Are anorexia and bulimia caused by our society? What are the motivations or social pressures to be thin? What are the major sources of these pressures? Are there other cultures where this pressure does not exist?
Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are eating disorders typically characterized by a slanted view of one’s body image. Persons with anorexia nervosa consistently reduce portions of food to lose weight while those with bulimia nervosa overeat then regurgitate it to prevent weight gain. Anorexia and bulimia are quickly becoming a grave public health issue in many Western countries; with an estimated total of 30 million Americans currently suffering from one of these eating disorders (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders., 2019).
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Since anorexia and bulimia are based on a distorted perception of one’s image, I firmly believe that our society is the primary cause. Individuals who are genetically predisposed to developing these conditions increasingly grapple with immense pressure from society to be thin. It is now quite apparent that society has created a value system based on the body. From a young age, the notion that being lean and fit is directly concomitant with success and fulfillment is inculcated in children. Fashion magazines are now awash with pictures of thin models and muscular men, which have gone a long way in creating a warped conception of beauty. The mass media, through cable television, fashion magazines, and the internet, is a significant source of social pressure to be thin (Mehler & Andersen, 2017, p. 89). Young children are usually at an impressionable age when body images of beauty standards first bombard them. What many do not realize is that mass media outlets project an unrealistic standard of beauty that drives many vulnerable individuals more towards anorexia and bulimia. Actors have been known to endure grueling exercise regimens, undergo liposuction and plastic surgery just to ensure that they maintain their thin figures. In reality, these pressures program teenagers, in particular, about stereotyping weight gain and stigmatized those who do not espouse the ideal type of body. Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge that there are cultures where this pressure is non-existent. For instance, weight gain is readily embraced in Barbados. It is even regarded as a sign of beauty and the reason why many in Barbadians are quite content about their size and body weight.
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