When I taught high school, I remember a discussion I had with the gymnastics coach. We were discussing some of the girls who had graduated and gone on to college. I was shocked when the coach mentioned that two of them she knew had battled anorexia and even confronted it when they were on the high school team. Somehow, I didn't equate the muscular-looking bodies with anorexia, but there was a correlation. The young girls had to whizz through the air, remain lithe and agile and after the season was over, without their rigorous routines, they gained weight which made it very difficult to get back in shape when the season returned again. So they became anorexics to maintain their "balance" on the beam and cartwheel and running flip to their hearts content 4 months of the year.
|Example of a photo which sometimes is posted on #thinspo|
This is not an unusual occurrence for teenagers engaged in gymnastics. One mother discusses that when her daughter stopped the rigorous training which by fourth grade included practicing 14 to 16 hours a week, she put on weight and thought she was getting "fat." So she ramped into the anorexia mode eating less and less, and flew under the radar with her parents because the weight loss was gradual. Her mother noticed how emaciated she looked in a bathing suit and she rushed her to a pediatrician who hospitalized her. "I pulled every string I could think of" the mother says when she attempted to enroll her in a program and see a psychiatrist. However, there was a waiting list for new patients, and other doctors she called were already at capacity. The mother remembers, "I was hysterical calling the psychiatrist's office and saying, 'Please, we can't wait. My child will be dead in three months.'"
Anorexia is a disease that has spread beyond the once typical age group of teen girls. Doctors are changing their protocol to accommodate treating younger anorexics and older ones. They are now treating children as young as 8-years-old and the elderly who are reaching the upper 70s age brackets. Once identified as occurring amongst a wealthy population of 13-17 year-old-girls is increasingly common among the elementary age children, even little boys and it runs a complete economic and age spectrum so that no one population remains untouched by eating disorders.
|And adult woman suffering from eating disorders which may have begun in her teens.|
According to Margaret Kelley, clinical nurse manager for the eating disorders treatment program at The Children's Hospital in Denver, "In the last two years, we've actually had to add a treatment track to deal with kids ages 9 to 11, and we're getting many more boys. We used to see one or two a year at most, but we've almost always got one or two boys in the program now."
Because the eating disordered hide their condition in a culture that prizes uber thin celebrity, the svelte model and the thin broadcast media spokesperson, and touts diets, weight loss programs and fitness devices and gyms, the disease is not easily detected, especially when two-thirds of the US population is either dieting or poised on the brink of dieting. Children are not stupid. They recognize that great status enshrines the thin, and demeaning stereotypes slap the fat. The overweight and obese are denounced and shamed for their ungainly condition. They are assumed to be unintelligent, lazy, unfit, smelly, sweaty, unloved and gross. Fat kids have no identity other than "The Ridiculed" and in elementary school through high school, they are the lost population, perhaps self-designed to avoid bullying jokes, opposite sex rejection and daily embarrassment about their disgusting condition. They just slide into the wall like ghosts, unless they rise above their condition and make their teachers and peers forget with sterling performances in academia or other activities: music, the arts, technology, etc. However, this is too little too late; the damage is done. Tweens and teens see the peer treatment of the fatties and fear for lives and their ability to fit in and be cool.
|Adult woman suffering from eating disorders which most probably began as Anorexia in her teens.|
Is it any wonder that fat, considered a cultural taboo and anathema from the White House down to the Frat House is most probably behind most of the drive toward the silence of anorexia/eating disorders, a condition hampering an indeterminate number of preteens and 5% of adolescents and a growing number of young women, middle aged women, wealthy socialites and senior aged women and men? What? Has the world gone off its axis? You thought men could do anything and there would be a woman out there to love him? Yes...well, not the kind he wants: not a fatty woman. He wants a slender, beautiful woman, certainly not one who is obese, so he had better look the part or obviously be attempting to look the part. And in the case of a gay man? Whew! He has to be buff and beautiful. Yes, more than ever men are being diagnosed with eating disorders. (Just today, I was trying on black slacks in a GAP store that had a coed dressing room. I overheard a young guy; he was asking the salesgirl if the pants pushed up his waist and gave him love handles. She assured him she saw no bacon anywhere. Gee, I thought. There's a revolution going on...a man concerned about love handles and back fat showing
If the adult population is suffering from fat worry as they acknowledge that obesity is associated with poor, trailer-trash, Walmart patrons, and slender beauty with Ralph Lauren, Gucci and the good life, can kids resist internalizing these modalities and equations? Will kids act on such internalizations?
Here are some statistics. In a study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 60% of elementary and middle school teachers reported an eating disorder problem with their students. Experts know this and are concerned about the rise in nearly epidemic proportions of "disordered eating" because of the perceptions of kids in elementary school, perceptions which can foreshadow the underpinnings of full blown anorexia a few years later.
- Kids in first through third grades wish they were thinner: 42% or almost half said this.
- Of the 10-year-olds surveyed, 81% are afraid of becoming fat.
- Girls between the ages of 9 and 10 years-old say they feel better about themselves when they are on a diet: 51% said this.
The warnings are out there. Experts see them, but does the rest of the culture care, or are the benefiting corporations happy that they are creating continued generations of rebellious obese and weight obsessives who will need their products: their weight loss drugs, teas, diets panaceas, programs, medical devices, gyms, protocols, doctors' visits, etc.? How many more anorexic suicides does our culture have to produce before more medical groups, schools and parents demand enough is enough with the obsession about weight and being uber thin? We could learn a lesson from the UK whose organized groups prompted the government to create a guide for parents to help their tweens be realistic about their body image and not believe the photoshopped images on magazines and covers and the camera lighting and angles on TV and in films.
|This is the photo of an older, eating disordered woman in her 60s.|
All photos courtesy of http://anorexiapictures.net/?q=node/8