Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Invisible Disease

I don’t think that Britain is alone in having disconcertingly conflicting attitudes towards women and size.
In the space of an hour last week four items caught my eye, and prompted me to blog. I thought it might stop me ranting. It didn’t.
                                                         Olympic Gold
The first was the concern of the officials that govern Ski Jumping. These sensible chaps know that every kilo of body weight costs the jumper 1.5 metres, so all competitive jumpers keep their body weight very low. Concern for their health prompted new rules so that any jumper with a BMI under 18.5 gets penalised.
The second was a study just published that showed 2, 288  people were admitted to hospital last year in England and Wales for eating disorders. That was an increase of 16% on the previous year.  The biggest jump was for those admissions of girls aged between 10 and 15 years of age. One  tenth of all the girls admitted were 15 years of age.  Horrifically, 47 of these admissions were  between five and nine years old. In terms of mortality, eating disorders are the most dangerous form of mental illness; 20% do not survive the condition. A figure that is probably lower than it should be due to the actual recorded ‘cause of death’ being a different but related condition.

The third was a report that more than 75% of those who suffer from an eating disorder admit that  bullying was part of their ‘significant  cause.’  The same study two years ago showed a figure 8%  lower. The link is a simple one;  young people are more susceptible to having low self esteem and any bullying feeds into that causing a downward spiral. Eating is one way to regain control of life, and the more control, the more the condition spirals, the more comfort there is in it. Not only a vicious circle but a deadly one.
 "Anorexia became my friend,’ is a worrying statement for anyone to make. A very worrying statement for somebody who is 14 years old.

The fourth thing ??( I was screaming at the TV by now so I don’t really know what the fourth thing was)  It was something to do with the word ‘Thinspiration’ being banned from some social media sites. It then discussed the ‘pro ana’ sites which promote ideas to lose weight and unhealthy  weight management.
I had a wee look at some of them. One idea of support on their online community was to post a photo of yourself so others can call you fat. One 14 year old was chuffed with her 47 comments calling her overweight. It motivated her to lose three stones.
That is dangerous and deadly.  Makes you wonder if her mother is aware, or if her mother would be allowed to help even if she was.
One website shows users this warning ; "Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening."

Pauline Quirke, Acting Gold.

The causes of anorexia are varied  and extremely complex. Each sufferer will have a myriad of multi-layered issues. It is a genetic, chemical, hormonal and psychological issue.  And social media is just  reinforcing that these  abnormal ideas are normal. As one expert said, biology loads the gun, culture pulls the trigger
                                                Dawn French Comedy Gold
Interestingly, in holistic medicine eating disorders are also incredibly difficult to treat , the key phrase in my experience is ‘protection of self’. The body itself  shuts off from  any therapy,  as it will not yield enough control to accept help.  And that only increases the spiral of  desperation.

I know the States uses a different size system to us. I’m using the UK system here…. A size 10 is 32/22/34. I think that is thin. Most UK models are a UK size 8 or 10 ( but in perfect proportion), although I notice US sizes  are quoted in British magazines as being a “US size 0”.
This is something to aspire to. Seemingly.

And these magazines claim to be ‘getting behind’ a ‘ Keep It Real’ campaign to limit the use of  air brushing  on models, and  using more real size models ( the size 10’s that will be). However,  I nipped out and  picked up one cheap celebrity magazine at random. This is aimed I would say at the age range of those impressed by 1 Direction and Justin Beiber, so I conclude, the younger end of the teenage market.
It had  84 printed pages, 22 full page adverts,  10 more of crosswords, reviews and TV stuff. Here’s what the rest was  about…
                                                              Adele Singing Gold
The front page had three pictures ..
One unairbrushed female in a bikini. Good start. She’s lost 2st 5lb in two months.
That’s 33 lbs in 8 weeks. Healthy weight loss is 2lb per week (one pound is 3500 calories, so "lb a week loss is not eating 7000 calories). So in that time she should have lost 16 lbs, not 33.

Some celebrity  “skinnier than ever” (in a congratulatory tone), great photo of them (size 8 down a 6 maybe), and another celebrity panicking about getting in shape for the big day… regardless of the fact that she’s new mum!
No pressure from the front page then.

Double page spread. ‘Soap stars get skinny’, with the use of the word  ‘thinspiration.’ And another double page spread of some tiny models on the cat walk- their knees the widest part of their leg.
‘My new daughter is my priority, not my weight’, says one star. Oh good I thought, the voice of reason. But in the picture she looks noticeably thinner. “Bikini snaps made me want to lose weight”, says another celeb. She looks a size 10 in the before snaps and in need of a good dinner in the after. Then another double page spread of women unhappy with their breast reconstructions…. Unhappy before, and unhappy afterwards. Over the page we have a celebrity diet diary that included glasses of wine and hangovers, with constant reinforcement of the idea that the only way to feel good about yourself is to change your appearance. By surgery if necessary. 
The diet page has a size 6, female ‘star’ with her  daily diet. She has a lollypop head.
There is another one dieting for her wedding so that ‘he’ will fancy her on her big day. I think she could swap him for a bar of chocolate. Then there are the rules for a 400 calorie a day diet. With the proviso that it might be unhealthy. The are a few worrying words in that sentence, 'might' be the one that worries we most.
                                                  Lizzie - Olympic Gold
Current thinking is that the best way to fight eating disorders is to cultivate a peer group that are aware  of the pressures and see them for what they are. And to question them and the values of the society that promotes them.
I don’t think we are quite there yet.
I was so fed up I've included some photos of good role models- all very talented ladies.



  1. "Culture pulls the trigger." It certainly does. Why has weight become such an obsession? Is it our celebrity culture? That has existed for quite some time, but it seems to have gained importance. Women seem to be afflicted much more than men and, as you point out, at such a young age. The key seems to be reaching them at an earlier age before this disease gets a hold of them. Just my guess.

  2. Caro,

    Just catching up with your blogs and found this one on weight so insightful and intelligent. Thanks.