Diet Dementia

Taking Note

I DO NOT look like Elle Macpherson. I could never wear a bathing suit like the one she sports on the cover of Sports Illustrated this month.

Do I care?

Tuesday the Wall Street Journal devoted a large chunk of their front page to the issue of dieting among fourth graders. Between 50 and 75 percent of fourth grade girls around the U.S. are dieting.

A friend is talking to me: There was a pair of green Levis that I had in seventh grade. I realized I didn't fit into them. All of a sudden there was a way my body was supposed to look, and it didn't.

A fourth grader is talking to the Journal's reporter: I just want to be skinny so no one will tease me. Whenever I feel the slightest bit full, I stop eating.

I told my male friends who were leering at Elle's lithe figure that her yellow bathing suit would do just fine for me. She looks demure in that bathing suit, seated in a native Bora Bora boat, paddle in hand, with tanned Polynesians wearing wreaths atop their hair. It looked like a very nice place to be. I liked the location shots.

Another friend talks: Freshman year in high school, I decided to start losing weight. I wanted to have the best rear end in school. People were always talking about the grapefruit diet, the Beverly Hills diet, the water and bread diet; smoking and drinking coffee so they wouldn't want to eat.

GROWING UP near the Florida panhandle, meant the inevitable spring break pilgrimage to Destin beach. Around this time every year, the diets began. Bananas only the first day; then strawberries the next, then apples the next. But at the beach, you could finally drink and eat potato chips--unless it started showing--and fast for the next day until your stomach was flat.

Then buying a new bathing suit. Don't buy horizontal stripes if you have large thighs; suits cut high on the leg hide them. If you're flat chested wear tops that have ruffles. If you're fat, wear vertical stripes. Don't wear black if you're skinny. What if you have a slim waist, large thighs and narrow shoulders?

Another friend: After my freshman year in high school, I went on a summer trip with my parents. I came back and in July saw a senior, male friend of mine. He teased me. "You've gained weight. Ten pounds or so, right?" I stopped eating for the next two days. I was so terrified of being fat.

And another: I had a boyfriend who used to tell me that if I only lost five pounds I would look like the models in Sports Illustrated. "You'd be very sexy," he would say. Finally at one point I lost the weight, and he liked it. Then I put it right back on, and he went right back to sizing me up every time we went out to see if I had lost weight.

Are my friends exceptions, unusually insecure women? I don't think so. Too many women at Harvard and throughout the U.S. have battled with some eating disorder--bulimia, anorexia, crash diets, starvation.

Those fourth grade girls who are dieting: according to experts they are possibly stunting their growth and initiating severe vitamin deficiencies. Some of them are starving themselves to death.