Society and Beauty Feminism Feminist Women Critici

smSociety and Beauty: Lets Stop the Madness

Six Sources Cited Two very qualified women go to a business office for a job interview. The job entails a lot of contact with people. Both women are upbeat and perky and have almost identical experience in the field; the only major difference between the two women is the way they look. One woman is tall and slim with an attractive face. The other is a heavy-set “Plain Jane.” The attractive woman got the job.

Unfortunately, in society today looks are very important. It is a fact that people who are good looking have an easier time excelling in their careers and in life in general than people who are not. This is a sad and very shallow fact that shows society has really not come that far since the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. Society has moved from discriminating because of color; but what is on the outside is still what really counts to many people.

She knew what she had to do before it was too late, and she rose up with difficulty and walked across the thick carpet to the bathroom, and flicked of the light…
She left the water running out of habit, though this time it wasn’t necessary since no one was around to hear the sounds from the bathroom. When she had finished the glass of water she lifted the lid of the toilet and knelt down before it, her face within the bowl. She pushed down of the back of her tongue in the exact right spot, and the brownish liquid gushed out of her (Chernin 30).

This journal entry, written by a young woman in college, is about a typical day during her battle with an eating disorder. We live in a society where a woman can never be to thin and this quest for thinness turns deadly. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, murder over two million teenage girls and women at an alarming rate (Nardo 11). Eating disorders are predominate health problems that severely effect the victim in vital areas of his or her life, such as his or her physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological state. These disorders most often appear in, young, bright, attractive women between the ages of twelve and twenty-five (Nardo 10). The women who surrender to these murderous afflictions are eventually destroyed. Serious mental disorders lead to the distruction of a woman’s mind and body.

An eating disorder is defined as “a relationship that one has with food where the food is serving some purpose or has some meaning other than nutrition (Nardo 12).” In most cases, it is necessary to comprehend that an eating disorder is a psychological illness that progresses into an addiction similar to an alcohol or drug addiction. The victim becomes “hooked” on food and discovers a pleasure in the fight against the enemy, her appearance.

The most well known eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. Anorexia was once a rare and strange disease that many had never heard of before. In 1873, practitioner and physician Sir William Gull described anorexia as an illness that originated from a diseased mental state. A French psychiatrist, Charles Lasque, thought anorexia to be a social and psychological disease, which was likely to develop in controlling homes with plenty of food and regulated food patterns. At meal times, children would be forced to eat everything on their plates, making meal times stressful when the children were already full. Another condition that may have contributed to the growth of anorexia among women was the belief that they were to stay home and prepare for the “proper” marriage. The view that women’s feelings were not important, but that their looks were, led them to very depressing and self-indulgent lives. To fix their feelings of inadequacy and insignificance, they refused to eat (Ebstein 34-35).

Anorexia, in itself, is a self-imposed starvation where the victim has a fixation with dieting and thinness that leads to the destruction of her body. In literal terms, anorexia means loss of appetite, although this is an irrelevant portrayal of this disease. Anorexics have a distorted body image. They think they are too fat, no matter what their weight may be, and they are always striving to become thinner. Anorexics have an exaggerated fear of gaining weight and they are always very critical of their body. They believe the more depleted and wasted they become, the better they look (Hazel Internet).

Because of their fear of fatness, anorexics refuse to eat and may loose up to forty percent of their body weight. The ability to fight the hunger pains and the urges to binge give anorexics a sense of control and power (Renfrew Internet). The anorexic person diets more and insists on being thinner than anyone else. Anorexics like to hear that they are “too skinny” and thrive on the attention they gain (Pipher 66). They are obsessed with food but they avoid it at all costs.

Anorexics have an obsession with becoming unrealistically thin. They may weigh themselves up to twenty-one times a day, plan every detail of an extremely low calorie meal, and eat the same food at the same time every day (Sonder 26). Anorexics have very low self-esteem and feel that they do not deserve to eat (Jones CD-ROM).

Psychological symptoms, such as social withdrawal, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and depression, are often associated with anorexia. Anorexics’ distorted views of the way they look and the world around them are the causes of the psychological distress. The signs and symptoms that occur in severe cases of anorexia are obvious. There is a noticeable weight loss and anorexics will wear baggy close to hide their bodies. Anorexics become withdrawn socially and are much more interested in food and calories. They make up excuses like “I ate earlier” or “I am not feeling well” for not eating regular meals and form unusual eating habits, such as cutting their food into teeny bits. They become very uncomfortable around food and they complain of being too fat when they are in reality grotesquely thin. The anorexic feels guilt and shame about eating and will claim, after only a few bites, that they are full. They are very secretive about their eating patterns and have difficulty eating in public. They frequently weigh themselves and experience feelings of self worth as weight comes of (Moorey 48).

