Since ancient times, the concepts of ideal female body were changing according to the requirements of the historical era. And what is now considered as a criteria of female beauty a few centuries ago would be unacceptable. A modern desire for leanness would not be understood in 18th century. Moreover, modern skinny woman would be considered rather ill than beautiful.
According to Abraham, for the most recorded history, a woman was perceived as attractive when her body was stout due to the deposition of fat on her hips, thighs, breasts and abdomen. It was fashionalble to be fat. Food supplies were uncertaintly distributed, so it caused the cultural belief that to be stout is to be desirable. “In pre-industrial and early industrial societies, to the irregular occurence of famines, and to the effects of diseases, which eliminated large numbers of farm labourers. A curvaceous female body indicated that her husband was prudent” (Abraham, 2008, p. 1-2)
More than three thousand years ago, humanity has reached a mature understanding of the beauty of human body. A marble statue of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, found on the island of Milos represents the beauty and harmony of the perfect female body. According to the ancient Greeks, natural beauty, generosity of posture, harmony between facial and body features, integrity of personality were common features of a beatutiful woman.
The Medieval ideal of beauty is a thin pale woman, with long limbs and small belly (the symbol of eternal pregnancy). However, in the Middle Ages beauty was considered as a sin and human beings were not allowed to enjoy it. It all has changed during the Renaissance. Instead of thin shapes curvy, powerful bodies with wide hips, neck and shoulders became popular.
In the era of absolutism ideals of the aristocracy and lower classes of the population were torn apart. Peasants continued to perceive a stout women’s body as beautiful. Aristocrats idealized the inability of labour. Model of the beauty for them is a pale woman with narrow brushes, small feet (Andersend & Gray, 2008, p. 54).
With the beginning of Romantic era fashion on healthy body ends. Now the main attractor is paleness - a sign of the deep feelings and emotionality. Women tortured themselves with diets and enemas. Dark circles under the eyes were a sign of spirituality, tuberculosis was considered to be a disease of intellectual elite.
At the end of 19th century, women went crazy with desire to have thin waist. They tightened themselves up with corsets, striving to achieve the desired mark of 21.7 inches on the measuring tape. This was the waist size prescribed by fashion of those times. In 1859, a 23-year girl died from being tied up in corcet. An autopsy revealed that due to narrowness of the corset three ribs pierced in her liver.
During 20 and 21 century standard of female beauty is a tall woman with big breasts, narrow waist and hips, long legs. Suzanne Abraham claims that “over the past 75 years, with good food distribution in the most of developed and developing countries, almost for the first time slimless has begun to be fashionable” (Abraham, 2008, p.2). That is where eating disorders arise from.
According to APA, eating disorders can be defined as abnormal habits that can threaten patient’s health or even his life, they may cause serious physical problems (American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/topics/eating). Eating disorders are described by desire to make life better through lack of food and eating. Most of the people who suffer from eating disorders are females. An exception is a binge eating disorder, which affects males and females equally.
According to NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association), eating disorders include complex diseases that arise from a variety of biological, social and psychological factors.
Eating disorders usually include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviours caused by surroundings. (National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2013, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org).
There are four main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder.
According to Cassel and Gleaves, anorexia nervosa is a serious psychological disorder characterized by intense fear of gaining weight. Patients with anorexia nervosa usually refuse to maintain even a minimum body weight, so they torture themselves with hunger and dieting. This illness affects mostly younr women in their teens and twenties. However, the lastest reseach proved that it is increasing in older women as well (Cassel & Gleaves, 2009, p. 23).
Anorexia is diagnosed when patient is losing more than 15% of total body weight. People with this disease usually are not able to estimate their own weight adequately, they are not afraid of the threat of death. Around 20% of patients with anorexia nervosa die.Their body is unable to resist some of the infections, a simple cold can be fatal. Others simply die from starvation before medical care is provided. The fact, that in the United States one of every 200 females in late adolescence and early adulthood is starving herself, should cause concern. Usually, girls with low self-esteem and lack of confidence suffer from it.
Cassel and Gleaves claim that person with anorexia nervosa typically begins dieting with a goal of becoming skinny, but then this goal turns into mania. Anorectics may find dieting easy and rewarding from the start, “or at least discover that in a sense she is good at it”. Usually, they end up by continuing to diet despite the fact that they have gone past their target weight. (Cassel & Gleaves, 2009, p. 24-25).
According to Cassel and Gleaves, bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that can be characterized by recurrent binge-eating followed by compensatory behavious (like vomiting or use of laxatives). One of the characteristics of this disorder is an intense preoccupation with body size and shape (Cassel & Gleaves, 2009, p. 75).
People, who suffer from bulimia nervosa may develop an eating disorders by one of the schemes: 1. Episodic absorption of huge amounts of food (appetite appears suddenly); 2. Permanent eating in big amounts (a person eats unceasingly); 3. Night eating (hunger attack apeears during night time).
