Working for a feminist organization, I read statistics about women's health and body image all the time. I'm astounded to hear that girls that are the age I was digging up fossils, are wearing make up and forming bulimia pacts.
Dont believe me? Here are some statistics to chew on:
-"Half of all fourth grade girls are already dieting"
-"A study asked children to assign attractiveness values to pictures of children with various disabilities.The participants rated the obese child less attractive than a child in a wheelchair, a child with a facial deformity, and a child with a missing limb."
-A study found that adolescent girls were more fearful of gaining weight, than getting cancer, nuclear war or losing their parents.
-In one study, 3 out of 4 women stated that they were overweight although only 1 out of 4 actually were.
As a woman who didn't grow up with TV, I assert my apparently unconvential positive view of my body and self to a lack of early childhood influence by the media. And so I'm shocked to hear that women and girls actually feel this way. That they can fear, and believe themselves to be unhealthy for being a normal weight, is unbelievable to me.
But it wasn't until recently that the reality of the situaiton really hit home for me...
How does the issue of women's poor body image really affect me?
Well, this weekend I watched my stepsisters skip dinner for "jello" and ask about carb content... they're 12 and 14. Their dad is an avid dieter and makes claims for himself like "sugar is the devil" and doesnt see how his statements could be harmful for his young girls.
I argued with a family friend (who fits into the category of upper-class-white-male) who believes the gender wage gap is bunk, we dont live in a rape culture, and if anything women are the ones creating self-sabatouging media messages. Oh and that we really live in a Matriarchy... I say show me any substantial amount of women in power.
And lastly, the one that really hit home. I spent my friday night flushing unprescribed diabetic medication down the toilet; that my bright, rational, and beautiful best friend had been taking to lose weight. Not only did I find out that she had hoped to lose 15 pounds in the next week & half, but that the pills she was taking could lead to a hypoglycemic coma (for those not overweight or diabetic) as well as put her at risk of death if combined with alcohol. The worst part about it... her mom had gotten it for her.
And to me thats insane! Diagnosible as mentally and rationally incapable. What is going on with our culture when a 20 year old,bright student, cares more about looking good in a swimsuit than the possibility of death?! And what the hell is happening with the parents that knowingly allow it or uncoinciously build this mentality in their children?!
So I sit here, dumbfounded, still proccesing that this can happen to anyone, even the people we love. And I'm at a loss of how to fix it. Where do we start? Is it possible to change when the phobia of fat is already ingrained into most before age 10?
I would love to hear any stories of how you've dealt with this yourself? Or ideas how we can change the world... Because right now, we're living in a value system that not only is harmful to young women and men everywhere, but one that actively distorts the reality of whats important. We're living in a culture of fun house mirrors, unaware or unable to see the truth in whats actually healthy and what is truly beautiful.