I was enjoying an adult beverage in the trendy Scottsdale Quarter with an out-of-town friend. We quietly watched the passersby from our outdoor perch. He turned and asked, “Is there a food shortage in Scottsdale? Women just ain’t this skinny in Wisconsin!” I chuckled because I was thinking the same thing: “Can somebody buy these girls a cheeseburger!?”
Our teenage girls and young women are not building resilience. They are not putting good health in the bank for their future well-being. They’re afraid to eat, or worse, they eat and send it back up.
While I realize that not all skinny people have eating disorders, many of our young women are wrestling with it and may not realize it. Granted, culture and heritage play a role. There are many different healthy body types and not all of us look good skinny. Some are naturally that way. My assistant in Hawaii was Nisei, second generation Japanese. She is 4’8” and weighs 75 pounds. That is her normal and healthy weight and she is beautiful . This is not what we were seeing in the parade that passed before our eyes in Scottsdale.
It’s stunning to watch these young women. Clones of each other, these girls in their teens and tweens, are ALL so thin! A young mother with an infant was equally and impossibly thin. We’re talkin’ “I can pick them up with one hand” skinny. I worry about the girls because they’re at an age when kids go through growth spurts and need a little extra meat on their bones to successfully navigate that life change. I worried about the young mother because getting that skinny right after birth could mean immune system issues for her and for her baby. And she didn’t look healthy.
I recalled a conversation with a professor from my alma mater in California. She said 45% of all females are starting their freshman year at that college with an eating disorder. This doesn’t bode well for any of us. It’s a hidden health crisis with far reaching consequences. Looking sexy is more important than being healthy, and many girls have body dysmorphia: they don’t see how beautiful they are naturally.
Consider the downsides of starving your body:
- Weaker bone structure leading to osteoporosis
- Stunted brain development
- Stunted reproductive system development leading to infertility
- Gastrointestinal damage and permanent weakening of the stomach lining
- Lower energy
- Lowered ability to learn and retain information
- Compromised immune systems
- Higher than average mortality
Add to all this the growing trend of prepubescent girls undergoing plastic surgery (with enthusiastic parental support!) Considering how long it took me to recover from the disorienting effects of anesthesia after my neck surgery, I cant imagine these youngsters are faring much better. How could they? Their bodies aren’t strong enough to begin with because they’re starving themselves. But if they’ve never felt “normal and healthy” how would they know the difference?
Years ago a Psychologist named Dr. Mary Pipher raised the alarm about girls’ poor self image in a book called Reviving Ophelia. Our culture emphasizes a homogenous, thin, sexy look. Anyone outside the norm, which is getting thinner by the year, is punished. Normal sized actresses don’t get jobs; “fat girls” are mocked and don’t get dates, or are used and tossed away by the popular boys. Even the fashionably fit, gorgeous models and actresses see their images photoshopped once the magazine hits the stands.
When is enough enough? I’ve always had the hourglass shape, much like Marilyn Monroe, though she was one dress size larger, and I’m more physically fit. Yet at a nightclub in Scottsdale a few years ago, a wannabe Lothario sidled up to me and said, “You know, if you weren’t so fat, you’ d be kinda pretty.”
I hear he’ll be getting out of the hospital soon…
Why haven’t we gotten the photoshop message through to these girls? How can we stop a trend that’s spiraling out of control? How can we educate girls who now enforce impossible standards amongst themselves? Don’t they know that most of what they see in the media is fake? Watch this before and after video
I don’t know the answer. Parents need to stop approving plastic surgery on still-growing girls. Magazines and the media need to start showing people as they are, without photoshop. We need to emphasize the health benefits of a normal weight range that includes actually eating and not tossing your cookies right after.
I have two granddaughters who will have to navigate this distorted reality. I’m doing my best to inoculate them against the madness. I would like them to have strong enough bones to weather old age, a strong enough immune system to fend off any pandemic that may be on the horizon, and a healthy enough sense of self to not go along with the crowd.
How do we address this growing problem? We’ve watched celebrities like Farrah Fawcett and Karen Carpenter die from eating disorders. Many young celebrities tell tales of being urged to lose more and more weight because they are too fat when they are thinner than the average American female.
Keep the conversation alive if you have young women in your lives. There’s much we can do to help them have healthier lives and a healthier self image. Not everyone needs to weigh 100 pounds!
Take care of yourselves! We Need you!
@ 2014 Beth Terry, CSP • All Rights Reserved