Posts Tagged ‘bulimia’

My eyebrows raised after discovering some interesting news about body images issues overseas. In an effort to stunt the spread of eating eating disorders and body image issues, a new Israeli law is now in place that bans underweight models from its local ads. You heard that right—UNDERWEIGHT models.

Imagine that.

There’s more: The law also insists publications disclose when they use altered images that make the ladies—and even the men—appear thinner. Yes. Thinner.

A bold move indeed. The law, which just passed last week, could generate a ripple effect throughout Europe and into the Americas. It’s the first of its kind, really; a delicious attempt by a government to use legislation that directly combats the oft-misaligned fashion industry, which has for years been accused–and rightly so—of fueling eating disorders and body image issues through the kinds of photographs it uses and sends out into the mainstream.

It’s curious to note that in Isreal, about 2 percent of girls 14-18 years of age actually have serious eating disorders. According to anthropologist Sigal Gooldin, a prominent researcher of eating disorders, that statistic is similar to those found in other developed countries.

And we thought this was only prevelant in America.

The new law would also mandate that models produce a medical document, which would date back about three months, at every photo shoot in Isreal’s ad market. Basically the document would assure that the model is not—wait for it–MALNOURISHED by the standards listed from the World Health Organization.

Imagine what would happen if this could spread into the Americas; if the ad industry actually took a valid interest in the health and well being of its models; where any size would be considered acceptible, enjoyable, celebrated? Better still, imagine what could happen is even more scrutiny were placed on male models, especially the ones found scantily clad in many gay publications like The Advocate, or Out and their close and distant cousins? True, these magazines feature men sporting muscles but, and I am sure I am not the only one, you can’t help but wonder how many of those men are actually in perfect health. Their bodies may appear to be in fine form but how they arrive at their current frame is often questionable.

It’s one of the reasons why my co-author, Dr. Maria Rago, and I featured a chapter on the issue of men and body image (and eating disorders) in our book “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!”

So, who’s at the helm of the law? Adi Barkan, an Israeli model titan who’s worked in the field for about three decades. Barkan noticed young women becoming skinnier and skinnier over time and downright unhealthy as they kept “shrinking” into the mold outlined by the ad industry.

Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of NEDA, recently said in a statement: “It is just so impressive that the Israeli Parliament has taken these serious steps in an effort to save lives. We know that eating disorders are so dangerous, and yet in the U.S. we continue to turn a blind eye to the problem and the many contributing factors. We hope that our Congress will begin to address the problems here at home.”

Dr. Rachel Adatto, who chairs the Health Lobby at the Knesset and was an initiator of the bill also released a statement: “This law will erase the anorexic image of beauty transmitted by the media, the fashion industry and advertising and will help protect the health of Israeli youth. The law will change the current situation where underweight male and female fashion models represent the ideal for children and youth and so, in effect, push them towards the terrible curse of eating disorders that attack not only the mind but the body. With this law, we are bringing the ideals of beauty back within the limits of logic, of health, within reasonable limits that will prevent our children sliding down the slippery slope into eating disorders. This law sends a message to our young people that thinness may be popular but that there is a limit and it is possible to be too thin.”

The law is already generating buzz, especially because it factors in the BMI (Body Mass Index) issue. The WHO reveals that a body-mass index below 18.5 suggests malnutrition. The new law would include BMI tests, among other things.

The BMI issue unleashes plenty of debate–both pro and con. Some argue that a person’s overall health should be taken into account—not just their BMI. Consider the flip side: people with higher BMIs—those deemed “overweight” and unhealthy because of high BMIs. Is initiating that same kind of thinking for people considered “too thin” an ideal method to revealing their true health?

I lean toward taking a person’s overall health into account and not just using the BMI-index as the ultimate guide. Regardless, it’s refreshing to finally see some countermovement out there; one that directly butts creative heads with an industry whose obsession—and indulgence in generating ad dollars—has single-handedly been one of the worst offenders of promoting unrealistic body image.


Rising to the Occasion?

When I was chubby Polish kid growing up in Chicago, my parents would take us on vacations to Canada, which has a large Polish community. We always ate well on these trips and by the time I was in fourth grade, I realized that if there was one thing that could “save” me from my vast confusing waves of emotions—who am I and why is everybody in my family screaming at each other?—it was food.

That was decades ago, but the pattern of behavior I learned back then—to protect my inner world, whatever the cost (so young, so fierce I was)—has played itself out quite wildly in my life. Especially this month, no doubt the result of having dived into reading more books on the subject of eating disorders and body image disorders. I found a gem recently, dubbed, “It’s Not About the Food.” Bestselling author Geneen Roth talks about this, too, in her many workshops and book signings. “… Food” was written by Carol Emery Normandi and Laurelee Roark Founders of Beyond Hunger, Inc., a great organization in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So, there I was … minding my own business when, on page 40 or 52, or 47, or somewhere around there, I got in touch with something pure …

and original …

and real …

and raw.


As in … the me I may have been avoiding. OK—the me I was avoiding. Like … the Deep Down There Me. (Take a look, you have one, too.)