The anorexic endures fatigue and lack of energy, amenorrhea (the lack of menstruation), skin problems, dizziness, and headaches. They become dehydrated, short of breath, have irregular heartbeats, and cold hands and feet. They experience bloating, constipation, hair loss and stomach pains. They grow lanugo all over their arms, which is a soft woolly body hair that compensates for the loss of fat cells so the body can stay insulated. Anorexics experience kidney and liver damage, electrolyte imbalances, insomnia, infertility, depression, cathartic colon from laxative abuse, low potassium, and cardiac arrest leading to death (Renfrew Internet).

There are many speculations about how and why anorexia develops. Anorexics generally come from a home where parents are adamant about how their daughter should be and look and are very narrow minded about displays of independence by their children. The anorexic is likely to be in a power struggle with these parents and the home one where self-expression is not allowed. Because of the restrictions in the household, the anorexic is unable to grow up and develop a sense of self (Pipher 70-72).

How did I get so weird? My life revolves around eating and ridding myself of food. My days are a waste. I waste my time, money, and energy and I am wasting myself.
…That sparky person disappeared. Who I was became how I looked. Finally all that mattered was my weight.
Freedom for me is having no concern for how I look or what I eat. Probably the stupidest, most shallow definition of freedom ever written (Pipher 39).

Cassandra, a bulimic, wrote this journal entry at a time in her life when she just realized what she was doing to herself. Bulimia nervosa is another well-known eating disorder. The origins of bulimia can be traces back to the first century AD. The ancient Romans invented the vomitorium, a room where men could empty their stomachs after gorging themselves at a heavy banquet in order to return and eat more (Epstein 33).

Women who are bulimic seek their “binge and purge” episodes in order to punish themselves for something they unrealistically blame themselves for. This binge and purge episode is a compulsion to eat large quantities of food and then rid their bodies of the poisonous food by the means of vomiting, laxatives, or fanatic exercise (ANRED Internet). Bulimia is commonly found in college age women. College dorms and sororities are swarming with victims. “The incidence rate for Bulimia among college aged women is as high as one in every four or five (Pipher 48).”

For bulimics, the issue of being in control is crucial. Complete control is the desired goal. However if the bulimic does the slightest thing that reveals lack of control, she will let go and completely binge. Afterwards the bulimic feels shame and guilt and tries to reverse the “damage” by vomiting the food that should not have been eaten. After ridding the food from the body, the bulimic vows to never loose control again. However, because there are always signs of weakness within the bulimic, this cycle continues and binges continue (Sonder 27-28).

Bulimics are usually girls who have little confidence in their self worth and are constantly striving for the approval and acceptance of others. They feel inclined to please others before themselves as they hide their own feelings (ANRED Internet). Bulimics often have problems with anxiety, depression, and portray a compulsive demeanor. They are dependent on their family but want more then anything to be able to stand on their own. Bulimics have very few gratifying friendships or romantic relationships (Plotnik 353). ” . . .I sense a stranger filling this silent room with anguish. . .a silence that rattles against the windows leaving me so cold and numb…and somehow…this feeling I do not understand is my best friend and enemy all wrapped up in one…(Moorey 91).”

Current studies have shown that three to five percent of all women between twelve and thirty-five have, at one time in their life, suffered from bulimia (Sonder 61). Most bulimics are near normal weight, making it easier to conceal their secret. Bulimics endure severe medical reprocussions, including swollen glands, broken blood vessels, tooth decay, fatigue, irregular heart beats, soar throat, and dizziness. The bulimic avoids eating in restaurants, planned meals, or social events that include eating. They exercise ruthlessly and fast often. Mood swings and depression play a big role in the life of a bulimic. A bulimic’s self worth is determined by what the scale says (Nardo 54).

A common trigger for the maturing of bulimia in women is rejection by a man. When a man rejects a woman, she will look to find reasons for the rejection and the first reason that comes to mind is her appearance. Society tells her that, after all, Mr. Right would not have dumped her if she were ten pounds lighter. All in all, most women have experienced some sort of failure, and it is common that they will relate this failure to their appearance. They think that if they are able to control their weight, they will get what they want out of life, and unfortunately this is not always false. In American society, women who are thin are able to succeed more than women who are not. Instinctively, this causes a woman to want to loose weight. As a result women diet uncontrollably and do anything necessary to accomplish the perfect slim figure. When self-control fails, often times a woman will gorge. After indulging, bulimic women feel guilty in their failure of control and so they purge.

On a recent plane trip, a stunningly beautiful woman slid past me to take the window seat. I noted her slim body, finely manicured nails, and designer clothes. …When the meal was served I happened to glance her way. I was stunned to see she was eating her turkey, rice, and salad with her hands. I looked quickly away, then back to make sure I had seen what I thought I had seen. She was shoveling her food into her mouth like an animal. Why would such a beautiful woman eat this way?
…When the model had finished her food, she excused herself to the restroom. When she returned I noticed the telltale scar running along her index finger…It was no mistake that the most beautiful woman I had seen on my trip of several weeks had a raging eating disorder (Pipher 1).

Nearly every American woman has suffered with issues of weight, appearance, and self-image. Throughout the years, it has not been easy living in a society where the surest sign of success comes from one’s appearance. With all the new fads and diets on the market today, people are overwhelmed with messages that the key to happiness is being thin (Sonder 48).