Excessive eating and vomiting are not the only problems, they often co-exist with impulsive self-destructive sexual relationship or drug abuse. Bulimia nervosa usually begins in adolescence and is 10 times more common in females than in males. In a stressful moment, bulimics turn towards food, not away from it as anocrectics do. Bulimic patients usually feel more distressed and humiliated by their behaviour than anorectics, they swing between feeling of self-control during dieting phase and self-loathing during bulimic phase. Patients may eat enormous amounts of food, as many as 20,000 calories per day. Bulimia nervosa is considered as epidemic in the United States. It is harder to detect than anorexia nervosa, as there is no physical evidence such as “emaciation”. Still, medical experts estimate that from 16 to 30 percent of all women may have practiced bulimic behaviours to some degree. (Cassel & Gleaves, 2009, p. 75).
According to Abraham, some young women switch periods of strict dieting by episodes of uncontrollable eating, or binge eating. The lack of energy, needed for normal body functioning sends messages to a center in the brain, which increases the urge of eat, and often to overeat or binge. In most of the cases, the eating binges are infrequent and do not affect woman’s lifestyle or quality of life. (Abraham, 2008, p. 14).
Compulsive overeating can be defined as “addiction” to food, that can be used to cope with daily stresses and problems. By eating big bunches of food such people tend to hide from negative emotions. Compulsive overeating usually include following features, as eating large amounts of food quickly, feeling of disorganization and lack of control on the process of food consumption, eating alone or hiding amount of food eaten, a tendency to continue eating even when person feels full, feeling guilty for such attacks.
This type of eating disorder is different from bulimia nervosa because it is not followed by
vomiting or use of laxatives. Due to this, people with compulsive overeating disorder often gain extra weight or suffer from obesity. They feel guilt and shame for being overweight, so they generally tend to have a very low self-esteem.
Cassel and Gleaves say that television, magazines and newspapers keep bombarding girls with advice on how to lose weight, excercise more and eat less in order to be thinner and more beautiful. Such messages state that being skinny will make a woman more attractive, desirable, popular, will lead her to success on the job and “snag her an ideal mate because she will be more desirable”. Models and movie stars display small waists and busts, thin tights and narrow hips. As a result, modern culture is focused on the physical well-being more than on the inner beauty (Cassel & Gleaves, 2009, p. 26).
Abraham claims, that media, the Internet and schools provide us with infromation that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Influence of advertising, fitness and food industries can be applied as well (Abraham, 2008, p. 13).
According to Agras, “systematic study of eating disorders began in the end of 20th century, although anorexia nervosa has been described in the 19th century and various treatments for disorder were tried, however, none of them was particularly siccessful, during the next 100 years”. (Agras, 2010, introduction).
Agras claims that eating disorders do not necessarily have historical continuity. Unfortunately, the historical record do not provide us with detailed descriptions to enable certain diagnosis in the past. Self-starvation and self-vomiting, combined with religious drives of symptoms, were present in medieval times, as well as cases of binge eating, often of strange foods, which is probably the reason why they were recorded (Agras, 2010, introduction).
Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa may have been present throughout the centuries. Ubfortunately, historical record is too unsufficient to fully confirm this possibility.
According to Abraham, the term “anorexia nervosa” was first examined by Sir William Gull, an English physicial, in 1873. He described his patient, “Miss A”, who had “anorexia for animal food” and almost complete anorexia for everything else (Abraham, 2008, p. 23).
Cherles Laseque in France noted emotional disturbances of the person with anorexia. Since Sir Gull’s and Laseque’s discoveries, thousands of articles, books, and Web pages have been generated, all were focused on eating diorders (Menassa, 2004, p. 2).
Agras says that the term “bulimia nervosa” was described in 1979 by Dr. Gerald Russel. He worked with around 30 patients who were binge eating and still remained to have a normal weight (Agras, 2010, p. 27).
The term “binge eating disorder” was first described by Dr.Albert Stunkard in 1959. Due to limited empirical studies of this syndrome, binge eating disorder was included into Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a diagnostic category in need of further study (Agras, 2010, p. 29). According to Ruggiero, forms of eating disorders depend on religious, political, medical and socio-cultural perceptions of the time (Ruggiero, 2003, p.81).
Eating disorders may be described by a large variety of symptoms. They include weakness attacks, sometimes fainting. Brittle hair, sunken eyes, bluish color of skin on hands and feet (due to poor blood circulation) are other common symptoms of disorder. People with anorexia nervosa constantly feel cold because their body lacks energy to keep warm. Then disruptions in digestion appear, as well as in the heart and central nervous system.
Symptoms of bulimia nervosa include: destruction of tooth enamel and problems with gums, caused by vomiting, dehydration, inflammation of esophagus and parotid gland due to frequent vomiting, various bowel disorders (due to excessive use of laxatives), symptoms of liver and kidney dysfunction, even internal bleeding.
The best prevention of eating disorders is development of health culture in modern
society. Basical knowledge of health care, right attitude towards themselves and their appearance is required for dieting women. If necessary, women should be informed about the reason why quick weight loss is not possible.
