Is Anorexia Glorified In Some Western Cultures?

What is anorexia?

Anorexia - also referred to as anorexia nervosa, is an eating disorder and a metabolic condition that makes a person obsess over their body weight, and what they are eating. Self-starvation is the method used to achieve “excessive weight loss and excessive thinness.” Within this disorder, thinness is equated to self-worth, where “the thinner you are, the more value you have, so you can never be thin enough,” and this mindset creates psychological problems on top of physical complications. Anorexia is more commonly seen among women than among men, but both can develop this disorder. Genetics has also proved to be a part of the disorder, but it isn’t fully clear how anorexia starts. However, certain factors can contribute to the development of this disorder. For example, having a close relative with an eating disorder could lead to an increased risk of obtaining anorexia. It is also seen in a lot of people who work in industries that emphasize a certain physique such as athletes, dancers, models, etc.

How does anorexia affect the body?

Physical, psychological, and emotional problems can stem from this disorder. Some physical symptoms resulting from starvation include but are not limited to:

● An unusually slow heart rate

● Stomach cramps

● Problems falling asleep and staying asleep

● A drop in blood pressure (which can cause fainting or dizziness)

● An abnormal blood count

● The risk of heart failure increasing

● The risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis (bone loss)

● Dehydration

● Irregular periods in women

● Dry hair and skin

● Tiredness and dizziness (as well as fainting)

These physical problems can prove deadly when left untreated. On top of these problems, there are also psychological and emotional complications that may arise. Some of them include:

● Developing a habit of lying about eating patterns

● Being more irritable/annoyed

● Keeping away from social events and activities

● Decreased libido (sexual desire)

● Obsessive thoughts about gaining and losing weight

● Insecurities about body image

● Anxiety and depression

● Becoming apathetic (lack of interest, enthusiasm, and concern)

● Suicidal thoughts

Young children may also get diagnosed with eating disorders such as anorexia. Eating disorders in young children have increased in recent years, so it is important to look out for any warning signs in order to tackle the problem earlier on. Eating disorders among young children are dangerous due to them having a lack of nutrition when they are still going through a major growth spurt. It’s important to know the warning signs for children, which may be stomach aches as well as tantrums or a strong dislike toward certain textures and tastes. If your child is experiencing extreme weight loss, a delay in puberty, digestion problems, or hair loss, they might be showing later symptoms of the disorder. It is always better to go to a doctor sooner than later.

Proper diagnosis and treatment are needed in order to combat the health problems that may come with anorexia. Getting diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional is always recommended, and they may or may not prescribe medication for depression and anxious thoughts. Therapy is a form of treatment that can help to cope with stress and any other concerns/conflicts that may arise. Stress levels can also be improved through activities such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. These forms of therapy and healing will not take a few sessions, however. An eating disorder is lifelong, and the treatments should be utilized for as long as possible to maintain both physical and mental health.

The most important thing to do in order to combat the symptoms of anorexia is to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. This also goes for children, as their physical and nutritional health is in a vital stage. Parents can try different foods and set a healthy eating regimen for young children to help them get back on track. It is also recommended to remain confident and empower the child going through anorexia in order to help them feel that they are in a safe space.

If self-starvation was allowed to run its course, the body would slow down its processes in order to conserve energy, which can lead to intense health problems such as the physical, mental, and psychological complications listed above.

What are the Western ideas of beauty?

The Western idea of beauty has significantly changed as time has passed. Attractiveness, in all forms of media, has always meant holding a certain weight and maintaining a certain figure for both men and women. The “thin ideal” is a newer concept in Western culture that praises women who are below their average weight, as they are seen as “more appealing to the opposite sex.” As physical appearance is mostly seen affecting women’s self-esteem rather than men’s, women are more prone to associate being average or overweight with negativity. Most people with anorexia are not aware when they are a healthy weight, focusing more on the way they look in the mirror. This can also lead to psychological problems when being average or overweight is associated with attractiveness. This concept of thinness has been pushed on women, leading to an increased rate of dissatisfaction with body image, and a pressure to meet the needs of society rather than the self. Men are less likely to develop anorexia because they are taught to become muscular and strong in order to be attractive. This includes bulking up and eating more to help muscle growth.

Body image can also become more difficult with age. The pressure to look both thin and young plays into this. Older women can feel dissatisfaction with the way they look when they get older, due to natural signs of aging such as wrinkles. This can lead to a sense of denial. Women will normalize eating disorders in order to obtain a feeling and look of youth. Not only does this distort what’s normal from what is healthy, but it can also trigger a strong eating disorder when they are more prone to health problems.

Western culture vs other cultures

It is shown that outside of the United States, eating disorders are much rarer, but are now showing signs of increasing. This is actually due to different regions of the world adopting the Western culture, and with it the concept of thinness. In many other cultures, the opposite applies. The image of plumpness is considered most desirable, often “associated with prosperity, fertility, success, and economic security.” It is also stated that “non-western women, when placed in a Western culture, soon lose the ideal of feminine beauty held in their own culture and internalize the thin ideal.” Recently, Japan has been showing increases in eating disorders as they adopt more Western culture into their society. This shows that Western culture, specifically, supports thinness compared to other regions within the world.