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When body image isn't seen as a 'real' problem

Melissa Davey
Published: November 15, 2012 - 9:48AM

"In light of all the people in the world living with disabilities and serious illnesses, your obsession with your appearance is inexcusable."

"And that'd be a first world problem right there.....
Perhaps if you moved to a developing or third world nation you'd have other things to concern yourself with."

"Surely we have something better to talk about at this point than the shape of our bodies and the clothes we put on them?"

Despite the Butterfly Foundation stating that eating disorders are highly complex and serious mental and physical illnesses; despite the mortality rate for anorexia being 15-20 per cent; and despite body image disturbance being recognised as a significant mental and physical health issue – the comments above, (plucked from a variety of Daily Life posts on body image), suggest there are plenty of people who think body image is not a 'real' problem.

And that pisses me off. Really. Because 90 per cent of 12-17 year old girls and 68 per cent of 12–17 year old boys have been on a diet of some description (The Butterfly Foundation), which would indicate dieting and image obsession are now normal.

"You are indeed fortunate - or perhaps not - if you have the time to analyse and ruminate over such an issue."

Do these desk chair commentators really grasp that idea? Do they really understand the years of trauma and obsession many of these teenage dieters will go on to suffer, along with their families?  Do they really think anyone chooses that kind of life for themselves?

I don’t expect sympathy, and I certainly don’t expect total understanding. But is it too much to ask that men, women and children suffering from heinous body-image disorders be able to live their lives and seek help, without coming across views such as this? :

"Watch Bulgaria's Abandoned Children and issues such as those covered in this article really get put into perspective."

Let me tell you I would have given anything back when I was sick to have just stopped it, to focus on 'real' problems and break the routine I was accustomed to repeating every single day. I’d give anything to not still be facing the repercussions of my daily life back then, every single day, right now.

Recently, when I gained the nerve to tell someone close to me that I was still getting treatment to deal with the psychological effects of eating disorders, their response to the fact that there was a time I did not eat was; “That was silly’’. 

Yes. It was f*cking silly! Sand-papering my hips (which is basically trying to show your hip bones by using sand-paper to grind down the skin), sneaking out of my house to go for runs at 3am, poisoning my food so I couldn’t eat even if I wanted to, breaking bones in my foot through malnutrition and over-exercise, losing my hair, being unable to leave the house, hiding treatment from my family (and footing the bill as a poor university student), spending hours and hours each day making myself sick to the point of exhaustion and blacking out aren’t just silly behaviours. They’re embarrassing.

They are also are real, traumatising and agonising. They’re not a choice. They’re the result of a serious illness, the causes of which are complex and not always to do with wanting to be thin or to look like a model. That’s right - sometimes, those two factors have nothing to do with body image disorders at all.

Make no mistake, the media, magazines and models play a powerful role in many body-image cases. A study published in the open-access journal, PLoS One, found  viewing one type of figure, either smaller or larger, increased women’s preference for that body type, regardless of whether they were depicted as something to aspire to or not.

The lead author of report, Linda Boothroyd, said, ''this really gives us some food for thought about the power of exposure to super-slim bodies. Furthermore, it seems that even so-called ‘cautionary’ images against anorexia might still increase our liking for thinner bodies, such as those featuring the late French model Isabelle Caro, which is a sobering thought.”

I'm glad there are people who have never experienced the kinds of life experiences that lead to poor, distorted body image issues and disordered eating. It’s a shame some of these individuals assume the problem is insignificant, purely because it is predominantly occurring in the 'first-world'.

"Being thin is healthier than being fat and it opens more doors, nuff said."

But it's even worse that they choose to voice their opinions via ignorant comments below articles on body image issues. Articles people suffering from these disorders might consult, desperate for some understanding and solidarity in the lonely world of mental illness.

The Butterfly Foundation: 1800 334 673.

Melissa Davey is a health reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Follow Melissa on Twitter: @MelissaLDavey

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