As most eating disorders develop in adolescence, parents are responsible for their prevention.
Fortunately, there are several techniques that parents could use. One prevention approach includes providing education via the Internet and individual trainings with physicians, in schools and sport ogranizations. By teaching children to be aware of the most vulnerable symptoms, eating disorders can be caught and treated early. Health classes in school should teach children about different body types, nutrition, the importance of recognizing hunger and danger of dieting. Children also should be taught about critical thinking – how not to us images from media as comparisons for themselves.
Sense of hunger and desire to satisfy it belongs to primary biological needs. Such requirements that are related to survival, according to the theory of Maslow (Goble, 2004), should be satisfied for a person to develop and satisfy needs on the higher level. Food has a social value and is associated with interpersonal interaction. Dieting habits are determined by the traditions of the family and society, religious beliefs, experiences and fashion. Besides that, symbolism that is connected with food and eating is represented by different religions. For example, in Christianity, memory about divine meal is central figure that symbolizes sacrifice and communion with better world.
Thus, eating behavior appears in a complex form, as a detente of emotional stress, as sensual pleasure, as an element of communication, when the food is associated with belonging to a group (Agras, 2010). Eating behaviour may be reviewed as a factor of self-esteem, as a symbol in certain rituals and religious, ethnic, family traditions (Ruggiero, 2003, p.81). Other way to consider eating behaviour is as a way to compensate unsatisfied needs (communication, parental care, etc.), as reward or encouragement, as satisfaction of aesthetic requirements (Abraham, 2008).
The problem of eating disorders became widely known and popular. Moreover, there is a fashion on anorexic girls that is commonly developed in high-class societies. Fashion and interest in dieting are considered to be the important modern triggers for eating disorders.
Seeing the influence of eating behaviour on our everyday lives, I decided to attend graduate school for Nutrition. My goal in life is to become a nutritionist to be able to help people struggling with different eating disorders. Every day I will help people to live a balanced lifestyle.
As a student of psychology and liberal studies class, I have learned that eating disorders can be caused by different factors: genetic, social, psychological and personal. In each case, it is important to define the main cause f disorder and only after that look for the best possible method of treatment. I will take the psychological knowledge, gained from this course and implement it to enhance my approach in Nutrition.
Golden, Peterson and Kramer claim that not everyone accepts the notion that to be thin is to be beautiful. “Plus-size” fashion models pose from magazines and television with absolute confidence in their bodies. Many fashion designers offer stylish clothes in large sizes. Numerous magazines focus on the beauty that comes from being healthy and self-confident (Golden, Peterson & Kramer, 2009, p. 120-121).
My point of view is supported by literature, published in the past years. Modern media focuses on improtance of having a healthy body and harmony between physical and mental attraction. Cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are widely discussed. Amount of magazines, articles, books and Web pages available helps us to prevent such disorders.
As we see, through centuries the perception of woman’s beauty has been greatly changed. The changes usually depend on the economical, cultural and historical state of society where woman is born. Modern ideas about the nature of eating disorders suggests a number of risk factors: genetic, social, psychological and personal. Currently, fashion makes a large impact on our consciousness and lifestyle, makes us strive for excellence in appearance and shape. Dissatisfaction with own body leads us to different methods of losing weight. Mania of weight loss leads to the development of eating disorders, which can threaten patient’s health or even his life. Most of the people who suffer from eating disorders are females. An exception is a binge eating disorder, which affects males and females equally.
The best way to treat an eating disorder is to prevent it from the beginning. Parents can help their children in building a healthy body image and establishing level of self-esteem. In fact, parents can be strong role models for thier children – demonstrating what a balanced and healthy adult looks like. Parents are responsible for education of children on the matter of unrealistic messages supplied in enourmous amount by the media.
In addition, Abraham claimes that most of young teenagers are much more selective in what they see and what they read in the media. For example, they know the tricks used on models by photographers in fashion magazines. They know that most of women can never become a model, even with the help of dieting or plastic surgeries (Abraham, 2008, p. 13).
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Andersen, R., & Gray, J. (Ed.). (2007). Battleground: The Media [Two Volumes]. Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
Cassell, D. K., & Gleaves , D. H. (2009). The Encyclopedia of Obesity and Eating Disorders (3rd ed.).
Goble, F. G. (2004). The Third Force: The Psychology of Abraham Maslow. Maurice Bassett Publishing.
Kramer, G. F. (2009). The Truth about Eating Disorders. R. N. Golden, & F. L. Peterson (Ed.). NY: DWJ BOOKS LLC.
Menasa, B. N. (2004). Preventing Eating Disorders Among Pre-Teen Girls: A Step-By-Step Guide.
National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2013, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Ruggiero, G. M. (Ed.). (n.d.). Eating Disorders in the Mediterranean Area: An Exploration in Transcultural Psychology. NY: Nova Biomedical Books.