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All Stressed Out

Part 2 of Chapter 1 of Runaway Eating: Not for Teenagers Only

The writers state that between the ages of 35 and 60 are the most stressful periods of life. The authors go on to list major midlife stress-inducers.

20968721_d966709438Raising children. This involves a lot of responsibility. Many women of this age may have small children, or college-aged kids. The little kids need to be watched all the time. (Oh! Oh! Stop eating that crayon!) The older kids have to be driven around to soccer practice, karate practice, ballet practice, band practice… and then there’s cleaning, baths, homework, meals, and the irregular poop in the bathtub instead of the toilet. Teenagers may be rebellious and push all your buttons. (Was that grunt disrespectful?) Teenagers are complex.

pacifierRaising children is very rewarding, but extremely stressful at the same time.

Career challenges. Getting a job is tougher, especially in this recession. I know a 40 something woman who is just now getting into the job  market. Turns out that she has to go back to school because firms are not interested in the Bachelor’s she got 20 years ago. It’s also increasingly hard for everyone to find jobs, not only older people. A young friend from Hong Kong had to move back there after graduate school. A year passed in the States and she still could not find a job. When she went back, she quickly found a job in Shanghai.

Companies would rather increase the workloads of existing employees rather than hire new people. Older people have to compete with younger workers. Plus issues the typical midlife woman faces consist of ageism, long hours, lookism, etc.

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She may also have to meet both her job and family needs.

Empty Nest Syndrome. The kids will someday move to college, get married, or get a career. This is stressful, because the parents have to adjust. They don’t have to pick up their kids or driving them around or clean up after them. The kids aren’t going to run to their mother every time they need help, anymore. That takes a lot of adjustment, though it is nice. Some mothers feel depressed because they don’t know what to do with themselves after this responsibility is gone.

Extended parenthood. One of my friend’s grandmother raised her after her parents ran off. She raised my friend for a long time. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes the kids with their kids move back in wit you because of circumstances. Or some kids just don’t want to leave. A good friend of mine lived with his mother for a while. Even though he’s almost 30, he still sleeps over at her house a lot. He has his own condo, but he says that if he moved out completely, his mom would have a hard time adjusting. How does she handle him sleeping over? I wonder.

Caring for aging parents or other relatives. Adult daughters are more likely than their boy siblings to take on the responsibility of caring for an aged parent. This takes a toll, for not only do they have to take care of their children, and their job, but also the extra burden of a parent. She might have to pay their bills as well as her family’s, arrange hospitalization, or nursing homes. She may have to shop for them, clean them, and so on. When they pass away, she may not be sure of how to feel. Relief that a burden is lifted? Or sad that a loved one passed away?

222845367_66fd14bc04Financial burdens. Paying bills is, well, expensive. Taxes, insurance, groceries, cars, lessons, furniture, clothes, college, and weddings. The cost of living is higher in these modern times. Take weddings. The guy buys the girl a ring. It probably costs upwards of a thousand bucks. Then there’s hundreds for the cake, thousands for the dresses, and the limo that needs to be rented. All of this stuff isn’t paid by the bride herself, but by her family. Don’t even talk about the wedding reception, which is probably one of the most expensive parts of a wedding. My own parents had an in expensive reception at their church. Their friends pitched in to buy food and prepare for the event. My parents didn’t even rent a limo. Nowadays, couples go for the whole deal. They get a limo, a huge cake like the one on the right, expensive food, and a reception in a fancy hall with lovely decorations.

2599940825_19f5e4e84bRelationship troubles. They don’t call it a midlife crisis for nothing. You hear in the news of adult males suddenly running off with the young secretary. Because of all the demands on time, couples tend to leave their relationship at the bottom of the list of priorities. Both spouses are busy and overworked. Some people get divorced during this time because the marriage can no longer stand the strain. Marriage isn’t as fun as when they both started on their honeymoon. They might feel trapped, and the absence of butterflies is noticed. Maybe they’ll stay together just for the kids, but when the kids go to college, the parents feel that they don’t have to stay together anymore.

