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Taking responsibility

Anorexia is a nasty eating disorder, and although in the prosperous West there seems to be more fretting about obesity than the other extreme, there is no doubt that people who, for whatever reason, don’t eat enough to protect their health, represent a serious health issue. But as ever, I get irritated at the “victim culture” that is sometimes wittingly or unwittingly promoted in public discussions of the issue. Case in point was earlier this week on the BBC.

The state broadcaster’s morning current affairs show featured a young woman who had almost died as a result of this condition, and some shocking photos were shown. During the course of the discussion with the presenters, the argument from the woman (I did not get the name) was that she had been strongly influenced into her under-eating by a desire to look like the models and actresses seen in glossy magazines and on TV and movies. Such pictures are often enhanced, ergo, such enhancement is evil and there should be a law against such activity so as to prevent impressionable people from being led astray, etc.

At no point did either presenter, or another woman who was representing the modeling industry, say something like this:

“I am very glad you have recovered your health and are eating a proper diet and don’t feel a need to starve yourself to `look good’”. The fact that photos of such supermodels/actresses or whoever might appear to show that it is acceptable to be very thin does not, and should not undercut your own responsibility for your health. You have a mind, so use it. You have free will; you are not a piece of clay in the hands of the advertising industry, the movie business, or modelling agencies. You are an attractive young person who can, and should, think for yourself. Finally, curves on women are fabulous, and anyone who thinks for a second that the opposite sex is turned on by skeletons needs their head examined. So take charge of your life, and don’t expect the State to censor things because you lacked self-control earlier in your life. Thanks for appearing on our show and now let’s go over to Carole for the weather forecast.”

But they didn’t say that. Pity.

15 comments to Taking responsibility

  • Alisa

    Of corse they did not say that – they and their likes were the source where she got this stupid idea in the first place.

  • Gareth

    One of the last things the media would care to do is encourage cynicism and suspicion about what people see, read and hear.

  • While I agree with the thrust of this post, it also demonstrates the level of misunderstanding about eating disorders (be it anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, etc) – on both sides.

    People don’t become anorexic because of magazine covers any more than people become alcoholic because of beer adverts. (It’s also nothing to do with trying to please men.) There is a much deeper psychological issue, and restrictive eating and/or over-exercising is merely a symptom of that. Talking about anything else is mere distraction.

  • llamas

    To build on Jackie D’s point, I’m so old that I can remember when this condition had a longer name – it was called anorexia nervosa, with the clear indication (even to the lay person) that this is a psychological disorder.

    Suggestions that this disorder is simply a lack of self-control are grieviously misplaced – it is one of a family of compulsive behaviours that seem to have very little to do with outside influences.

    But there is the unpleasant but indisputable fact that this disorder disproportionately affects women – as much as 20:1, so I read.

    Well, we can’t have the implication going around that women are disproportionately subject to nervous disorders, can we? Women are Equal, and Strong, and Capable, and Independent, and are Exactly The Same As Men – everybody knows this!

    And so the psychological aspects are played down, and women who suffer from this disorder are being carefully repositioned to be seen as the innocent and powerless victims of outside forces that they cannot overcome – scheming advertizers, heartless corporations and, of course, above all, Men. And, of course, the ‘victims’ of this disorder are only-too-ready to be told that they are, in fact, victims of outside forces and not their own uncontrollable compulsions. It was Vogue wot made me do it!

    I always laugh when Womyn claim that the images that appear in fashion magazines and popular culture have a great effect on their behaviours. Surely these Womyn must realize that the fashion industry is more-or-less entirely dominated by a group of people whose idealized body type is as un-feminine as possible – hence the stick-thin, androgynous models that we see in women’s fashion magazines. I understand that the ideal outcome has now been achieved, where transgender and anatomically-male models are being used to sell women’s clothing. So the people that run the fashion industry have managed to persuade women that their preferred look is the ideal to emulate? Surely women are not really that gullible?

    llater,

    llamas

  • Jerry

    ‘…you are not a piece of clay in the hands of the advertising industry…’
    Actually some people are. Almost everyone is to varying degrees, hence the whole purpose of advertising !!

