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Corseted beauties

Part 2 of Chapter 1 of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

This section is a short history of eating disordrs.

You may ask if eating disorders are nothing new. Have they been along for a while? Really?

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

The famous French heroine Joan of Arc had anorexic tendencies. She starved herself to make a point, not because she was obsessed about her weight. Greek feasts involved bingeing and purging. This, however, was debauchery rather than bulimia.

However, during the 1870s, doctors in France and England were faced with a group of girls who rejected food altogether. The doctors were stumped over what to call this condition. Eventually, France won with the name “anorexia nervosa” which is used to this day.

The pictures that the doctors drew of these patients are eerie.

A proper Victorian lady

A proper Victorian lady

That was during the Victorian era. Perhaps it’s not surprising that that period marked the birth of modern eating disorders. Control and thinness were characteristics of wealth and beauty. Ladies had to be restrained (no screaming and running around. No indulgence! Eat daintily, don’t stuff yourself) and thin, with tiny corseted waists. Meat was considered carnal. The perfect lady had to be prim and proper. The picture on the right is an excellent example of one. Note the tiny waist.

pinksateen3These tiny waists were produced not merely by restraint in all things food, but with a corset, not unlike this antique corset.

The word “image” first appeared in American girls’ diaries in the 1920s. In this period, movies became an obsession. Actresses changed their identities and looks faster than people could keep up.

All the same, anorexia was not familiar until much later. Even in 1965, the term wasn’t used often. Eating disorders weren’t talked about. They weren’t normal. Strange. Rare. They were not seen as a disease but rather an exotic condition that only some different people got.

Karen Carpenter

Karen Carpenter

One of the first public memories related to this disorder  is of the singer Karen Carpenter. By the fall of 1975, she only weighed 80 pounds. She collapsed on a Las Vegas stage and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Carpenter died in 1983. It turned out that she had heart failure due to complications of the illness. Her heart was weak from the years of restriction, and a sudden weight gain of 30 pounds strained it further. The coroner gave the cause of death as “heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa.”

The 1980s was the era of fitness and food obsession, Martin continues. It was during this period that eating disorders became more common. The famous actress and fitness trainer Jane Fonda produced many fitness videos during this time. It was unknown that her fit body was the result of obsessive exercise… and… bulimia.

Back to the present. Eating disorders are nothing new, that’s true. But now they take an extreme form which is unique to this present age. It’s not just restricted to rich white women, but to anyone. Black women and Latina women have eating disorders. So do working class mothers.



At the same time, excessive exercising, plastic surgery addiction, and laxative abuse are common things. They’re no longer something that’s normal or not rare. Celebrities like Tara Reid are covered by the media. Diet and fitness, not wellness or authentic health, are upheld. Even Oprah is freaking out about her body. We’re conditioned to believe that the barrier between us and perfection is us.

This is a very modern and dire epidemic. While this world professes to give more rights and powers to those who have been formerly oppressed and persecuted, this world is sicker and more broken. Oprah started a school to help African girls learn empowerment and skills for the working world. At the same time, she stresses out about her appearance and binge-eating episodes. Her person trainer, Bob Greene, once remarked that Oprah had never learned what it means to be happy.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

We see our mothers, aunts, and sisters hate themselves and their bodies. We learned from them.

The cycle continues.

The 7 million diagnosed with eating disorders is merely the tip of the iceberg. This book is about that borderline behavior. The behavior that’s hard to diagnose, yet involves self-hatred and depression. It’s not normal. You were never meant to live this life full of self-hatred, sadness, obsession, and depression. This cycle is taking away from the quality of life that you could have. It’s taking away our freedom.

We’re not our bodies.

Marti talks about a friend who was asked how she was. “I’m fine, just feeling fat.”

“But how are you?” the therapist persisted.

“What do you mean? I already told you.”

mountain-top-meets-cloudsFinally, he explained. Our bodies are not us. Bodies are only one aspect of who we are. We make the mistake of identifying ourselves with our bodies. That’s why we tell ourselves that life will be good once we lose the weight. The fact that we are not our bodies means that life will not improve.

To a lot of us, it doesn’t matter if we have a great spouse, a successful career, lovely friends, and a beautiful home. If we’re 5 pounds above the desired weight, we’re unhappy.

We’re cheating ourselves out of a full life. What’s the use of getting three degrees if you’re going to spend a chunk of your time obsessively thinking about the shape of your thighs? That’s too much time. We only have 24 hours a day. We could be bettering the world. We could be doing so much more.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Pretty People over Important News

Part 3 (i think?) of Chapter 8 of the book Looks

The influence on views of physical attractiveness is by no means limited to advertising. TV has idealized images of manhood and womanhood, both in entertainment and in the news. 

TV as a mass medium was demonstrated in 1939. By 1945, it was publicly available. Like magazines, it used pretty young females to attract its viewers. They announced commercial breaks or delivered program information. Or they were simply ornaments that silently showed off products in game shows, much like today. Women were presented as glamourous objects.

Things haven’t changed much.

