Commentary

The Body Image Addiction

Last week’s Phillipian feature on campus eating disorders has me scared. Really scared. It’s frightening to me that, in a place where we boast of our acceptance of one another as we are, where we are supposed to find self-confidence in just being ourselves (whomever that may be), we are apparently still so hyper-focused on our physical appearance. Who am I to be writing about this, right? At five-foot-two, a hundred and five pounds, surely I don’t know what I’m talking about. But let’s just get all the cards on the table right now: like most other people, I’m aware of my size. I think before I eat that ice cream sundae after dinner. I feel guilty that I don’t go to the gym, and yes, I do wonder if being even a bit thinner would get me more attention from that cute guy in my history class. So even if I’m the last person that “should” be concerned, that is my point: eating disorders don’t just happen. They stem from other insecurities that have nothing to do with weight, which explains why anyone (yes, anyone) can have them: from petite dancer-types to the slightly bigger folks to those who are tipping the scales on the side of “obese.” Any one of those people can fail a bio test, get dumped by their significant other or get restriction for signing in late. Those are normal concerns, but when they affect those who are already insecure, they can quickly spiral out of control into self-destructive behaviors like anorexia or bulimia. We have an addiction to our images. And, as many of the school psychologists interviewed for last week’s Phillipian feature noted, the competitive and perfectionist nature of boarding schools send those tendencies into overdrive as we become panicked that we’re just not good enough in other ways. One student quoted in the feature said that “at PA a lot of the people are tall and smart and beautiful, and it’s hard to compete with that if you don’t have any special attributes.” There you have it. If you’re not a varsity athlete, a brain, or a hottie, then what do you have going for you? And since it’s a lot easier to drop twenty pounds than to become a star soccer player or a calculus genius, that’s where we choose to devote our energies. Without our parents, our oldest friends and our homes around us to provide us with a much-needed support system, our bodies quickly become the victims of our own insecurities, and we get into the self-destructive mindset that a killer figure is what will easily counterbalance a bad math grade. Since we’re living under such unimaginable stresses most of the time, and since we lack the support system that most other teenagers enjoy, we need to look out for each other. If you feel like Miss Size Zero at the other end of the Harkness table isn’t talking to you because of your size, reevaluate what you’re looking for in a friend. And if you’re one of those lucky girls with a warp-speed metabolism who just doesn’t get fat, grab some chicken fingers and get to know someone who isn’t as fortunately figured. Let me leave you with my favorite tidbit of trivia from ANRED (Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.): the comparison of the average American woman with Barbie. If you are 5’4” and 145 pounds, Barbie is a glamorous six feet tall and weighs in at 101. Barbie’s a size four. You’re anywhere between an 11 and a 14. True, your bust size is roughly the same, around 39 inches. But while Barbie’s waist is a full twenty inches smaller than her breasts, you barely shave off eight of those inches. The list goes on. But if this is getting you down, don’t let it, because there is a happy ending: were Barbie to magically come to life, her proportions are such that she would not physically be able to stand up. Doesn’t sound so appealing, does it? Don’t get me wrong, I know that most of the time, we’re comparing our “less-than-perfect” body shapes with pictures of Lindsay Lohan, Barry Bonds, Angelina Jolie and the other photoshopped celebrities who are living, breathing people and, yes, who are able to stand their perfect physiques up all by themselves. But please, try to keep it in perspective. Even if those celebrities aren’t Barbie (or Ken) dolls, they aren’t healthy either, and if you follow any celebrity gossip at all, you know that most of them certainly aren’t happy. But we can be. There’s a reason that we all got into PA, and it wasn’t the way we looked on the day we came for our interviews. Remember that, and maybe body image will start to take the back seat as we realize that we’ve got so much more to offer and so much more going for us.