Divorce and singlehood. After the marriage ends, a divorce follows. There’s two high risk periods for divorce. They are the first 7 years of marriage, or midlife when the kids are teenagers. In the last 30 years, divorce has soared.

divorcecake_t220Divorce can be described as a sort of death — the death of a way of life. It inevitably brings stress. She has to deal with the loss of a loved one, emotionally wounded children, custody battles, loss of money, and many other adjustments. Often times, the woman ends up raising her children alone or sharing custody with the father.

I remember a young mother who struggled so hard to keep it all together. Her young children were emotionally wounded, and she had to go to court multiple times for custody battles. Her money was slipping away steadily because she took pills for depression, was unemployed, had to hire a lawyer, and had to visit a counselor several times a week. She stayed at our home when she sold hers. Plus, she was preparing to move to California. Divorce is a stressful time.

Then there’s singlehood, and getting back into the dating scene. It’s frightening to compete against younger, more beautiful women for men that are the same age as you. Some women fall into disordered eating in an attempt to regain their figure back.

Menopause. This is a tough period for most women. Hormone levels fluctuate, causing insomnia, fatigue, hot flashes, and so on. Many women worry about losing their sexuality and sexual attractiveness. Doctors can help with many of these issues. Just don’t go to Oprah for your health information.

Madonna: a woman in the show business. She has received multiple plastic surgeries to keep her looks young and fresh. They don't seem to be working.

Madonna: a woman in the show business. She has received multiple plastic surgeries to keep her looks young and fresh. They don't seem to be working.

Aging. Your strength will decline, your muscles will weaken, and it’s easier to gain weight. Add to that sagging skin, wrinkles, thin hair, and age spots. This is tough, especially in our society that worships  beauty and youth. The change are unsettling at least. But for those who place great store by their appearance, these changes are devastating.

Maybe it’s understandable if actresses and models, whose lifeblood depends on their looks, are thrown into a panic. But even the lady next door who isn’t in the show business may mourn.

Next up: What stress is really doing to us.

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Waiting to be Filled

I started a book, but never finished it because I felt that it was too heavy. And it made me depressed for a while because it didn’t talk at length about the solution to the problem but rather focused on the problem itself. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it just didn’t suit me. I recommend this book to anyone struggling with an eating disorder. I really think it’s a good book. Just heavy and packed with information.

400000000000000052548_s4Also, I’m not feminist. That’s another thing.

Here’s what I wrote. This is just from reading the introduction.

The book is titled Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: the frightening new normalcy of hating your body by Courtney E. Martin. You can check out the writer’s website at www.courtneyemartin.com. This book was published fairly recently, in 2007.

Martin writes in the introduction that eating disorders affect more than 7 million American girls and women, 70 million people worldwide. Over half of the females between ages 18-25 surveyed would rather be mean or stupid. Anything but fat. A survey of parents found that 1/10th of them would abort their child if they found that he or she had the genetic tendency to be fat. (Thanks, Mom and Dad. They were your genes to start with.)

She states that we live in a time when getting an eating disorder, or at least being obsessed over weight, is thought of as a rite of passage. The writer talks about her many friends who bought into this kind of thinking. They sound like my friends. Many women use what they put into their bodies or/and the amount of exercising they do to define their worth.

It is not our kindness, or courage that we count at the end of the day, it is our calorie intake.

310967011_2dcab45a8bI, too, know people with really screwed up ideas about health and fitness. There are the girls who believe that any food is bad and that they have to exercise to get the Tic Tac or chip out of their system. There are my friends who daily post stats on how much they eat per day. Their limit is 210 calories. Not per snack. Not per meal. For the whole freaking day, they restrict themselves to 210 calories. What goes in those 210 calories? An apple.  A 60-calorie lollipop. That’s it. It’s not about eating healthy, it’s about eating less. Then there’s the miserable girl who eats food – lots – when she’s depressed, and then purges it later.

I know girls in my church who struggle with this as well. There’s one who exercises often. She’s 13, goes to the gym, and does weights. In front of people, she talks about how fat she is, and picks at her food when eating in front of others. She always worries that she is too fat, even though everyone else could tell her that she isn’t.

364637840_761d56792dIn fact, I recently talked to one who was stressed out about her homework. She’s 12. She said she was eating like a pig and was fat. I told her she wasn’t fat. “Ask your big sister,” I said.

