Friday, November 11, 2011

Dying to be Skinny

"I'm fat."

"My thighs are too big."

"I'd die to be skinny."

Our culture's obsession with weight — or, more accurately, the lack thereof — is really shameful. According to an estimate from the United Nations, there are 925 million undernourished people in the world today. The idea that we have enough food but choose to starve ourselves in order to fit into a smaller pair of jeans or look good on a red carpet is obscene.

The people who are most affected by this emaciation fixation are adolescents and young adults. With bodies changing, hormones raging, and anxiety about what the world (not to mention the cool table in the cafeteria) thinks of them, tween and teen girls are most vulnerable. So, what does the media do? It serves up image after image of sunken-eyed waifs with bones protruding where flesh should be. If a celebrity (a female celebrity, mind you, males aren't under the same scrutiny) gains five pounds, it's front page news. And, not in a good way.

The photos above are from an ad that was recently banned in the U.K. by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The bikini that the scrawny girl is barely wearing is sold by Drop Dead clothing. An interesting brand name, given that their model looks like she's on her last legs and in desperate need of a last meal. The ASA called the ad "socially irresponsible." Hear, hear!

As the mother of a tween-going-on-teen, I worry about body image and eating disorders. My daughter is not happy with her figure — even though it's pretty perfect. She rides horses, and has for the past eight years, so she has fantastic quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. And, it's not just her legs, she has great strength in what trainers obnoxiously refer to as "the core." (Really, I could do Pilates from now until doomsday and I wouldn't get close.) But, like all girls her age, she is hypercritical of her body.

Fortunately, she has a very healthy appetite and a pronounced sweet tooth. So, there hasn't been any talk of dieting. At least, not yet.

I remember my own junior high and high school days. Crash diets were all too common. There was the only-cucumbers diet, the only-plain yogurt diet, the only-bran muffins diet, the only-egg drop soup diet. I had friends who smoked to stay thin. I had friends who took laxatives. We all fasted. We all drank Tab, the bitterest diet soda ever invented. And, if there was any question about girls acting healthier once they went to college, all you had to do was visit the ladies room at one of the campus dining halls after a meal. Let's just say that an inordinate number of coeds were worshipping the porcelain god on a regular basis.

Pushing fifty, and dealing with a body that is changing again, I still have to remind myself that happiness and waistline are only related if I choose for them to be. We all know better now, right? Girls (and moms) should be encouraged to be strong, not skinny.

But, as Drop Dead's ad, and countless like it, demonstrates, the fashion and entertainment industry is still saying "Less is more."

Speaking of more ... I'm all for it. As in, more watchdog organizations need to recognize — and regulate — the images that create in our girls doubt at best and anorexia at worst. More advertisers need to accept responsibility for what they broadcast and promote. And, as consumers, more of us can vote with our wallets, boycotting stores or brands that tell our daughters that looking like a cadaver is attractive, sexy and desirable.

Anorexia nervosa is the number one cause of death among young women. In fact, the mortality rate for anorexia is higher than for any other psychological disorder. They say, "You can't be too rich or too thin." Tell that to all the girls who have literally died to be skinny.

Or tell their mothers.

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