Days Of Our Lives: A popular daytime soap

Days Of Our Lives: A popular daytime soap

Every station’s schedule has feature films, TV movies, hour-long dramas, sitcoms, and reality TV. All of these feature beautiful actresses and handsome actors. The less attractive are delegated to supporting roles, like the bad guy. Only 12% are overweight.

Speaking of weight, that is the thing that is most noticeable in a TV performer. It’s extraordinary to have overweight actors or actresses. Dr. Gregory Touts, a professor of psychology, studies TV and its effects on us. He examined body weights for 37 central female characters, negative comments from males about their weights and bodies, and audience reactions. He found that thin people were overrepresented. The heavier female had more negative comments said about her or to her. This was also associated with the audience reactions or laughter. In earlier research, Fouts and a colleague found that the thinner the woman, the more positive comments she received.

Cast of As the World Turns, another popular soap

Cast of As the World Turns, another popular soap

What about men? Fouts did the same evaluations. He heard negative references like “You’re too fat to wear that in public,” as well as comments by the overweight character himself. “I need to diet.” He found that overweight males are under represented in sitcoms. It’s more acceptable, however, for men than women to be overweight on entertainment TV.

Regarding laughter, while most sitcoms are shot before a live audience, this audience is prepped by personnel. They’re encouraged to laugh at every punch line and cued to applaud on command. So what Fouts and his colleagues heard were not faithful expressions of how people really saw the show, but rather what the show’s producers wanted them to hear.

fox_newsWhat about TV news? You probably might have noticed that these men and women are garbed perfectly, with perfect makeup, teeth, and hair. They’re also trim, not fat, and good-looking on the whole. I also noticed that in Fox news, most of the females are blonde and blue-eyed, with fair skin.

Not only that, screen time is used to emphasize stories about attractive people.

Crime stories are always a big thing. Every year, people disappear, are murdered, or are raped. However, few of these stories can be mentioned on TV. 


JonBenet Ramsey

Consider the case of JonBenet Ramsey. She was a six year old who was entered in many beauty contests. She was exceptionally pretty. JonBenet was photographed and videotaped many times in high heels, adult makeup, and professionally styled hair.

She was murdered in 1996.

The media went nuts.



The crime was never solved, but even after 10 years, images of this first grader are still shown on TV. 

In December 2002, lovely Laci Peterson went missing. The story led broadcasts for days and days. This became a national event. Even I remember the headlines that continued months and months after the actual event. Magazines, gossip columns, and TV all talked about it. Her husband, a fertilizer salesman, was arrested and tried for her murder.

Jennifer Wilbanks

Jennifer Wilbanks

In April 2005, Jennifer Wilbanks was a runaway bride. She spun a wild tale of kidnapping and sexual assault. It was all untrue. She just had the jitters. This story was repeated for weeks and weeks. Why?

She was tall, thin, but curvy. She had big eyes and full lips. A lot of people thought that she was hot. I don’t.

Dozens of people disappear all the time. How many women are murdered every day? How many first graders are murdered or disappear? These cases all had one thing in common – the females were all beautiful.

Trond Andresen of the Norwegian Institute of Technology thinks it’s time for a change. He told a local newspaper in Norway that “journalists, photographers, and TV producers discriminate against the ugly and emphasize beautiful people whenever possible.”

Ugly people should be spotlighted in the media in the same way that the media wishes to emphasize persons from ethnic minorities.”


Laci Peterson

So what’s the harm in showing viewers attractive people?

First of all, when magazines or newspapers sell more advertising than expected, they can add pages with more editorial content and articles to balance this out. However, time is limited on TV. There’s no way to balance this out in TV news. There simply isn’t enough time. Even big programmers like CNN have to limit their news programming to about an hour a day.

It seems, says Dr. Patzer, that media companies are licensed to serve the public. However, what’s important is that their primary role is to choose what stories to tell, which not to air, which to follow up, and which to ignore. Nowadays, with the decrease in TV news viewership, news is regarded as being no different from entertainment. It has to earn its own way. Decisions are made by considering which stories would attract more viewers.

They are choosing now to air stories about people such as JonBenet, Laci Peterson, as well as celebrities like Paris Hilton. Meanwhile, important news are being ignored. Dr. Patzer had a list of important news that they skipped in favor of these stories.

crbs0691455From a journalist’s point of view, the role of news programs is to inform the public about what’s going on in the world around them, instead of running repetitive stories about attractive people. This is a shameful use of network time. Dr. Patzer agrees, saying that a democracy functions because when something goes wrong, the press brings it to the public’s attention so they can correct this problem at the ballot box.

Do TV news executives believe that audiences prefer watching good-looking people to learning important facts?

Les Moonves

Les Moonves

As it turns out, Les Moonves, the president and CEO of CBS, made it clear that he makes no distinction between news and entertainment programs. He told a New York Times reporter that if hiring an attractive woman to read the news while stripping would increase news viewership, he’d do it. Gladly. Because “his job is to give audiences what they want.”

The problem with this reasoning is that perhaps the audience doesn’t always know what they want. Instead, a lot of us might be waiting for the media to tell us what we want, and we’ll go along with it.

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.


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.