In the latest disturbing news, research published in the December issue of Pediatrics finds that eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are on the rise, and is showing up in new places: among younger children, boys, minorities and lower income groups.
Meanwhile, we are all well aware that the rate of obesity is shockingly high. This news report found concerned parents are focusing on the healthy diet of their babes, a good thing, but some panicking parents are putting their babies on weight loss diets.
Obviously, no baby should ever be on a weight-loss diet. But I’m not opposed to parents educating themselves about how to provide a healthier diet for their children, in opposition to the high-fat, high sugar processed foods that are so prevalent on the market. Because obesity has become a problem starting at very young ages.
So, what’s going on? Is all this insanity due to the influence of corporate marketing? Well, I’m sure it is due to a complicated mix of factors. U.S. food and farm policy is no doubt a large part of the obesity problem. But that policy is itself the result of undue corporate influence. Obesity and eating disorders have been around a long time. But when you see a marked increase, at the same time that you see intensification of the marketing of junk food and fast food, along with a barrage of increasingly sophisticated photo-shopped fashion advertisements featuring perfect, unattainable beauty, you’ve got to believe those images have a powerful role.
A friend of mine who does not want to be named recently described the messages out there this way: “It’s akin to an abusive relationship, where you cannot win. You are told to eat fast food and enticed with toys and games, and then you are shown pictures of top models and told you are too fat. You can’t win.”
One argument goes that lots of people are exposed to these messages, but only a few develop anorexia or bulimia, so therefore, the media images are not a problem. That’s an absurd argument against the influence of media. There is nothing that affects everyone in the same way. Some people can smoke cigarettes their whole lives and live into their 90s. Does that mean cigarettes are safe? It’s like the argument that since not ALL kids who see violent images go out and shoot people, violent images therefore have no affect on anyone. Absurd.
Some girls see skinny fashion models and develop anorexia. Others might have less extreme responses, like low self-esteem or dissatisfaction with their bodies. Maybe they diet perpetually and put their health at risk. They might not pursue their true interests because they are too shy about their bodies or faces, or fear the comments of others. Or they get plastic surgery done. A few are strong enough to block out the messages entirely.
Heck, I’m not immune. I spend way too much time and energy thinking about the way my body looks, and the parts I am dissatisfied with, even though I know exactly where this dissatisfaction comes from. It comes from the media images I see every day. It makes me angry that these ideas are in my head.
So if the trend is up, I’d say that we had better take a close look at all the factors.
Speaking of plastic surgery, we are now in territory that is off-the-charts absurd. In recent news:
Young Chinese beauty undergoes facial bone grinding to be more beautiful, and dies in surgery.
Miss Plastic pageant determines the best artificial breasts. (I wish this link went to The Onion. It does not.)
Women dissatisfied with how their genitals look get labiaplasty. (I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this exists.)
Even, cosmetic surgery to shorten the second toe. Who knew long toes were bad? And a pinky-toe tuck so the toe will be skinny and not fat? (The thought of having my toes shortened makes my toes curl up in agony.)
Teens are increasingly turning to cosmetic surgery and research suggests that cosmetic surgery reality shows are fueling the trend.
“There is a cultural context to never be satisfied with our physical selves,” says Charlotte Markey, a Rutgers psychology professor who is the author of this research. “It’s the rare person who is either completely oblivious or has developed such a strong counter message to not be affected. We need to teach children to be critical of the messages we’re receiving and tell them positive things now to foster self-esteem.”
So what can you do? Please, be careful about what you say to your kids. Watch what you say about their bodies, and watch what you say about your own body. Parents can perpetuate the body image issues with their comments about their own bodies.. We can also help prevent them with our words. Here’s something about a new idea: Fat Talk Free Week.
And read what Dr. Robyn Silverman has to say about putting babies on a diet.