In 1982, a psychiatrist called Peter Slade wanted to rename the eating disorders as body image disorders. Most of you are familiar with the terms anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating disorders. But while eating disturbance is what you get on the surface; Slade argued that the term "eating disorders" is akin to calling pneumonia a coughing disorder or measles a spots disorder. His view – which is shared by modern thinkers, is that starving, sometimes to death; purging, compulsive exercise, yo-yo dieting, obsessive weighing, taking slimming pills or steroids if you are male, and adopting strange eating plans like avoiding all meats and dairy foods; - all this is just a reflection of your altered perception of bigness, fatness and too much-ness from which you may be continually trying to escape in order to feel better about yourself.
But even those of us who don’t have eating disorders are somewhat unforgiving about the way we look. So how does it all go wrong?
Body image is subjective and open to change by social influences and personal social experiences. Most people on the planet have a reference group that furnishes information about the ideal appearance. In this country it is arguably a tall thin coat hanger and in Burma it is a very long neck. In all cultures, beautiful is the same as good . We are surprised to find a loving heart inside Beauty’s beast and its only lovely Cinderella or wafer thin Kate who gets a Prince.
For most of us, our first reference group is in the home: with parents who might feed you instead of giving you a hug, or diet and rebuke themselves and name-call other people for their fatness. I bet you have heard them say "she's put on weight" a hundred times. You may have a bother or sister who teases you for being fat. If your best friend happens to be thinner (or stronger if you are a male) your body evaluation may shift. If you are taller or shorter than other people, if you have experienced abuse or violence at the hands of another person, you may turn your anger and sadness against your body which was the subject of their harms.
But what we see in the home is only a reflection of what is in our wider social world. Nowadays, it is the norms and aspirations of our society that we find reflected and, to some extent guided by a pervasive media which reaches deep into our lives. This media gives us clear messages that what is valued is youth and slimness that most of us will never reach. That’s OK, ideals were never meant to be attainable – that’s what makes them ideal!
But we are led to believe that our failure to get our appearance right means that we are weak, lazy, or unwilling to take of ourselves properly.
And where that takes us is,.... to be continued.