She replied, “She says that I’m fat.”

I think this kind of thinking is so ingrained in our culture that we cease to notice it.

Martin puts it well when she writes that we’re not apathetic, we’re distracted. What about the starving children in Africa? I’m thinking about whether to have a granola or skip lunch altogether. She continues that we can’t see the the needs of others because we’re too busy looking at ourselves in the mirror. We don’t want to go to the beach because we don’t want others to see us in bathing suits. It’s all about us and how we feel.

What can we do about it?

This is a social problem as well as psychological. Some people believe that this is normal. I say that our culture must be pretty messed up, then. I knew a bulimic girl who wrote on her public food diary, “I don’t want to be normal. I don’t even know what normal is.” It seems that “normal” nowadays means women and girls stressed out about what goes into their mouths.

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Something you should eat and not compare your body to

Martin says that womanhood “was about something solid and beautiful right in the core — a vulnerable yet unbreakable center of strength and openness.”

I can identify with that. That sounds like the definition of a woman from the Christian book Captivating. Except that God is our core.

Martin continues,

At the center of most of the young women I know today are black holes.

On the outside, we’re busy and active. On the inside, we’re crumbling. We have these holes that we try to fill with anything and everything. But they’re still there. We’re starving, because the distractions are never enough. We’re just not enough. Not good enough. We have no control.

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Black holes at the center of us

Our ultimate goal is “effortless perfection.” We’re to be everything we’re supposed to be, without showing any apparent effort. Of course, this is impossible. I know another girl who said, “I want to be able to fast for days at a time without struggling. I want to be able to have no desire for food. I want to be able to stay skinny without such hard work.” Effortless. Perfection.

The perfect part really does get us into trouble, either with an eating disorder or with an unhealthy obsession with food and exercise. It really turns out to be such hard work.

The truth is, we waste a lot of time on our bodies. How much time do we spend thinking about what to eat when we could be organizing a fund-raising event devoted to some cause?

Martin puts forth the mission of this book: a call to action. She wants this book to move us to admit that we are sick, but also tired of  being sick and ready to do something about it.

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The price she paid was her dancing.

Note that this isn’t a purely American problem anymore. I remember the ballerina from Denmark. She had been struggling with anorexia for some time. The disorder came to a point where her bones were too weak for her to stand on her toes. I’m a ballerina too, and to stand on your toes, you need to have very strong bones. Because of the disorder, the calcium was steeped out of her bones, leading to brittleness. She loved dancing. Really loved dancing. But what could she do? This was the price she paid, and she felt that she couldn’t do anything about it.

There was the girl form Brazil and the girl from Taiwan. There was the girl in Spain and the girl from Wales who messaged me on facebook begging for help. There was also the girl from Qatar, a country so tiny that people don’t even know it exists.

The Independent, a London paper, reported that 1 million in Britain have eating disorders.

Martin closes the introduction by saying that she believes “in the possibility of a world where a girl doesn’t learn to count calories at the same age she learns algebra.”

That’s the world I’m fighting for, now.

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Broken Mirrors

Part 1 of Chapter 9 in the book Looks

In this chapter, Dr. Patzer talks about the dark side of physical attractiveness. He tells us facts about anorexia, bulimia, and other unhealthy behavior that may occur.

Deleese Williams

Deleese Williams

The chapter starts with talking about a woman named Deleese Williams. He describes her like this.

Her jaw was deformed, crooked teeth crowded her mouth, her eyes drooped, and her breasts were hard to find.

She had a childhood of endless horror. Her classmates made fun of her. Her marriage was a disaster, with her husband abusing her and letting her know constantly that she wasn’t much to look at. 

Williams had hope when she heard about Extreme Makeover. This was a reality program that gave ugly people like Williams the gift of beauty. People enjoyed watching that show, for whatever reasons. Anyway, she applied to the show in 2003. The producers were delighted. Soon, Williams was meeting with the executives and team. Describing it, she said that the psychologist and the physicians told her that she “needed” her eyes lifted, her ears pulled back, and breast implants as well as chin implants. They also concluded that dental surgery was needed. They promised her that the free makeover would “transform her life and destiny.”