Many women compare their bodies to those of women shown in magazines. The truth of the matter is that women from magazines are not real. Magazines use advanced technology to make these women look the way they look. Some of the photos are even composites in which combine the head of an adult woman, the torso of a young girl, and the legs of a boy (Pipher 20). Women compare themselves to these images and end up with a feeling of complete and utter inadequacy. As the distinction between real and ideal increases, the self-esteem of the average woman drops. The impressionable viewers and readers are informed that physical beauty is needed in order to obtain success, power, popularity, approval, intelligence, friends, and romantic relationships leaving the belief that what is inside is not what matters.

Women are vulnerable to eating disorders because of the demands placed on them to be thin. The “perfect” female figure has never been as thin as what is currently stylish. The average model is about five feet ten inches and weighs one hundred and ten pounds, weighing twenty three percent less then the average women (Sonder 48-49).

A key factor in reinforcing the notion that looks are what counts is the media. When one turns on the television or goes to the movies they see a fake society where everyone has perfect hair, beautiful bodies, and flawless faces. In reality, there are few people in the world that look like the people on the screen, and furthermore these people do not look this way either. They spend hours with personal trainers (who help them achieve the body they need for a certain movie) and they spend hours being made up before shooting a scene. Even actors who play characters that are supposed to be run down and tired do not look the way a real person in the same situation would look. For example, Helen Hunt in As Good as it Gets is supposed to play a tired mom with a sick son. Instead she looks like a skinny flawless movie star in her gardening clothes.

The media is just one example of the developing culture of America. Every culture sees physical beauty as important, but in America we are taking it to the extreme. There are so many gimmicks and products sold today that would have been unheard of before. Everyone desperately tries to look a certain way because they believe this is what will make them excel in life. Many people pay large amounts of money to look like their favorite stars. Some people have even come out and talked about their addiction to plastic surgery, saying that changing the way they look makes them feel better about themselves. However, this feeling lasts for only a little while. When they feel depressed again, they get something else changed. Because of all the money that can be made in plastic surgery, many medical doctors are changing their field simply because plastic surgery is where they can become rich.

Until the twentieth century, the ideal woman was accepted as one who was pleasantly plump. This change came with the woman’s right to vote and the notion of the “working woman”. In order for a woman to be taken seriously, it was necessary for her to be thin and flat chested resembling the body of a man. As a result, this was the body that became the focus of female beauty. In the late nineteen twenties the beauty pageant was introduced and became a ritual in America. The ideal female body size continued to become considerably thinner when model Twiggy became the super thin ideal for women of the nineteen sixty’s. The full-breasted, curvy female figure like Marilyn Monroe of the nineteen fifty’s faded (Sonder 14-15). Since this time period, Playboy models and Miss America weigh less then the standard weight tables that are distributed by doctors’ offices and insurance companies (Ebstein 44). Many women feel overwhelmed by the standards in which society places on them, these standards require unrealistic goals that are often unattainable and deadly for the average American to achieve (Sonder 14).

Unfortunately, we live in a society that determines a woman’s success and worth by the way she looks on the outside while ignoring other aspects of the same person. Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are serious diseases that have fatal effects on both the physical and mental health of the victims they claim. As a culture, we need to start loving ourselves for who we are and accepting each other regardless of what we look like. If we begin to learn to love and accept ourselves, we will also begin to love our bodies, no matter what their shapes and sizes may be. We need to make comments to children that focus on their abilities, like “She speaks so well,” instead of ones that discuss the way they look. We need to stop buying fashion magazines and believing all the lies that the fashion industry tells us. We need to focus on learning to love and accept ourselves. Happiness does not come from seeing how much the scale reads: happiness only comes from within.

Works Cited
“Anorexia and Bulimia: Signs, Symptoms. And How to Help.” The Renfrew Center. The Renfrew Center. 22 May, 2000. ;;
Chernin, Kim. The Hungry Self: Women, Eating, and Identity. Times Books. New York. 1994.
“Definitions of Bulimia Nervosa.” ANRED. Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. 23 May, 2000. ;;
“Eating Disorder Definitions.” Definitions According to Hazel. Hazel’s Eating Disorder Support Center. 22 May, 2000. <>
Epstein, Rachel. The Encyclopedia of Health: Eating Habits and Disorders. Chelsea House Publishers. New York. 1990.
Jones Jr., Frank Allen. “Anorexia Nervosa.” Microsoft Encarta: 1997 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Microsoft, 1996.
Moorey, James. Living With Anorexia and Bulimia. University Press. New York. 1991.
Nardo, Don. Overview Series: Eating Disorders. Lucent Books, Inc. San Diego. 1991.
Pipher, Mary. Hunger Pains: The Modern Woman’s Tragic Quest for Thinness. Ballantine Books. New York. 1995.
Sonder, Ben. Eating Disorders: When Food Turns Against You. Franklin Watts. New York. 1993.