Beauty is an innately popular frame of reference in our society. Between People Magazine’s yearly coronation of the “Top 100 Most Beautiful People” to television shows like “Toddlers in Tiaras,” most would likely agree that the standard of beauty is quite an obsession in our culture. But, with the norm of stick-thin models conveyed in the hundreds of media advertisements that we come in contact with every day, one has to wonder: At what point are we taking these ideals of “beauty” too far?
In a Nov. 8 article by Elle magazine, “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence was quoted in a discussion about how she perceives her body image in the media.
“In Hollywood, I’m obese,” Lawrence said. “I’m considered a fat actress.”
By medical standards, however, the 22-year-old is by no means overweight; she actually falls in a very healthy category of height-to-weight ratio. So, what’s with all the fuss in Hollywood? And what effect is it having on the rest of the world?
Over the years, it has become increasingly apparent that eating disorders has turned into a threatening epidemic among many individuals in our nation. While that may not come as a shock to some, what is perhaps more upsetting is that the ages of those influenced seems to be decreasing while the overall numbers of people affected increases.
Dianna Schalles, dietitian at Lafene Health Center, recently gave a presentation on the looming statistics of eating disorders in our culture. According to Schalles, young women between the ages of 16 and 19 are at the highest risk to develop them, followed closely by girls in the 11- to 15-year-old age group, which has the second highest prevelance of unhealthy eating habits.
Furthermore, in a poll conducted among elementary-aged females, 42 percent of first- through third-graders reported that they wanted to be thinner, and a shocking 20 percent of elementary students sometimes or frequently starved themselves.
Hitting a little closer to home for students, 9 out of every 10 college women attempt to control their weight by dieting, and nearly 35 percent of dieters progress to pathological dieting, a precursor to eating disorders, according to a Lafene SNAC pamphlet.
While it might seem that much of an eating disorder is a physical ailment, it is important to remember that they are a psychological illness, Schalles said. And, although there are multiple contributing factors to the issue, the cultural pressure to be thin is a major factor.
With more than 25 percent of television commercials sending some sort of message about “attractiveness,” according to the pamphlet, it’s difficult to escape the societal expectations of body image. But, genetically, most people don’t even have the capability to achieve this so-called status of “perfection.”
“Those commercials can lead us to believe that we’re like lumps of clay, and that we can chisel and mold our bodies,” Schalles said. “They’re very misleading.”
Thankfully, there are groups of individuals working to help combat these body image issues that are unfortunately common in our day and age. The campus organization SNAC, which stands for “Sensible Nutrition and Body Image Choices,” is a group of peer educators who aim to educate the college-age population on the harmful effects of eating disorders.
Danica Pelzel, president of SNAC and senior in dietetics, said that even as an involved member of the group, it’s difficult not to be influenced by cultural beauty ideals.
“Even if you’re happy with yourself and you try not to look at those images in the media, it’s hard not to not see them and think, ‘Oh I need to look like this,’ or, ‘I need to lose weight,’ or, ‘I need to be that thin,’” Pelzel said. “But that’s why SNAC is such an important organization. We can teach our age goup to be happy with themselves, and that way they can look at those images and recognize them for what they are and recognize that a lot of them aren’t reality.”
When asked what she thought the best method to fight against these negative images was, Pelzel said she has faith in the power of numbers.
“I think it’s just coming together and going against things that we see. It’s saying, ‘This isn’t all right,’ and telling companies that we’d prefer to see healthier-looking individuals in the media,” Pelzel said.
While the best way to combat eating disorders and poor body image among individuals in our society remains unclear, it is obvious that something must be done. Whether it’s signing a petition, joining a group or just reforming your own personal body image, there’s a way for each of us to contribute to help truly make our nation America the beautiful.
Kaitlyn Dewell is a junior in journalism and digital media. Please send comments to [email protected]