The Thinness Obsession: “We Are All A Little Guilty”

The health concern associated with anorexia and eating disorders, generally speaking, does not seem to wane: indeed, results of specialized studies show, in the best case scenario, an unchanged outlook with the higher incidence occurring in the teenage female population (although the number of male patients is also on the increase) from economically well-off countries. Among the causes leading to the development of anorexic and bulimic behaviour, the following emerge: negative family and social influences, the feeling of being subjected to too much pressure or too high expectations or, conversely, to parental neglect, being ridiculed over one’s body shape or feeling unable to reach one’s goals in connection with the way one looks or with weight.

Anorexia and bulimia may also be caused by the fact that the individual suffers particularity traumatic situations such as, for instance, sexual abuse, abusive behavior on the part of family or non-family members, a difficulty in being accepted socially and within one’s family. One of the reasons why a girl starts a too-strict diet is the necessity to correspond to an aesthetic standard which rewards thinness, also in its excesses.

According to numerous psychiatrists, in fact, the current inclination to embrace a female beauty standard that exalts thinness has devastating consequences on many adolescents’ eating habits. And this is where fashion comes into play, alongside models, fashion magazines and everything regarding aesthetics. What lead us to establish that thin is beautiful and that thinness is the aesthetic code we should follow? Why the age of supermodels, who were beautiful and womanly, slowly started decreasing and we now have still undeveloped adolescents with no sign of curves? Why is this considered beautiful? Marylin Monroe, Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren today would appear in our Curvy channel and be defined shapely.

Yet they are beauty icons still today. What has really happened? Trends change also regarding aesthetics, and today we accept such standards as the most normal thing. And this is a negative example. We cannot generalize, of course, and accuse the girls we see walking runways of being anorexic. They are still undeveloped. And are taken as role-models, for instance by girls who may already have personal issues and are therefore easily influenced. And fashion becomes one of the causes. One of the most disturbing aspects of the spread and globalization of Eating Disorders is the employment of the web to convey cultural models that emphasize thinness though websites that promote pathological behaviors aiming at weight control and offer extreme dieting advice.

Pro-ana websites, where ana stands for anorexia, are one of the most effective channels to promote the disease especially with adolescents who employ such instrument daily and with extreme skill.Pro – ana web-sites all share the same feature: they promote extreme weight loss as a way of expressing one’s rejection of the adult world. The 300.000 – according to a study carried out by the Ministry of Health in 2008 – pro-ana (shorthand for pro-anorexia) and pro-mia (meaning pro-bulimia) web-sites feature somehow similar content: rules and tips (including how to induce vomit, the use of laxatives and tricks to lie to parents), images of models of “perfection” (set around 40 or even 30 Kg – 88.184 lbs/66.138 lbs), food journals and life stories (all obsessively focused around food). In all these sites, anorexia and bulimia are described as an often misunderstood personal lifestyle choice rather than a disorder with very serious consequences affecting a person’s physical and emotional health.

Last year I discovered a new and unknown world, that of pro-ana and pro-mia websites, and I accepted the idea that we are all, in some cases involuntarily, a little guilty so I started an online petition to close such websites. I was perfectly aware that half of the people would have supported me and the other half would have blamed me. And that is what happened in the beginning. But then many understood that I acted with the best intentions and that I truly wanted to use the power of the fashion world to help badly influenced people who would end up in self-destruction. Who would end up dying. This has caused me a lot of trouble and a flood of insults. But I haven’t stopped and we have reached now 12,000 signatures and I will soon launch a provocation to stop such sites. I will ask for the help of the users themselves. We will set up a chain “against”, since the law is unable to close such sites. Taking the blame is a necessary deed and finding a solution is even more important. Last year I released an issue of the magazine entirely devoted to curvy girls which was a real hit. They were beautiful and sexy. The Vogue Curvy channel on our site, which was initially accused of marginalizing curvy people, today is super-popular because curvy girls, and happy to be so, are now able to find trendy clothes without getting frustrated about not finding their size.