250px-XtrememakeoverHowever, the producers wanted to let the audiences see how being ugly is so very problematic. Beauty is good, and its absence is bad, after all. Remember our first post? They sat Williams in front of a camera and had her describe how being ugly had invited the cruel teasing and abuse by her husband. Even though her family didn’t notice (or pretended not to notice) her ugliness, they were coached to focus on her flaws.

Kellie McGee, Williams’s sister, was reluctant to trash her sister. The producers essentially forced her to do so, however. 

It was tough for Deleese to take. She thought it would be all worth it. Williams believed that her real life could begin at last… happy endings.

Then the bomb fell.

A producer told her that the makover, cosmetic surgery… all off. Why? It didn’t fit in the show’s time frame. The doctors told her that the recovery time and surgery would take a much longer time than the duration of the show.

The tragic part, says her attorney, was that she became too ashamed to go out in public. Even worse, her sister, who had been forced to speak disparagingly about Williams’s looks, killed herself. She had beens struggling with bipolar disorder for some time.

ABC and Disney offered their condolences, yet said that they bore no responsibility since Deleese had known that they could call the whole thing off at any time.

empty-plateBeyond this example, physical appeal centered media messages continues to encourage unhealthy conditions on millions.

Eating disorders have become common in America. This is accompanied by a preoccupation with food and weight, and those with an ED often share physical symptoms with those who have experienced starvation. This is also marked by an obsession with food.

In 2003, a team led by Dr. Hans Steiner of Stanford University learned that mothers with eating disorders demonstrated greater concern over their children’s eating habits. By the time the children were age 5, they displayed the same symptoms found in teenagers with eating disorders. He was surprised to learn that half of the children of elementary age wanted to weight less. Three-fourths cited their family as the primary source of dieting related information.

There are three distinct types of eating disorders, not counting EDNOS.

1. Binge eating

2. Bulimia Nervosa

3. Anorexia Nervosa

3092_MEDIUMBinge eating is uncontrolled eating. It’s frequent, and very common. It’s accompanied by the feeling of being out of control. People who binge eat often feel depressed, guilty, or disgusted when they do so. 

I know a few girls who have problems with binge eating. In fact, I know a lot. However, in their case, the binge is followed by a purge. This brings us to bulimia nervosa.

The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine has described this condition as a serious, life-threatening eating disorder affecting mainly young women. They eat large amounts of food, then try to lose all the calories by fasting, exercising, or vomiting or using laxatives. This is known as “purging.” At first, it was hailed as a new weight loss trick. The women could eat whatever they want, and then throw it up later. They’re not gaining any calories, and they still get the cravings down, right?

Wrong. This is an extremely unhealthy practice. It’s even considered a psychiatric illness. 

248012174_7b1ca0a9aaOver 2 million people suffer from this. In rare instances, bingeing can cause the stomach to burst. Purging brings heart failure from loss of vital minerals. Vomiting leads to acid-related scarring of the fingers (once I saw a site where a girl, knowing this, encouraged her friends to vomit using the end of a toothbrush instead of their fingers). The esophagus becomes inflamed from acid burns. There’s also irregular menstruation, to name only a few.

Few are able to stop this behavior without professional help. It seems to me that they have really lost control. 90% are women in their teens or early 20s. Many live secret lives in that they appear to be doing well on the outside, but run off after meals to purge in their bathrooms.

The root causes remain mysterious. Maybe it could be genetic and environmental. It could be due to family pressures, like in the case of one girl I know. Girls with eating disorders often have fathers, mothers, brothers, or boyfriends who criticize their weight. 

I do know some people who are bulimics but starve themselves for periods. This brings us to anorexia nervosa, a still more dangerous condition. 

367429618_9d69054abcAnorexia nervosa is self-induced starvation. The person with it refuses to eat. Even though she’s becoming thinner and thinner, she still sees herself as far too heavy. A few starve themselves to death, but most have life-shortening health disorders from lack of nutrients.

This disorder brings the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric illness. 6% to 10% die. That’s a higher rate than for cancer. It’s the most challenging disorder to treat, as it involves dealing with the physical and emotional issues as well as with body image distortion. 

