advances are not going away, but as a society we need to have a better understanding and means of explaining realistically in regards to the differences between real people and make believe. Some of the changes made to models are so extreme that they are more like an animated caricature than the visage of an actual person. Treatments, therapies and interventions can be beneficial, but prevention should be the overall goal. Can we as society prevent every instance of eating disorders? No, that is an unrealistic goal. There are still some young women who will follow that path, regardless of the actions of society. However, with the proper reeducation and reforms made through parents, schools and online sources a shift could be made that could prevent many instances of eating disorders and save young lives. More efforts need to be taken to inspire higher self esteem and positive self images for the young girls, teens and young woman that are at risk of developing eating disorders are relevant. Further research and study continues to be pursued in order to understand the conditions so that they can identify, prevent and treat when necessary with the greatest likelihood of success. However, these intervention must start at the root source; bullying, media imagery, and extra stressors that effect young women far more than young boys. Ultimately, greater research study and dedication to this subject is warranted and worthwhile.
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