I recently watched the Nova Program, “Dying to be Thin,” ( http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/thin/ ) which chronicles the epidemic of anorexia bulimia in the United States. It was a fascinating exploration of the psychology and societal influences surrounding these disorders. I was surprised to read in a recent WUNRN, that the latest reports are implicating genetics rather than society as the main cause for these diseases. “No one knows what triggers eating disorders. Emerging studies point to altered brain signals, but it is tricky to decipher whether the defective biochemistry is a cause or a result of poor eating. The reigning theory is the same as it is for so many syndromes with no known cause: some people are born with genes that make them highly vulnerable to environmental stimuli. ‘Genetics loads the gun, and environment pulls the trigger,’ is what the experts always say at the eating disorder conferences, said Caitlin Scafati, a recovered anorexic. And yet no one has identified the genes” (http://health.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-eating-disorders-ess.html?ref=health ).
I feel that we as a society are running further and further from taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions; particularly, our need for instant gratification and our inappropriate emphasis on bodily appearance. There may be genetic predispositions, but that doesn’t really solve the problem of society’s focus on being thin. At the supermarket, of the 15 available magazines in the check–out isle, at least 11 have a cover page tag line relating something about weight. Call me crazy, but I think that any person living in a society with this kind of all encompassing focus on the body would have to be living under a rock to escape the effects of this coercive influence. So while genetics may play a role, I feel like this article is suggesting we focus on the genetic answer rather than fixing the environmental input.
In the Nova special, several young women and older women were interviewed who currently are or had struggled with these disorders. They discussed the modeling industries shift from typical sizes to a Twiggy–like world, where everyone tried to become the body type that this iconic 1966 model. Since this time, the focus on the being thin has really spiraled out of control.
I certainly feel that I have been affected by this trend. I have never had much confidence in my body or appearance. I don’t dislike myself, but I would never think of my body as beautiful without really concentrating on the functions and not appearance of it. I feel that too many women all around us have been taught as I have by the world and by the things that influential women in our lives may have said about their bodies. I think degrading ourselves and our appearances while praising another has become an everyday occurrence in the life of the average American woman. There is no embrace of what nature has endowed us with, no regard for the unique beauty that so many different body shapes bring to the human family; instead, there is overarching struggle to lose weight, if you have lost some, lose more, if you are thin already, hate your lack of boobs, hate your face structure, hate something, because the only way to fit in is to do so. What a terrible game we are all party to!
I remember traveling in Europe some years ago. I stopped at the Louvre and enjoyed much of the artwork on display, when I got to the renaissance paintings I was pleasantly surprised to find that just behind the Mona Lisa, there was another painting. It had several knights picnicking with various women, all scantily clothed. Typically, I would launch right into the morality of the painting or the inequity between the men and the women, but as I read about this piece of art, the caption told that this painting was praised in its time for its exceptional depiction of beautiful women. The ideal renaissance women if fact; now, picture in your mind the ideal Renaissance woman…if she has anything less than average breasts, roundy hips, and two to three rolls of extra weight on her stomach, you have been thinking of the wrong type of woman. I LOVED THIS PAINTING. I was so encouraged, because these women looked healthy, they looked youthful, they looked alive, and they looked like me. It would have been easy to look at this and rue God for bringing me to earth at this time and not in time for me to kick it back with my renaissance picnicking sisters. But I am glad to be here NOW, I am glad to start a new trend in my life, I am glad for the opportunity to teach my daughters, friends, and women that I can be me, and be happy too.
I am coming up on my wedding. The part I have dreaded more than any other is being in that fancy dress all day in front of so many people and having everyone tell me how beautiful I look. NOW WHY WOULD I DREAD THAT? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? AREN’T WOMEN SUPPOSED TO LOVE THOSE KINDS OF COMPLIMENTS? I dread them because inside I have never let myself believe them. But, I have decided to think differently of myself. Since watching this Nova documentary, I have realized that though I may not find myself starving or vomiting daily, I have been sustaining a regular inflow of negative thoughts regarding my body for years. WHY? I have decided now is the time to change all that, and ladies…gentlemen…I invite you all to do the same. Now is the time to change. First our minds…then perhaps…the next generation!