Dr. Joel Jahraus, a nationally known expert on eating disorders, talked about one of his patients. Her name was Anna Westin, and he described her as a lovely young woman. However, she struggled with anorexia nervosa. Her body weight was dangerously low, and her moods changed fast. Dr. Jahraus, seeing this, recommended hospitalization.

Anna Westin

Anna Westin

However, the insurance company didn’t want that. They said that she wasn’t ill enough to get hospitalized. For a brief time, though, they agreed. She was stabilized with IV nutrition and psychological work. After that, the company declared that she should be treated as an outpatient. When Anna found out, she lost  motivation to continue treatment. “I can’t be that bad,” she said.

A few weeks later, Anna intentionally took her own life by swallowing an overdose of diet pills.

Her parents established the Anna Westin Foundation, which was dedicated to the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and raising public awareness to the cause. This included the Anna Westin House, which combines treatment with cost-effective care. Maybe it’s something you should look into.

I  have also seen many sites raised to help those struggling with eating disorders. No, it’s not what you think. These sites offer tips (links not for the faint-hearted) on how to purge without parents and friends finding out. There’s lots of tips on how to disguise that you’re starving yourself, with pictures of bony celebrities as inspiration to starve. Many of these girls, looking for acceptance, turn to these sites to find it. At least they’ll find someone who understands what they’re going through, they think. They’re encouraged by words like, “Stay strong! Starve on!” Sometimes these words are what keeps them going when they’re discouraged. After a while, they start believing that they are not ill. No, it’s a lifestyle choice.

WOODENSCALEPHOTOThe danger in real recovery is that if one of the girls (or guys) visit the sites, they’ll lose their resolve and continue with the “lifestyle.” Their friends will berate them for not being strong enough and not starving like they’re supposed to. I knew a girl who was the biggest tip giver for anorexics and bulimics. She got tons of comments and praise for her “smartness and courage.” And then all of a sudden, something happened. She decided that this wasn’t the way to go. She decided that this could not continue, and she better get healthy as opposed to skinny before she lost it all. 

She lost her audience. People didn’t say anything. They ignored her. For a person who had received upward of 50 comment per post, that was hard for her.

It’s so easy to shatter.

Just looking at the pictures of celebrities that these girls use to keep them starving, don’t tell me that the media has no hand in it. I remember when one of the celebrities (forgot her name) was said to have an eating disorder. There was buzz, and many of my friends praised her as an inspiration and a strong woman for trying to starve herself to perfection.

I felt nauseated.

We shouldn’t be focused on our own bodies when we have this in the world. We shouldn’t be pushing ourselves to starve to skeletons when there actually are children in Africa who have no choice but to starve every single day of their lives. 26,000 children perish every day due to preventable causes: poverty, disease, and hunger. 

Maybe the problem is that we’re too used to looking at ourselves instead of others. We gaze at ourselves in the mirror, and we fail to see the crisis happening around us.

A starving child in Uganda

A starving child in Uganda

Physical Appeal in the Classroom

Looks: Chapter 4

We’ve now learned that parents tend to discriminate against their less attractive children. What about teachers?

325752626_69392aa6b1Yes. They expect more attractive children to perform better. As a result, the teachers devote more attention to children whom they think have greater potential. And because the teacher expects better stuff out of them, the children actually DO better.

Dr. Rosenthal of Harvard pioneered work on this. He had a fake non verbal test of intelligence done to a group of schoolchildren. Out of this group, a random group of schoolchildren were chosen as the experimental group. He told the teachers that certain scores on the test displayed that there would be a future spurt in intellect for the experimental group. However, the only real difference between the experimental group and the other group was in the teachers’ minds. All the same, the experimental group showed far more progress.

This kind of discriminating against those who are less attractive is called lookism. It has a corrosive effect on self-esteem.

Studies show that even when attractive and unattractive students earn identical records, teachers still believe that in the future, attractive students will do better than the unattractive students.

Not only that, they would punish the students who don’t look beautiful, while the attractive students get away without punishment.

 

Snow White from a picture book

Snow White from a picture book

Don’t forget the beautiful = good stereotype that we talked about earlier. A highly attractive person would be associated with a favorable personality and the best quality of life traits. Further studies show that children are more likely to attribute positive characteristics to better looking people than adults are.

