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The Beauty Myth

By Raine N. Reyes

During dinner one evening at the Union, someone asked a friend of mine if I was anorexic. I became infuriated.

"Of course I'm not!" I screamed.

"He meant it as a compliment," she shouted back. "I wish someone would call me anorexic."

Seventeen magazine, one of the most widely read magazines by young females today, recently reported that "one in every hundred adolescent girls" develops anorexia.

While some psychologists largely attribute anorexia to "sexual victimization," it seems instead that the root cause is the perpetuation of an unfair standard for today's women. The vast majority of men expect women to be ridiculously slim.

Although the exact causes are certainly disputable, the detrimental consequences remain the same. The most obvious effect of anorexia is the external decomposition of the body. This emaciation reaches such a level that anorexics lose their ability to carry themselves or perform many of the bodily functions healthy humans perform each day: breathing or walking, for example. In addition, anorexics develop serious gastrinal problems, diabetes and gall-bladder diseases.

Also, there is the traumatic psychological component of anorexia, which stems from the extensive preoccupation with food, dissatisfaction with the body and general feelings of insecurity.

Once we begin to understand that anorexia is a serious illness, perhaps we will overcome the urge to regard emaciated bodies as the epitome of beauty.

Many people tease me because I eat more than they do, while hardly ever gaining weight. All too often, though, the teasing has an underlying tone of resentment.

A fellow female student has said to me more than once, "I can't wait to see you in thirty years when you'll be just as short and weigh 250 pounds. I'll fucking crack up in your face."

She often stares at me during dinner with a look of jealously in her eyes as she stuffs herself full of bread. I hate you, she playfully says every night. Too bad, I answer.

And it is too bad. It is too bad that she feels she isn't pretty because she isn't thinner than she is already. Like many other women, she is never satisfied with the way she looks.

Unfortunately, this attitude is widespread, as society cultivates women's obsession with their physical appearance. Essentially, many women perceive their current weight to be at one extreme (which they usually are not), while viewing an "anorexic" weight (which really is an extreme) as their goal.

Enthralled in a competitive struggle for the waif-like ideal, any woman who weighs less is viewed with hateful envy.

Complex and ingrained social trends must be examined to understand the cause of these desperate problems. The most obvious impetus for anorexia is the perception among women that they must be thin to be attractive to the opposite sex. Certainly, society perpetuates this belief.

The modelling industry is the clearest symbol of this dangerous attitude. When I read fashion magazines, I am usually repulsed by the pale skeletons which grace the pages. Basically, these magazines serve to make malnutrition fashionable.

Even worse, many of these women are regarded as extremely successful. These are the women that make the big bucks, get "any man they want" and are famous all around the world. It is no wonder that women are captivated by the emaciated figures of supermodels.

Inevitably, many women who seek to emulate these "heroines" become so obsessed with losing weight that too much is never enough. The more they lose, the more they think they have to lose.

In the desperate attempt to reach the ideal weight, many women resort to anorexia, instead of more healthy alternatives such as nutrition and exercise. The obsession often becomes so severe that these women lose sight of their goal and, instead of making an appearance on the cover of Vogue, they find themselves on hospital beds.

Even though more women are becoming aware of the problems associated with anorexia, solutions are rarely acknowledged. At Harvard, fortunately, important programs such as Eating Concerns Hotline Outreach (ECHO) already exist. Yet, few people know about them.

I must wonder if people actually realize that ECHO is a peer counseling hotline outreach? Or that it has drop-in hours, discussion groups and speakers? Or that it has an outreach program for freshman? Do people know that ECHO works with the Dining Services program to help facilitate awareness of eating disorders? Or that ECHO is only one link in a network of university organizations?

The student body apparently possesses a poor understanding of the resources available. Many students have never heard of the programs or they believe that they are some type of "mushy" method in which the counselors have a list of positive adjectives to spit out when you call or drop in. It is not enough to advertise these programs in the Radcliffe pamphlets that barely anybody reads.

Students at Harvard need to be made aware of the ways to overcome eating disorders. There should be a stronger and tighter communication between the existing programs and the student body. And, generally, more preventive measures should be taken so that one day, we eventually won't need such programs.

Something certainly must be done when it is considered a compliment to be called anorexic.

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