The Myth of Beauty
I’d like to start the article by asking every reader a question: Have you ever considered yourself as overweight and should take measures to control your weight? Well, if you are a female, then your answer is much more likely to be YES, because there are lots of studies showing that women, in general, are more likely than men to have body dissatisfaction.
In many countries, women are pressured to be thin and “beautiful,” while men are more tolerated to be obese and “ugly,” because beauty is not an essential part of men’s life but essential for “decorative” women. If a woman, especially a young woman, is overweight, she is not considered as “women” anymore, but a buffoon whom others can sneer at. This phenomenon is particularly pervasive in high schools, where adolescents are greatly influenced by social media but still lack the ability to make an independent judgment. Overweight girls are often targets of bullying, and only thin girls can win praise and admiration from their peers. The culture that excessively promotes thinness as the standard of beauty harms the mental and physical health of women. To meet the social standard, many women who are actually not fat try hard to control their diets, preventing the intake of calories to the extent that their life could hardly be sustained. Women who maintain such an unhealthy eating pattern often suffer from severe physical and mental health problems.
Eating disorder is a common mental illness among those women who tried hard to control their diets. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), two-thirds of the thirty million Americans suffer from eating disorders are women (“What are eating disorders?”). This data could show the significant gender gap: men, in general, are less likely to be pressured to have a good body shape, but women, on the other hand, face harsh judgment if they are not thin enough to meet the morbid standard set by the society.
Bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder characterised by binge eating followed by purging, is a severe eating disorder that we should pay more attention to. It affects 1-1.5% of females, and there is a 10:1 ratio of females to males suffering from the disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
When many women are trying to control their diets based on unrealistic plans, things often get out of their control, and they just ‘slip’.They would eat lots of food rapidly until their stomach overstretched and then vomit or take laxatives to purge a large amount of food they just ate. In the beginning, it seems to be a good solution: they can both control their weight and satiate their appetite. However, the process of purging is very damaging to their bodies. The results could be the breakdown of the teeth, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and infertility. In the most extreme cases, it could cause death.
Although women with Bulimia nervosa can remain thin because of purging, their skin conditions would deteriorate, and the salivary glands in their neck would be swollen, which causes them to feel bad about themselves. Bulimia nervosa is linked with mental problems like low self-esteem, self-harming, depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, and suicidal tendencies. However, many women suffering from Bulimia nervosa are afraid of seeking help. They tend to avoid contact with people because they think others will discriminate against them if their ‘abnormalities’ are found out. This mentality prevents them from getting help and makes things worse. To improve the situation, we must understand the cause of Bulimia nervosa.
Social media is one of the major causes of Bulimia nervosa. As we know, people tend to follow “prominent figures” on social media, such as Instagram. The social ideal of attractiveness is expressed through thin female celebrities: when female celebrities have thin body shapes that can fit into size two, young girls would naturally desire to become just like them. They try to transform themselves to meet the social ideal of attractiveness, but the process is very hard as the social ideal often promotes thinness to a morbid extent that women must maintain an unhealthy diet to meet. The deep dissatisfaction in their bodies combined with the desire for thinness finally cause the binge-purge cycle, and then lead to Bulimia nervosa.
Although the social ideal for attractiveness is gradually changing, morbid thinness is still viewed as the standard of beautiful women in many parts of the world, such as East Asia. In China, Korea, and Japan, women are required to be thin, pale, and weak. The unhealthy degree of thinness prevents women from getting enough calorie intake and exercise, thus ensuring that women are weak and easily manipulated. Any woman who can’t meet the social deal for attractiveness would feel pressured to transform herself, which potentially leads to mental and physical problems. Men, on the other hand, generally don’t face harsh judgment and are not pressured to meet the social ideal for attractiveness because society considers beauty an essential part of ‘decorative’ women but not ‘pragmatic’ men. This gender gap is a common phenomenon in many societies.
The social standard is hard to change, but we can change our mentality to embrace a healthier and happier way of life. We must ask ourselves: is the morbid thinness something we truly want? Or are we simply conforming to society? If we want to lose weight, we can exercise more instead of being on an unhealthy diet. We should say “no” to the morbid social ideal and say “no” to those people who judge us by our appearances.
To end this article, I’d like to call on everyone: Let’s free ourselves from the unfair ideal for attractiveness and embrace a healthy way of life!
by Erica Chen