How skinny is too skinny?

Young people are being pressured into keeping slim.

Aminah Khan

The image of celebrity has always left an unhealthy impression on women when it comes to being thin but recently we have seen a massive increase of eating disorders, earning the dieting industry billions. The media is a ubiquitous and powerful entity, whose influence is not to be underestimated.

The sought-after ‘waif’ look has caused countless women to tale-spin into the lonely and destructive world of eating disorders. Frequent images in the media of women with child-like bodies have contributed to a widespread obsession to be thin.

An estimated ten million people, out of a world population of six billion, are suffering with some form of eating disorder. From an early age, children are taught by society that appearance matters before anything else.  Adverts are always tempting us with new ways to  lose weight because apparently being thin and beautiful is what we must conform to.

Images on television and magazines rarely show people with “average” body-types.  Overweight characters are typically portrayed as lazy – the ones with no friends. Slender women and toned men however, are portrayed as successful, popular and powerful.

Mandy Fleur, a student at Robert Gordon University, developed unhealthy eating habits at the age of 13 because she was being bullied.

She says: “I wanted to be socially accepted and by the time I turned 16, I was obsessed with my looks. I wanted to be skinny so people would like me.  I wanted guys to be interested in me and girls to be jealous of me. I would cut out pictures from magazines of emaciated women, aspiring to be just like them. It’s a horrible and conceited world we live in due to the way the media portrays women  and how we should look – not caring that everyone is different.”

Messages conveyed by the media can be overwhelming, women are told that they should “have it all” – a family, career, and to look good while doing it.

The media inundates us with the newest form of what is ‘sexy’ and it has changed dramatically over the years. The heroin chic look has been made popular by Kate Moss which is a massive contrast to the voluptuous Baywatch babe, Pamela Anderson.

It comes as no surprise that media portrayals of an ‘ideal’ body shape are widely considered to be a contributing factor to bulimia. Mandy turned to bulimia when she discovered that it was an easy way for her to lose weight.

She says: “My body was not made for a petite size zero and dieting to try to lose weight never made a difference. So I started finding different methods to lose the chubbiness, like trying to completely starve myself. When these methods failed me, I became rather depressed and started binge eating, and then I would feel guilty and regurgitate it. This was the start of a long and dark road for me.”

Teenage girls are not the only ones who have turned to anorexia or bulimia. An increasing number of men and women of all ages are dabbling in this destructive habit in a bid to lose pounds very quickly. Many feel grossly overweight, when they are merely carrying an extra 10 to 15 pounds.

Mandy believes the media plays a huge part in influencing women who turn to unhealthy methods of weight-loss, in a desperate bid to attain the perfect body.

She says:  “The media does encourage the size zero phenomenon. It’s like if you’re not skinny, society will not accept you. You won’t get your ideal job, guy and fulfill your dreams. The media displays images of girls like Nicole Ritchie, who are an unhealthy size zero. It encourages you to take inspiration from these sort of celebrities – without telling you that their photographs have been airbrushed to perfection.”

Television shows also continue to feature impossibly thin actresses in lead roles. Recently, reality shows such as The Swan and Dr. 90210 which feature plastic surgery and major makeovers, have been criticized for promoting an unhealthy body image.

In The Swan young women are separated from family and friends for several weeks to undergo an intensive diet and exercise plan. Hair stylists recommend hair extensions and highlights. Plastic surgeons also perform breast augmentation, facelifts, botox and collagen injections.

The end results are showcased in a beauty pageant, where former “ugly ducklings” compete against each other for the title of The Swan.

The media is a formidable force when it comes to promoting what is beautiful and sexy. Should it be held responsible for the negative impact it has on millions?

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