Eating disorders in women are extremely devastating – and extremely common. Many of the women I speak to admit that they have struggled with body image issues from a young age, in large part because of the unrealistic expectations they feel were imparted by societal and cultural standards. Many of us played with Barbie dolls when we were young, many of us grew up watching thin women on television and seeing thin women on billboards and in magazine ads. We grow up subconsciously believing that to be thin is to be beautiful. Many of us remain unaware of our own physical appearance until we start recognizing that our peers may judge us based on the clothes that we wear and the accessories that we own. For most girls, these self-conscious tendencies begin around age 12 or 13.
Society and Eating Disorders in Women
We start to recognize that the cooler we look, the cooler we are. That we fit in more with the popular crowd if we dress a certain way and wear make-up. We start thinking about boys, and how we want to appear to them – how we want them to look at us. We begin talking to our girls about food and how maybe we should be watching what we eat. We’re used to eating whatever we want as children; sugary cereal for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and big sit-down, family meals at suppertime. And then we get to high school, and some of the girls start skipping lunch. The popular girls drink Diet Coke and sit with the boys. We go home and we look through Seventeen magazine, and we see the skinny girls in the clothing ads. We start to think that maybe we’re not good enough.
Societal Standards Lead to Low Self-Esteem
I began restricting calories when I was seventeen, right before prom. My friends began talking about losing a little weight in order to look better in their dresses, and I thought that probably I could stand to lose a couple of pounds as well. So I began cutting out bread, because carbohydrates make you fat (everyone knows that). I began running around the block a couple times at night. Soon I started to thin down, and people took notice. So I cut out fats. I cut out sugars and starches. Soon I had cut out everything but fruits and vegetables. Fruits were high in sugar, I read, and so I cut those out too.
By the time I went away to college, I was living off of carrots and lettuce. I had dropped nearly 20 pounds, and I wasn’t through yet. When I got to school everyone just thought I was naturally thin (or at least, I assumed that until more was revealed to me later on). I kept losing weight, and the voices in my head continued to get louder. People said, “You’re so skinny, I’m so jealous!” It was fuel for the fire – but I was so sick. So miserable and so, so cold. I couldn’t get warm, and the voices in my head got louder still. I started drinking more than I ever had before, because the constant obsession was too overwhelming. The more I drank and the thinner I became, the closer I got to death. It was only a matter of time.
Eating Disorder Treatment for Women
The societal pressure I felt to be thin has developed into a life-threatening eating disorder, which was exacerbated by daily alcohol abuse. If it wasn’t for professional intervention and an extended stay at a dual diagnosis, all-female treatment facility, I might not be here today. Without the assistance of a team of magnificent, inspirational women who dedicated their lives to helping me learn to love myself, I would likely be dead (or just as miserable as ever). The sad truth is that as women, we are instilled with a sense of inadequacy as early on as childhood. We must fight to love ourselves – but once we learn how, it will come naturally. After all, we are truly amazing and admirable beings.