Unfortunately not surprising in today’s world, I grew up amongst young girls who struggled to foster a positive self-image and either toed the line of having an eating disorder or fell deeply into one.
Now, amongst young women, it is clear that the circumstances have not improved, and are arguably worse and more widespread.
On the surface, an eating disorder is the physical manifestation of a warped concept of self-value. This, alone, is cause for worry. Yet, the disorder is a complicated concept and there are a number of other frightening factors that spawn it, ranging from emotional trauma and anxiety to socio-economic status and poor education.
Many begin harmlessly and progress rapidly. It is a very complex issue, but one thing is for certain: At the most serious end of the spectrum, an eating disorder can be fatal. However, more often than not, an eating disorder is not fatal. Generally, it doesn’t even require hospitalization. In fact, many times, it is not even physically noticeable.
This is the “everyday eating disorder” and it has gradually pervaded into the lives of women everywhere. It is the newest trending diet and the latest workout obsession. It is the never-ending, insecurity-infused media content that infiltrates our precious thoughts. It is the collective female suffering to be self-acceptant, and it is a pressing obstacle in our evolutionary advancement.
In 2011, EDNOS claimed that 20 million American women were suffering a “clinically significant eating disorder” (with “clinically” being the key word). That’s a striking 12.5 percent of all American women!
What happens to that 12.5 percent when we take out that keyword -- “clinically” -- and define the term “significant eating disorder” within the construct of a modern society, where a large portion of the population is affected in a slightly subtler sense?
What if, when measuring the severity of an eating disorder, we placed a higher emphasis not on pounds lost, but on opportunity lost?
What if we measured it in the time we spend and, quite frankly, waste toiling in a mentality set on attaining the perfect body when we could be, well, contemplating something else — something of value? Would it make a difference if we understood the repercussions of our seemingly benign obsessions from this angle?
In a nation where 45 percent of American women are on a diet at any given time, the concern is valid. We are worth so much more than our weight, but not all of us are allowing ourselves to prove it.
Inundated by lifestyle marketing that essentially tells us to buy the latest $2000 purse or don the newest, chicest fashion trend, we women most certainly have not been left to wonder what the perfect body looks like or how we might improve our own. The insecurity triggers are everywhere.
With so much of our world revolving so tightly around vanity in the name of health, even the economic markets adjust. Big Pharma continually fails to support meaningful causes, neglecting neurological research and alternative cancer treatments in favor of siphoning moneymaking diet pills and beauty-based, surgical procedures through the approval process almost regularly. Furthermore, the FDA allows direct-to-consumer marketing on such products and procedures, which is simply ABSURD and illegal in most other parts of the world. I digress.
Essentially, when we give way to body-based insecurities, we become pawns in an economic game that capitalizes on our inability to accept ourselves. Isn’t it wild when you think about it? The whole catch-22, of course, is that it never ends.
The perfect body never materializes on our imperfect frames because it never existed. Yet, the more we consume the vanity craze, the more it consumes us. We lose weight and we gain it back. We join clubs and spend money trying to lose it again. We read about it and worry about it and we talk about it ad nauseam.
We do this to the extent that the issue is reflected in its own satirical Twitter handle — @FirstWorldProblems — because in the context of this vast world in which we live, these concerns can seem so utterly trivial. However, we cannot write it off as trivial. Let’s examine this objectively:
According to the National Institutes of Health,
“One of the reported explanations for the development of eating disorders is the social pressure resulting from the standards of female beauty imposed by modern industrial society or Western culture.”
See, a developed country is more prone to developing new diseases, such as eating disorders. Because our “modern industrial society” comes with a phenomenally competent infrastructure, including grocery stores and roads and cars, we are no longer tied to our centuries-long engrained need to function as hunter-gatherers.
Basically, the evolution timeline has shifted forward. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our three foundational layers of physiological, safety and belonging have been established. Newsflash: This is great news. It's essentially what our ancestors have strived for, for hundreds of thousands of years.
Unfortunately, the current situation for so many of us with this first-world foundation firmly (not to mention, luckily) established beneath us is that we are having true difficulty overcoming the next layer: esteem, or self-acceptance. Though such difficulties appear in many forms, they are especially prominent for women is this "everyday eating disorder."
Overall, when we view the circumstances objectively, it becomes clear that the real hurdle we face in not overcoming self-acceptance is never reaching the uppermost echelon of the heirarchy: self-actualization. This is where passions are realized, creativity flourishes and problem-solving skills are heightened. This is where we become better people and, in turn, contribute to building a better society for all those not quite as fortunate as ourselves.
This is why I encourage us all to collectively rise up against the everyday eating disorder. We must learn to live healthily and naturally so that we may aspire to create greater value for ourselves and generations to come - the kind of value that no calorie or sizing chart or scale could ever measure up to.