We will release another issue dedicated to health, that is to say featuring curvy and not curvy women, but all healthy. But what will it take to change the mentality according to which thin is beautiful, and in any case better that curvy, and I’m not saying fat? It’s totally normal to hear someone saying to a child that she is beautiful because she is slender and has thin legs. To make a compliment a girlfriend will say “You are so thin…You are gorgeous” or “You’ve lost so much weight, you look amazing like that.” We will do our best, but before this idea of beauty will change we will need time. In the meantime, another appalling phenomenon among eating disorders is also on the rise: obesity.

According to one of the most influential environmental research organization in the US, the Worldwatch Institute, the number of overweight people has risen by 25% in the span of 8 years (from 2002 to 2010). Statistics show that in 177 countries 38% of adults – those 15 years or older – are overweight.  This trend is strongly correlated to rising income and to an increase in preventable health problems, explains WWI researcher Richard H. Weil. The problem affects northern, southern, western and eastern countries. 75% of adults in the 10 richest countries in the world are overweight (with the United States featuring a staggering 78.6% of the adult population overweight) whereas in the 10 poorest countries only 18% are.

Obesity is often linked with health problems including osteoarticular diseases, strokes, sleep apnoea syndrome and some types of cancer. Obesity is commonly caused by a combination of causes such as excessive caloric intake, lack of exercise and genetic factors although, at times, causes can be largely genetic, of an endocrine type, linked with prescription medications or the result of mental illnesses and psychological disorders caused by the family and/or social environment in which the person lives.

Actually the psychological approach to the treatment of the disease today is recognized as fundamental for the full recovery of the obese patient. Food becomes a kind of anesthetic which helps not feeling pain, a self-treatment to avoid thinking about one’s personal issues, sometimes dreadful. Patients find consolation in food, and especially in the wrong type of food. People mention the fashion industry when talking about anorexia, but nobody talks about the food industry in relation to obesity, and we could say a lot about it.

The fashion industry is often pinpointed in connection with anorexia, though the food, and in particular the fast food industry is not equally linked to obesity: genetically modified foods may cause allergies, cancer, new diseases and other unknown and unforeseeable consequences for the human body. New incontrovertible evidence about the health risks of GM food is provided by Monsanto company itself, a multinational corporation producing many transgenic crops which has carried out a study that shows that rats fed on a diet rich in transgenic corn developed abnormalities to internal organs. Monsanto always refused to publish the results of the research, however recently, upon request of Greenpeace, the Higher Administrative Court of Münster ordered the multinational company to disclose such findings.

Another study carried out in Germany  highlighted that Roundup herbicides, employed in the cultivation of genetically modified soy and corn, may trigger off remarkable chemical mutations  in soy, and in particular they increase the level of phytoestrogens that, introduced in the body through food assumption, act like hormones causing serious disorders affecting the reproductive system.

Psychological or family-related issues and bad role-models, just like too-thin models, bad company and negative influences from our society. It is all true, just like the inability to educate our children to healthy eating since a very early age. Snack and sweets at all hours. The lack of alimentary education  for kids may change their attitude towards food, that is not seen as the enemy, because if they eat healthily they will not gain weight. Not to mention all the pills and medicines advertized to lose weight in few days and the quantity of books published every day on “miracle diets”. All this information appears every single day in newspapers, on TV and radio and on the web. And isn’t all this supporting the idea that thin is beautiful? Nobody mentions our health and healthy eating education. I can accept that fashion may exaggerate, but I cannot help but mention all the negative tools that society employs to spread false information on food and aesthetics. How can all this be possibly caused by fashion? And how come that Twiggy, who would be surely considered an anorexic today, did not arise controversy in the Sixties and did not produce a string of anorexia followers? Because it was a single case? What about Jean Shrimpton, nicknamed “The Shrimp” because of her thinness? The media are so numerous today and they all convey the image of a thin woman.

We will do our best, but it will be impossible to fight this widespread idea of thinness all by ourselves. Everybody must do their part, from parents to teachers to the kids themselves who must help those who can’t make it on their own. Young people listen to young people, and they must work hard to find ideas to fight such online criminality urging young people to harm and even kill themselves. Why are we so outraged and disgusted by pedophile sites, and do absolutely nothing against sites that instruct people to cut themselves and feel pain to distract their attention from food, or to throw up and let themselves die? Isn’t this a crime, too? A kind of abuse affecting the weakest?

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