I recently read an article about the New York Time’s section called “Obesity: The Big Picture“. As I was browsing through the New York Times, there were some interesting, body positive articles but a majority of them were negatively assessing the increase in obesity and the pressure to lose weight. In one article, the commenter states that Americans choose to eat unhealthy foods because it tastes better. That this is despite the extensive healthy eating benefits that are shown to us. What the New York Times fails to realize, is that this pressure of losing weight, body-shaming, and blaming us for being fat does not encourage healthy eating but helps us spiral into dangerous eating habits that transform into eating disorders.
When our leaders and the people we look up to show disgust at those who are overweight, it creates this intense fear and desire to not look like them. I know every single person, verbally or mentally, has seen a fat person and promised themselves that they will never look like that. Because they are afraid of being looked down on, of being shamed, of being ridiculed, and of being treated hatefully. This fear can drive people into doing the opposite effects of what these healthy messages intend. The concept of eating healthy and living your best life is not wrong, but neither is letting people do what they wish for their body. Instead of only young people promoting self love and accepting that fat bodies are normal bodies, those involved in health education should take a note in the impact that these public messages send out to its younger viewers.
The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia, and unfortunately they are on the rise. People hear about these disorders, see them on their screens, but don’t understand the severity of them. Those with these disorders restrict themselves heavily from eating, but still eat. They don’t always look severely malnourished until you check their vitals. Anorexia carries the highest fatality rate for any mental disorder, and are more susceptible to anxiety and depression. I have been personally affected by anorexia, genetically it is in my family, and there are some things that you don’t see on TV. Obsessive habits to first keep looking at your body than to try to cover it up with baggy clothes, reaching out to pro-ana (anorexic) or pro-mia (bulimic) blogs for support in losing weight, lying and hiding food to the point where you lose hunger pangs, and severe body dysmorphia where your body looks too fat and too big regardless of how little weight you have on because you can’t see your ribs anymore. This isn’t just a disorder that can be cured after a few months in therapy or a rehabilitation center, this is something that you have to fight everyday. You have to fight yourself to eat.
Another common disorder that most people don’t recognize is binge eating disorder. It is when a person eats a great amount of food but doesn’t do anything to balance it out, like exercise or eating smaller portions. This excessive amount of eating is often followed by great shame, but the person finds themselves unable to stop themselves from eating again. I have also been affected by this disorder, with several friendships. It’s when you go to great lengths to hide food in your house, and take great care to bury its remnants in the trashcan, it’s being constantly hungry and feeling shame and guilt in being so. It’s wanting to control yourself, but finding yourself unable to.
I’m not blaming the government, or the media for causing people to have these mental disorders. It could be placed on the person’s family, friends, social environment, or genetics. It could not be any of these factors. But the media has the heaviest impact on a person, because it is what we turn on to hear the news, listen to songs, and entertain ourselves in our free time. But when the media accepts fat shaming, shames those who do not live up to bodily expectations, and blames Americans on making themselves unhealthy or fat, they are feeding into the seed of insecurity we all have in our head and helps it grow. It helps us feel bad about ourselves, begin punishing ourselves a little bit and eventually feeds into a dangerous addiction of not just skipping lunch but dinner too or eating that next bag of chips despite just finishing one. I’m not blaming anyone; I’m blaming everyone who taught us that fat is the worst you can be.
Picture Credit: StillWorksImagery