    ‘…Women are Equal, and Strong, and Capable, and Independent,…’
    Llamas, PLEASE tell me you are being sarcastic !!!!!

    ‘And so the psychological aspects are played down, and women who suffer from this disorder are being carefully repositioned to be seen as the innocent and powerless victims of outside forces………

    I agree this is more of a psychological issue than one of ‘advertising persuasion’. However, they are actually trying to prove, in a sense, that it IS a psychological issue because the WHOLE basis of psychology is;
    ‘Your problems, no matter what they, are are NOT your fault and through treatment/therapy/whatever, we’re going to find out who or what you can blame’ !!!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jackie, agreed. I think what appalled me about the coverage of the issue was the lack of scientific rigor, or any awareness of the issues you mention.

    Be in no doubt that I am not playing down this issue, any more than I would over another condition, such as those who are obese. The suffering of these people is real.

    But the way in which the nanny staters just use these issues to drive their authortarian agenda drives me nuts.

  • Stonyground

    Sorry to be OT but I hear today that we are all sending our kids to school suffering from dehydration.

  • Ken

    The effectiveness (“brainwashing-ability,” to borrow from our — alas, Babylon! — Attorney General) of advertising is vastly overrated — the more so considering the volume of mediocre-to-downright-bad advertising out there.

  • David Gillies

    If you ask the average person what the psychiatric disorder with the highest fatality rate is, most will guess either depression or schizophrenia. Not so: it’s anorexia and other eating disorders. It can be counteracted with cognitive behavioural changes, but it is a mental illness, not a result of peer pressure.

  • Richard Thomas

    Stony, I believe the whole dehydration/drink 64 oz of water has been soundly debunked in the last couple of years and advice is now to drink when you’re thirsty (quelle surprise). Like many stupid idea, it will continue to rattle around the urban-legend-o-sphere for decades to come.

    The whole “body goes into starvation mode” diet thing is apparently bullshit too.

  • thefrollickingmole

    I had a cousin who was treated for this in her teens. The psychologist channeled her thinking into controlling her body by bodybuilding instead.
    I dont know how common an approach that is, but it worked for her, she went from Belsen camp inmate to (nil body fat) body builder in a year.

    It seems to be a reaction to a precieved lack of control over their lives, and, given how eminently rational teenages are, it can be for bizzare reasons to “dults”.

  • BigFatFlyingBloke

    The effectiveness (“brainwashing-ability,” to borrow from our — alas, Babylon! — Attorney General) of advertising is vastly overrated — the more so considering the volume of mediocre-to-downright-bad advertising out there.

    Most advertising is word association and the images used to deliver it not that important. At the end of the day they want you associate “Generic Item A” with “Branded Product B” so if you suddenly decide “I need a new vacuum” you go into Curry’s and ask about a Dyson because their ads have appeared on TV approximately one bazillion times so association “Vacuum” and “Dyson” is forever burned into your brain.

  • David, you are partly right, but cognitive behavioural therapy does not work on traumatized individuals. A vast number of those diagnosed with various mental illnesses are actually suffering from undiagnosed and untreated trauma (another woefully misunderstood phenomenon).

  • BigFatFlyingBloke: that’s as may be, I still call all vacuum cleaners “Hoovers ” even if they were made by Dyson ;-)

  • “Of corse they did not say that – they and their likes were the source where she got this stupid idea in the first place’

    Until fairly recently anorexia was a badge of honour in the US, depicted in made-for-TV movies and misery me memoirs. And it’s interesting to note that most ‘sufferers’ were middle class ( in an age in which the untermenschen are being held responsible for just about every problem on the planet. Why assassinate a general when you can shoot the nearest foot soldier?)

    This is one that you cannot blame on the BBC. The US exported this nonsense to the world and now it’s gone all whiney because the world exports it right back.