Body image: what have we become?

Fifteen percent of young women adopt unhealthy attitudes and behaviors concerning food, a risk three times higher in women than in men according to statistics provided by Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. Their research also suggests that four out of 100 college-aged women have bulimia, while more than 10 percent of adolescent girls binge eat or purge at least once a week.

How did we as a nation arrive at these startling facts? In a world where appearance is everything, many people struggle daily with body image and the obsession and conquest for the “perfect” body. Young women compare themselves to others and want to be better, skinnier, prettier, only to make themselves feel superior.

No longer is “skinny” considered skinny; skin and bones has become the new slim. In the constant fight girls endure each day, the one thing they can do to make themselves feel better is to look down on the person next to them. All females are guilty of this. In the fierce competition to be like the elite few–the women featured in the media–we have learned to look at other people around us and make comparisons between them and ourselves.

Womens’ thoughts about how to look and how to be are directly related to what the media portrays as acceptable. What is “good” is now defined by society. In a culture where one is judged solely on outward appearance, many people struggle daily. Young girls, sadly, have fallen prey to this obsession as they, too, want the “perfect” body. The media feeds this desire through “Gossip Girls” and “Desperate Housewives,” between green tea diets and South Beach books, through “Mean Girls” and “Clueless.” Advertisements with a new exercise regimen or abdominal machine clutter the TV. Girls study the habits and trends of Hollywood’s young and glamorous, the elite who dare to be seen at only the most exclusive locations. They pour over Vogue magazines and obsess over Lindsay Lohan’s body or Jessica Simpson in a bikini. They read a magazine titled Us, which should imply equality in looks and social status, when in fact this magazine focuses on people who are not like us.

In order to conform to this fast paced and cutthroat society, girls find themselves taking inexplicable measures. From the obsessive counting of calories gradually comes the elimination of food altogether, commonly known as Anorexia Nervosa. Girls starve themselves and critique their bodies, only to see their emaciated reflections as fat. If they cannot go without certain foods to satisfy their cravings, they will binge eat and afterward force themselves to throw up everything they have just consumed.

Our culture drives women to these extremities of anorexia and bulimia. In what world is this acceptable and almost common? We have become a society fueled by a cold fixation on beauty, an infatuation that presents a bigger problem in the U.S. than in other cultures. In other parts of the world, the craze with body image and appearance is minimal, and less emphasis is placed on looks. As a result, others live a more enriched and free life. Less fixation on celebrities leads to less of a tendency for girls to compare themselves to something that is physically impossible to achieve. Models only have the illusion of perfection, their bodies being cropped to flawlessness in magazine ads, while celebrities have an endless bank account and a world of trainers and exercise regimens at their fingertips.

Once caught in this mindset, all one can do is hang on for a long ride ahead. There is no escaping or hiding from the worry of gaining weight and wanting to be thin. These thoughts are ubiquitous and women have learned to live with them. Young women put themselves through so much exhaustion, pain, and agony wanting to be slim, thinking that this is what will make them truly happy. What they don’t know is that there will always be something, always another thing to worry about and despair over. In a world where appearance is everything, many people struggle daily with body image, and studies show that individuals’ self perceptions are not improving.

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