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Body Image and Anorexia

Most people are conscious of their health. As a generalisation, we all want to be healthy. Most of us manage to balance this desire with the culinary temptations of our abundant country. We struggle with diets, we try to get motivated to exercise and, although we might not achieve our ideal weight, we stay within the window of moderation.

However, some people fail to find this balance and become obsessed with the way they look and the food they eat. They can become so malnourished that their health is threatened. This condition is called anorexia.

This obsession is evident at all levels of society. Many celebrities have fallen victim to eating disorders. Apparently, Portia de Rossi from Ally McBeal, Jamie-Lynn Sigler from The Sopranos and Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) have all struggled with anorexia.

Fortunately, each of these celebrities recovered from the condition. By moderating their eating and improving their self esteem, they have achieved healthier relationships with themselves.

Often the blame for anorexia is put on our society’s obsession with looks and beauty, particularly being thin. It is true that most models are very tall and very thin, and nearly all female movie stars and TV personalities are slim. Commentators point to these celebrities as role models who young people aspire to follow.

This may explain why people are concerned with how they look. It does not explain why some become anorexic.

People who become anorexic have some characteristics in common. We know they are obsessed with their weight. But usually they have one other characteristic in common; they are nice, often too nice.

People who become anorexics are eager to please and desperate to “fit in.” They want to be accepted and loved. They rarely display anger, although they may be irritable or moody at times. Most were very good children. They hardly caused their parents a moments worry. They did what they were told and were very helpful to others. Underneath all this niceness, these people are very unsure of themselves. They fear the responsibilities and expectations placed on them as adults. They doubt they can measure up.

All that pleasing and fitting in means they have lost touch with themselves. They don’t know who they are. They have no confidence and feel out of control. Controlling food is a substitute for their perceived lack of control. The paradox of pleasing others to get them to like you, is that the person they like is not the real you anyway. Fitting in and pleasing others never builds self-esteem; in fact it inhibits it.

Being submissive gives them little experience of expressing strong emotions. They can cry with frustration if they feel out of their depth but the fear and anger they feel is mostly channelled into their obsession with their weight. It is illogical but it gives them relief and a feeling of control. “If I am thin enough, I’ll be good enough.”

The pressures of fame make celebrity women especially vulnerable to this disease. They feel they have to fit in to please their fans and managers. Sometimes it becomes their obsession.

Recovering from anorexia involves letting go of needing to please others. The anorexic needs to begin expressing emotions and discovering who she really is. Once she begins standing up for herself in a healthy and assertive way, she is on the road to recovery.

Sometimes a situation can trigger the anorexic to reassess herself. Jamie-Lynn Sigler got a grip after the reaction of her co-stars and managers on the set of The Sopranos when they saw her body was that of a 12 year-old.

Portia de Rossi got a grip when she fell in love and that love was returned.

Avoiding Anorexia

  • Be yourself. Most people will like the real you.
  • Don’t please others just to be liked. It doesn’t work. They person they like isn’t the real you.
  • Learn how to safely express your feelings, especially strong emotions.
  • Remember you have learned to do many difficult things in your life. You learned to walk and you learned to read. You can successfully learn how to handle the responsibilities of being an adult.
  • Realise it is fine to make mistakes. No one is perfect.
  • Explore who you are. What do you like and dislike? What interests you? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Take up a hobby or interest that absorbs you.
  • Stand up for yourself. Make sure you give your opinion too.

Marla

When Marla, 25, sought help she had been dieting for the last 5 years. At 172 cm, Marla weighed only 49 kilograms. She realised she had a problem when she found herself deliberately throwing up after eating.

Marla was devastated that she had an eating disorder. She was the one who always helped everyone else, not the one who should need help. She felt ashamed and didn’t want her family to know she had a problem. She had always tried to live up to her family’s expectations. They were very hard working and successful. She never argued with them and did what they told her. Marla’s mother had always emphasised the importance of looking good even though she had never been satisfied with her own figure.

Marla was given permission to feel and express her emotions-her disappointment at having a problem, her feelings of inadequacy, and her fears of never being “normal.” She was encouraged to speak up for herself, especially when she disagreed with her family. She took up horseriding, an interest she’d had as a child.  Gradually, she learned to get in touch with her body and listen to its messages. She became aware of her feelings of being upset, happy, hungry or full.

She felt much better about who she was and was able to express her feelings more easily. Her eating habits soon changed and her weight settled around 57 kilograms.

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