Not many people may know this about me, but I had a weird relationship with food in the past. When I was about 13-years-old, I remember looking in the mirror and being unhappy with my appearance for the first time. I studied myself and compared my body to classmates, friends and family. I discovered the magical world of social media, where I liked to stay for hours on end thinking to myself about how models and beautiful women must have it so easy. Of course, this kind of thinking is dangerous and simply not true, but unfortunately, I wasn't the only one who felt like this.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Diseases (ANAD), “Approximately 81% of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat” (Eating Disorder Statistics, 2021). I came from a smaller elementary school, with about 20 kids per class. According to that statistic, about 16 of us shared the same fear. It goes to show that this type of thinking starts at a young age and progresses into adulthood. ANAD goes on to say, “About 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives” (Eating Disorder Statistics, 2021).
These numbers are alarming to me and it’s important to note that these experiences are not limited to women. Eating disorders, issues with body image and self-esteem are often stigmatized as female issues, however, “About 10-15% of those diagnosed with Anorexia or Bulimia are male” (Male Eating Disorders, 2015). In many cases, men avoid seeking treatment or help for this because of the shame associated with the stigma that only women experience this.
In my experience, I have talked to both men and women about body image and mental health issues alike, and ultimately found that this is a prevalent issue in today’s society that deserves attention. The media promotes unrealistic standards across all industries, and I acknowledge its negative impacts. However, I realized that no matter what media I consumed on a day to day basis, I’d never be happy unless I accepted and loved myself, too.
Social media made it super easy for me to compare myself to people I don’t even know and set standards or goals for myself based on somebody who simply had a different genetic makeup than me. To achieve the so-called body goals I wanted, I would count calories and restrict myself. This, of course, led to bingeing habits. If you force yourself to hold your breath for a minute and then allow yourself to take a breath of fresh air, your body will try to get as much oxygen as it physically can. The same goes for restricting your caloric intake.
This cycle continued for some time: the comparisons, restrictions, binges and guilt. I needed a change of mindset; I started listening to my body and doing what felt right for me. Much easier said than done, but slowly over time I began to appreciate others for their own beauty rather than comparing myself to them. I reminded myself that their looks don't take away from my own. We're all just bodies and souls, and when I could finally appreciate how unique we all are, I could appreciate the real moments in life. I no longer dreaded the summer and warmer weather. I spent time with my family and friends without thinking about the next time I was going to eat. And finally, I worked out not because I had to burn off my last meal, but because I liked the way it made me feel. So, while I do find there to be an issue with the way body standards are portrayed in the media, I find there to be another important issue of teaching self-love and acceptance of others, too.
Eating Disorder Statistics: General & Diversity Stats: ANAD. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2021, March 3). https://anad.org/get-informed/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-st...
Male Eating Disorders: A Snapshot of Statistics and Their Implications. Eating Disorder Hope. (2015, May 8). https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/eating-disorder/male-eati....