On the other side of the weight-loss bun

By Katy Stang | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Katy StangI remember the day my mother came home furious, with my sister in tow. I had never seen her that mad, and after sending both my sister and me to our room, I found out why. My sister had been caught shoplifting. The manager at the supermarket had told my mom that if she had not been with my sister, she would have been arrested.

However, what piqued my interest was what she was caught trying to steal: ex-lax.

Later we would find out she was bulimic, a revelation that both saddened and puzzled me. I was significantly heavier than she was and while I had been bullied in the past, I had never gone to such extreme measures to try to lose weight. But she did and I knew that somewhere along the way her confidence for being curvy had melted into self-doubt and self-hate. It was then that I began to understand the pressures to become thin.

The quest to become healthy has steam-rolled America, and in its wake, we have become crippled as a society. Not in the literal sense. Instead our most scrutinized features are our bodies. In the United States in 2010, the weight loss market was worth an astounding $60.9 billion, according to MarketData.

This importance is reflected in the business world, as well. A 2004 study by Cornell University Associate Professor John Cawley showed that if a woman puts on around roughly 64 pounds, her wages declined by 9 percent. More than ever, individuals are placing an importance on such a trivial attribute. At the same time, this has begun to show damaging effects.

Recent research has found that anorexia nervosa, where a person drastically limits their food intake, is currently the most fatal mental disorder with an estimated mortality rate of 10 percent, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But what is even more startling is how young individuals are beginning to develop eating disorders.

Between the years of 1999 and 2006, hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased by a shocking 119 percent, suggesting that the pressures of the body are starting to encroach on the young. There is no question why when shows like “The Biggest Loser” now have a kid’s edition where 13-year-olds proclaim their need to have a new “healthy lifestyle.”

None of this is to say that being health conscious is bad in anyway. Obesity is on the rise for both adults and children, and it has become a national epidemic. However, there is another side to the argument that we are not examining.

An aspiration to be healthy is fine and the same goes for exercising regularly, but where is self-worth in the conversation? We are teaching our children that being thin is one of the most important attributes in growing up. Why are we not teaching people to first love themselves before changing what they don’t like?

“It’s so sad that we live in a culture where restrained eating is normal eating, and I just want to tell you it’s not. It’s not normal,” Brown University Nutritionist Annie Buffington proclaimed this month. She also went onto say that, “People can be healthy at all sizes by focusing on other factors in their life and not just the number on a scale.”

My thinner sister did not like how she looked, so I started questioning my body. I never developed an eating disorder, but I did spend an enormous chunk of my childhood feeling both inferior and ugly. I felt like I was worth nothing because of how I looked and that I didn’t deserve what others had because I was/am fat. But then, the glorious Web-o-sphere heavens opened up and I discovered fat activist blogs, which helped me grow into the confident and sexy woman I am today.

I gained the self-worth that the world around me told me I didn’t deserve. I became secure in myself and grew to love every stretch mark, curve, handle and roll. Surprisingly enough, I’m healthier than ever. Although still fat, I eat healthy and exercise regularly and enjoy life to its fullest. My sister, with the help of my family, was able to conquer bulimia and we know she was one of the lucky ones.

Diet, exercise and being healthy are all good things, but by placing the emphasis on physical characteristics, it is damaging many individuals’ self-esteem. By teaching people to love their bodies, along with living a healthy lifestyle, some may begin to put down the ex-lax and pick up the self-confidence.

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