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Couture Torture and Eating Disorders

Posted on Feb 17, 2008 at 12:50PM

girl with her back to the camera, with her head in her hands

emaciated girl with pain on her face

The following excerpt was written by the editors of Coutorture, an online fashion community:
"Aspiration, desire, and luxury mingle freely with hunger, pain and death.
Fashion's treatment of the body is one of compulsion and envy even as it offers
tantalizing freedom to the individual. But for the time being we are feeling
constricted by the contradiction."
As a beauty and fashion blogger, Girl-Woman normally writes shorter and lighter posts, but since being asked by Coutorture to submit comments on their recent photo shoot and riveting title, Couture Torture, this lengthy post will be long and heavy. It is a subject that needs all of our attention.
thin model
It is devastating that young girls and women still put so much emphasis on how their bodies compare to that of models and celebrities. Forty years has not seen much advancement in redefining beauty from the waif-sized physique of supermodel Twiggy to the once curvaceous models of Renaissance paintings. Body image is still plaguing many young women, resulting in an increase in eating disorders.

Body image, although difficult to define, is linked to our self-awareness, self-perception, self-esteem, and how we view ourselves in the world. Many factors influence body image: parenting, gender, culture, media, peers, and the fashion and beauty industries. Smart women and girls know that we need to have fat distributed on our hips and thighs and be a certain body weight to facilitate menstruation, fertility, lactation, protect against osteoporosis, and to maintain healthy skin, eyes, hair and teeth. So why do smart women and girls succumb to eating disorders?

thin model
Although some parents of beauty-obsessed girls would like to lay the blame on the media perpetuating the perfect body as a size 2 and designers for designing their fashions for skinny models on the catwalk, the most recent research published in the January-February's issue of Psychology Today indicates that the greatest accelerant of fat fear and distorted eating is the peer culture to which adolescents have been consigned for the past few decades.

Researchers in the International Journal of Eating Disorders also cites peer pressure as the strongest predictor of eating disorders among middle-class school girls today.Theperceptions of one's peers are so strong that it outweighs traditional factors such as confidence level, actual body mass, trying to look like the girls and women appearing in magazines or on television and the Internet, and it even outweighs being teased by one's own family about weight.

According to Richard Hersh, former director of Harvard's Center for Moral Education, this peer pressure was caused by adult neglect. Adults -- parents, neighbors, teachers, professors -- have inadvertently hampered girls by allowing them to be socialized by television, the Internet, and by their peers rather than by caring, demanding, and mentoring adults. Sadly, at the same time, the adults view girls as helpless, sheltering them from a wide range of experiences. Both forms of deprivation weaken the girls from within, so that young women go off to college socially and emotionally fragile and vulnerable.

Peer group pressure is also supported by Steven Levenkron, author of The Best Little Girl in the World and who has treated girls and women with eating disorders for 30 years. He indicates that girls without a strong, healthy attachment to parents turn to their peers and to the media for guidance.

In Girl-Woman's opinion, I hope that the media -- yours truly included -- would become better mentors for girls and young women and evaluate before we publicate. Asone of the factors influencing young women, I feel there should be education in our publications. But having said that does not mean that I believe that media should resign from publishing fashion coverage. The beauty of living in a capitalistic society is that it gives designers absolute freedom to design fashions as they see fit -- no pun intended -- and the absolute freedom to use any size model that they choose. So where does that leave us?

According to Psychology Today, "Just as there is no single cause of eating
disorders among the young -- they are rooted in conditions set long before
college -- there is no one solution. But many contributing elements can be
addressed by schools, parents, and the culture at large:

  • Attenuate the competitive pressure on kids; dispute the idea that the only
    path to success runs through Harvard Yard.

  • Combat the pursuit of perfectionism: Discuss the impossibility of
    being perfect, the self-preoccupation that dogs perfectionists, and
    perfectionism's ultimately self-defeating nature.

  • Allow the young meaningful engagement in a broad range of experiences
    beyond their usual routine.
  • Encourage kids to experiment by giving them permission to fail, so that they
    can claim their own experience and construct a strong sense of self.

  • Discard helicopter parenting for real parenting, because authentic
    connection inoculates kids against the excesses of peer culture.
  • Expose kids to alternatives to the pseudo culture mass manufactured for
    their consumption.
  • Lobby upper schools to dampen the college-entrance sweepstakes. This
    in turn could force colleges to revamp admissions policies predicated on excess
    selectivity favoring ultracompetitive overachievers."
Girls, if any of you are bulimic or anorexic or are leaning in that direction, please, please remember that beauty comes in all shapes and comes from within.

Lastly, I have always had a passion for empowering girls and have written tips to boost your self-esteem and empower yourself in a post entitled "You."

(Images: Coutorture)
(Sources: Psychology Today, Journal of International Eating Disorders)

posted by Anonymous
Mon, 02/25/2008 - 9:36am

Hi,I just wanted to say that I came across your post because its National Eating Disorders Week and a friend wanted me to read it. Thank you. Though I'm still working on seeing myself as my actual size, this was a good article to read and make me pause and think about what I'm doing and WHY.

posted by Girl-Woman
Tue, 02/26/2008 - 10:46am

Oh, it breaks my heart that you don't see yourself for what you are. I hope you find peace with your body.

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