 

Another trend noticed is that attractive females are more popular than attractive males. At least when they’re young. I’ve noticed this in Sunday school (@ church). The younger classes are full of an abundance of cute girls and cute boys. The cute girls get more attention than the cute boys. However, the cute boys could care less, while the cute girls seem to live for the attention.

An important factor in the development of this is parents. According to famous social psychologist Albert Bandura, social behavior is learned through observing and imitating the behaviors observed most frequently. Parents, teachers, TV are a good source for behaviors to be imitated. That means that if a child observes that the physical attractive person is good and gets treated better than the unattractive, he or she might adopt this behavior as his or her own. Because elders (along with TV) play such an important role in a child’s life, they are a possible cause.

Maybe this is why children as young as age 5 are sensitive to different body types, with a preference for normal weight bodies.

Back to my friend with two daughters. This lady is a compulsive dieter. She’s as skinny as a stick yet believes that she is too fat. (Problem?) Her oldest daughter (age 5) picked up this way of thinking. One day, she said to her mother, “I’m a princess. Daddy is a prince. Mommy, you cannot be a princess because you are too fat.”

Wow.

Children who are of average size or are muscular are seen as happy, kind, smart, neat, strong, and popular. Plump children, however, are perceived as sloppy, lazy, stupid, and likely to cheat. 

It’s scary but not surprising that many eight year olds diet nowadays

ChipObesity is a national plague. Children between the ages of 6 to 11 are three times as likely to be overweight as in 1970. Obesity has come to rival smoking as a source of premature death. People who were obese when  young have a greater frequency of psychological symptoms and emotional problems than people who only became obese when older.

I have a good friend named Henry who was overweight when he was very young. Sadly, he got a lot of teasing when he was in elementary and middle school. He started running and lost it all in high school. But when Henry was in college, he got an eating disorder. Right now he’s normal weight. He’s also pretty good looking. The women tend to swoon around him. But deep down inside him, he still feels the effects of that teasing years ago. How old is Henry? 28.

Speaking of teasing, I’m sure most of my readers remember the Columbine High School incident. Whitehead and Hoover of University of North Dakota reviewed the case and did research on bullying. They found that bullying had a link to body issues. And that at any given time, 60% of American women and girls admit to dieting.

Adolescence is a critical period of development. It’s more difficult for girls than guys as girls are more concerned about attractiveness and less satisfied with their appearance to begin with. Teenage girls were found by the same researchers to be concerned that their thighs, butt, and hips were too large. Younger girls were dissatisfied with their teeth, face, and feet.

Vanderbilt University psychologists set out to find the pressures that drive young women to be happy with their body image. Is it innate sense that their bodies should look a certain way? Or does it come from feedback from other people? They did conclude that already depressed women are driven to further despair by the idealized media images.

Other studies suggest that attractiveness is risky. Pretty women college students are at a risk for an eating disorder if their perfectionism combines with anxiety and the tendency to be hypercritical. They may also be more likely to criticize thin women for their efforts to stay slim.

treadmillThere is hope for the bullied. Whitehead and Hoover found out that the most successful programs combine diet and exercise within a framework of significant behavior change. The programs should be implemented with schools, families, and doctors.

However, it is difficult to maintain these plans. Even so, PE programs that look at individual children’s needs may serve as a thread to reconnect those children with adults who care. Who knows what might have happened if my friend Henry had been in a program like that? Things may have been very different. Also remember that physical activity and exercise is more effective in treating depression.

Another way that the emphasis on physical attractiveness warps learning experience is in sexuality. Teens have a desire to attract the opposite sex. They also have a deep need for validation. A study of 280 college students showed that more attractive the sexual partner, the less inclination for students to take precautions.

How about students’ attitudes toward attractive versus ugly teachers?

empty plate Periodic student evaluations came in not a long time ago. These factor greatly into tenures and promotion. However, it seemed that looks were more important than teaching ability. I have been to ratemyprofessors.com to check the ratings of the professors I’ve had, and I saw that the ratings of a professor I loved in a class I enjoyed were very negative. A lot of the posts mentioned her rather unkempt appearance.

Several subsequent studies confirmed that students tend to rate their teacher’s performance more on the basis of superficialities like PA and clothing style than on the content of their lectures or their abilities to communicate.