I was fascinated by something I was reading: That an individual’s body image disorder and/or their eating disorder … is attempting to communicate something to them, about themselves, from deep within; as in … it exists as an alert to something greater, or some greater knowledge about themselves. Could it be that the disorder is communicating to the individual that it’s very presence has been the only way they know how to take care of themselves—binge-eating, restricting food, shaming, self-criticism, etc.?

I finished reading the chapter, set the book down and sighed. Deeply.

What was I trying to tell myself through all my food binges over the years; now even? What was I attempting to communicate to myself by restricting foods and all that yo-yo dieting? What am I trying to communicate to myself when I am constantly judging the size and shape of my body?

What feelings have been left at the welcome matt of the soul, desperately waiting to come inside for refuge?

This got me thinking—again—about the gay male community at-large. Body image issues are rampant. I spoke about this at my recent book signing at Books Inc., in San Francisco, for the book I co-wrote with Dr. Maria Rago, “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches.” I perused one of our chapters, dubbed, “Shut Up, About Excluding Guys,” which plunges into the issue of body image and more, as it relates to men and gay men, and young boys.

Take note of some of the stats we uncovered in our research:

•Every one in eight boys (out of 100,000), ages 12 to 18, reported using dietary supplements. (From Project EAT/Eat Among Teens)

•The Eat Among Teens studies (EAT) performed by the Minn- esota University School of Public Health surveyed 2,500 teens across five years. The stats tell us a full 30 percent of males are dissatisfied with their bodies. They feel shame and fear of being unacceptable and rejected, perhaps because 50 percent believe they should be thinner, and 50 percent think they should be heavier and more muscular. Overall, girls hate their bodies and want them to be smaller.But guys are in a double bind—to be simultaneously large, muscular, trim, and slender.

Fit enough—yet?

There’s more.
• One in eight boys (out of 100,000) between the ages twelve and eighteen, reported using dietary supplements. And who knows what the hell is in those drugs, since most of that industry is unregulated.

• One-third of adolescent males were desperate enough to use unhealthy weight control methods while attempting to lose weight.

• The 6 percent of males who were vegetarian were more likely to be involved in unhealthy weight control behaviors.

• Thirty-two percent of males used skipping meals, diet pills, and smoking more cigarettes to lose or control weight.

• Four percent of males reported taking laxatives, diuretics, vomiting after meals, or fasting.

• About 5.4 percent of males reported steroid use. Steroid use was statistically associated with the following: participation in sports that emphasize weight and shape, disordered eating, substance abuse, parental concern about weight, lower self-esteem, more depressed mood, and suicide attempts.

So … how do you know if you have an eating disorder or significant body image issue? Take note of the following list, also noted in our book:

1. Strong, Persistent Drive for Thinness/Desire to “Look” good, attractive, etc.
Left unattended, the desire for thinness clouds judgment … and becomes more important than anything else. The drive consumes your life, isolates you from others, and changes your interest patterns. You feel as if they’ve lost themselves on a quest for thinness and “attractiveness.” Self-esteem plummets.

2. Preoccupation and Fear of Eating and Being Overweight
How much time each day do you spend asking yourself what you should eat, what to do about something you ate, what not to eat, what your body looks like, what to wear, how fat you are, and other such questions? What do you consider a healthy amount of time to think about this topic? Five percent of your time? Twenty percent? Thirty percent? People with eating disorders spend 70, 80, 90 percent, or more, of their time focused on such thoughts. Many professionals now consider eating disorders to be a type of anxiety disorder related to obsessive compulsive disorder.

3. Body Dissatisfaction
Many sufferers are so preoccupied and ashamed of their bodies that they shower with the lights off. Imagine that! For most, the longer they look at a photo of themselves, the more flaws they find. Others can’t find any photos of themselves because they’ve ripped them all up. And then, there’s clothing. How long does it take to choose an outfit to wear? Many people are engaged in an all-out war with their bodies and spiral into an emotional whirlpool of self-hatred.

4. Perfectionism
People with eating disorders tend to be hard on themselves. They beat themselves up over how they look, what they say, and who they are. Perfectionism promotes feeling like an utter failure. Nothing they ever do is good enough and they fail to give themselves credit for anything. They feel worthless … They constantly try to shield themselves by creating a perfect emotional mask, but inside they’re in pain; inside, they’re hiding.

5. Binge-eating
Binge-eating usually develops in dieters and/or food restrictors because their behavior revolves around fighting a big animal: hunger … Many people with eating disorders eat erratically. They alternate between periods of severe restricting and periods when their eating feels out of control.

While creating the book I was struck with a thought: When I’m 65, will I still be preoccupied with what I am eating, how I look and if I am “good enough?” I can’t imagine what that kind of mindset might do to, say, the person I am in a relationship with, let alone me. But then … this leads into another discussion about older gay men and their journey/evolution. How have elder gays adjusted to the changes in their bodies; to the flood of youth-inspired media images? How do they feel—about themselves, their bodies?

More on that … soon. In the meantime, check out The National Association For Males With Eating Disorders. Insightful!