The Chinese used to bind the feet of women to make them smaller. So tiny and fragile were their feet, in fact, that some women were left essentially crippled, barely able to walk. To the Chinese, this was a sign of beauty and social status. But to us it seems a cruel and bizarre practice.
The irony is that we in present-day American society do something just as cruel, just as bizarre as the Chinese did. We tend to see the thin, emaciated, malnourished female as beautiful.
If your body has “the look,” you are seen as healthier, younger, better able to wear the right clothes, and you will gain social approval more readily. This definition of beauty is linked to our society’s emphasis on youth – younger women tend to be thinner than those who are older. In contemporary America, thin women are hired for jobs more frequently than heavier women, and they are married sooner … to wealthier men. Many of us hate the bodies we were born with and will agree to any number of procedures to change the shape of our bodies, including starvation diets and surgeries which suck the fat out of certain areas of our bodies (and then we go on to plump up our lips!). Is the Chinese practice of binding feet any more bizarre than what we do? (Whatever happened to the notion that good exercise, healthy nutrition, and genuine liking of ourselves and our bodies, whatever their shape, might be the best way to live?) In truth, our preoccupation with extreme thinness is just a passing social fad. A century ago in America the plump look was in. (And, hopefully, our preoccupation with thinness may be changing over the years. Some models these days are older and a bit heavier than they were in years past. And there is a trend in the fashion world to emphasize the healthy body and healthy living rather than placing a premium on the emaciated look.)
Unfortunately, the current social value placed on the thin body sometimes comes together with a person’s inner emotional conflicts, and the result may be an eating disorder.
There are a number of reasons why a person may begin to starve himself or herself:
- Some of us yearn desperately for social approval. And if we have the “right look,” we may feel that others will give us attention. We cling to the wrongheaded notion that other people will like us for how we look rather than for who we are on the inside.
- Or we may feel that we have no control over anything but our own bodies. We may not understand how effective it can be to assert ourselves in the world. Or we may want to avoid conflict since this has always brought uspain. Thus, we cultivate the idea that the only real control we have is to shape our own body.
- We may hate the idea of growing up … which means looking and acting more adult. If we can stay a child forever, we don’t have to accept responsibilities or consequences in the adult world. And what better way to stay a child than to continue to look thin and young, the way a child looks.
- Or we may dislike how our bodies look. No matter how many pounds we lose, we may still feel that we look fat. We may not see our own bodies the way other people see us. Other people may see us as very thin, while we feel we could still lose a few more pounds.
- Or we may never have had the love we needed from the person who should have been there. So, you make yourself look right and the love may finally come. If you were heavy, you might think it would be hard to find love.These thoughts need to be examined in more depth – and that would be a reason to work with a trained therapist.
Eating disorders affect about half a million Americans at any given time, and they are far more common among middle-class and upper-middle-class females.
Although there is growing evidence that eating disorders are a serious problem among males as well, 95 percent of those affected are young women between the ages of 12 and 25. People suffering from eating disorders have a very distorted image of their own bodies. They “feel fat,” even when they may suffer from extreme emaciation. They deny that they have a problem because of their intense fear of gaining weight. Without treatment for both the emotional and physical causes of their symptoms, those with eating disorders can suffer from physical problems that are potentially fatal.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please contact us to schedule a free consultation today.