So looks do matter. A lot.

Next: Physical attractiveness and careers

Jacob Have I Loved

Looks: Chapter 3

My grandmother had two sons. The first one was my dad.

When they were born, she was horrified that they looked so ugly. After all, she was a beautiful woman, and my grandfather was handsome.

It’s no surprise to me, reading that some mothers are more affectionate towards their more attractive offspring. Even the appearance of babies influenced maternal behavior. 

I know a woman in my church who has two daughters. From the moment her second was born, she (the baby) got all the attention. People thought that she was cuter, prettier, more charming than her older sister.It came to the point where these two young girls had to be told things like, “You’re prettier than your sister.” One was five, the other was two.

9780690040784-lSocial scientists have also found that parents devote more energy and resources to the more attractive sibling. It’s interesting. I’ve read books like Jacob Have I Loved by katherine Paterson which followed this theme. In this particular story, there were twin girls. One was prettier, more talented, and could sing like a bird. She was loved by everyone in the small seaside town they lived in. and people said that she was the promising one. The second – the older twin – was plain, less talented, rough, and jealous of her beautiful sister. The story is told from the point of view of the older, plainer sister, and it’s quite painful to read at times. The grandmother would purposely hurt the older sister by talking about the Biblical story of Esau and Jacob.

Even later on in life, the best friend of the older sister passed her up for her more beautiful twin.

Even babies know what’s “attractive.” Studies show that they prefer to look longer at faces rated as attractive by adults than at “unattractive” faces.

hoggatt6Children also tend to choose friends based on physical appeal as well, because in their heads attractiveness goes with smartness, friendliness, and so on. A study by social scientist Karen K. Dion showed that when children misbehave and must be punished, being more attractive means escaping harsher punishment. There are lower expectations for that child. Going back to my friend with two daughters, I could see this trend play out. Because her daughters were cuter than a lot of their peers, they escaped a lot of punishment. I once saw her two year old climbing on a table. Her mother said nothing to her, except to maybe smile. But when the autistic kid climbed on the table, my friend (and others) reprimanded him harshly. 

Simply because she was the most beautiful child (as well as charming) her behavior was excused.

Is it fair? No.

disney-walt-cinderella-1192713Children learn about physical appearance stereotypes in many ways, including the behavior mentioned above. However, there’s also fairy tales.

Cinderella (on the right) is good, and she is beautiful. In contrast, her wicked stepsisters (on the left) are bad and ugly. They pick on poor Cinderella all the time. No wonder they don’t get the prince! 

cinderella08But sadly, in the process, children associate ugly with bad and beautiful with good.

I remember a retelling of the Cinderella story. I loved this retelling. It was about a Cinderella who was thin and emaciated from hard work and starvation. She decided that her way to get out of this mess was to go to the ball, meet the prince, and live happily ever after. That’s what happened. The prince fell in love with her lovely, starved appearance, and she moved into the palace to prepare for the wedding. She gained weight. Well, she didn’t become fat or anything. But she just wasn’t starved anymore. To make matters worse, she found that the handsome prince was dumb, shallow, and didn’t have a brain. And then she falls in love with someone less attractive and leaves the palace.

justellaLoved that story. I recommend it to anyone with younger children, because it’s appropriate for pre-teens. 

Dr. Patzer says that the media isn’t that different from the fairy tale ideals. Adolescents and adults often attempt to mold their bodies and those of their children to the ideal. It’s disturbing that those teenagers are being pressured – not just from magazines and TV – but from their family and friends! Such attempts to diet can lead to serious eating disorders. The teenager could die. Teenage girls need proper nutrition to develop the way they should develop. They shouldn’t be starving. 

Let’s go back to my friend. She was considering putting her newborn daughter on a diet because her newborn’s thighs were “too fat.” The other members of my church were begging her NOT to. 

This woman is REAL. Sadly, she is an example of a woman who has been influenced by the media to the point that she will push that ideal on her daughter.

Seriously.

I want to brain that woman sometimes.

apples-pictureWhen it comes to children, parents and peers should not pressure their children to look like Paris Hilton or (God forbid!) Nicole Richie. A thin body isn’t always a sign of good health, but of unwise nutrition.