C/O Travis Nguyen

Students reflect on their relationship with their body throughout the COVID-19 pandemic 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, many people have reported increasingly negative body image. The Silhouette discussed body image over the past two years with some students at McMaster University.  

Serena Habib, a student at McMaster, discussed the many negative conversations surrounding body image that took place online over lockdown periods.   

“There was just a lot of public discourse around, like, how we're always sitting at our desks and getting snacks and I thought that was a lot of unnecessary pressure on people,” said Habib. 

Despite this, Habib said that her body image improved over the course of the pandemic due to the communities that she found on social media. Habib recognized that this was not the case for everyone, noting that other people may have found less supportive communities online. 

“[The pandemic] gave me the time to be able to explore body positivity on Instagram and podcasts that really helped with body image and with taking care of [my] physical and mental health, which I don't know if I would have gotten to do if it wasn't for having that time to myself over the pandemic,”

Serena Habib

Sarah Coker, another student at McMaster, also reported experiencing more positive body image after the pandemic. The pandemic helped Coker’s body image because when gyms closed, she began to explore other forms of exercise that felt better for her. Coker, who was diagnosed with anorexia in 2016, stated that, prior to the pandemic, she found herself overusing the gym. 

“Now I just like to go on a lot of walks and listen to podcasts and go out more in nature and [I] do it just because I want to and it feels good for my body, rather than having to be like ‘Okay, I need to get like this [and] do all these reps and sets,’” explained Coker.  

As well, Coker explained that she has lost some muscle since the start of the pandemic and that her time away from the gym made her appreciate the strength that she had built up. 

"[Being] female and being powerful and strong . . . [The pandemic] made me miss that and I hope I can get back to that eventually,” said Coker. 

McMaster student Ekta Mishra also reflected on how the pandemic made her place more value on her physical strength. Mishra noted that, prior to the pandemic, she was far more concerned about how others would view her appearance. However, being in isolation allowed Mishra to redefine beauty standards for herself.  

“[Body image] had to do a lot with exercise and how I wanted my muscles to look and what I felt was acceptable and feminine. [T]hat became something that I got to decide for myself, rather than something that other people [and their] reactions would decide . . . Not facing the scrutiny of the people around you every single day makes a difference in how you begin to perceive yourself,” said Mishra. 

On the other hand, McMaster student Sadie Macdonald stated that when the pandemic first began, it impacted her body image very negatively.  

“There was a lot of time and I was like what else am I going to do? I might as well focus on what I look like.  . .  So that wasn't good. I found myself slipping into [not] a disorder of any sort but definitely disordered thinking patterns and behaviors,”

Sadie Macdonald

Macdonald said that she found herself exercising excessively and failing to eat breakfast. However, Macdonald said that she caught herself slipping into unhealthy thinking patterns and made an effort to view her body more positively. She added that during the second lockdown, she was quarantining with a friend and she had developed a much healthier relationship with exercise.  

Although she was still exercising a lot, she was doing activities that she enjoyed, such as going on long bike rides. She stated that because she was exercising for fun, she was not focusing on her appearance.  

“I shouldn't see moving my body as a means to an end in that way. [Exercise] should have value in itself because it makes me feel good and if it's not making me feel good then I don't think I'm doing it right,”

Sadie Macdonald

For her, focusing on body neutrality through the pandemic was more valuable than focusing on body positivity.  

“Looking in the mirror and being like ‘wow, you're beautiful today’ doesn't help me as much as being like ‘you're so much more interesting than that; you don't even need to look in the mirror today’,” said Macdonald.  

Neha Shah, the director of the McMaster Students Union Women and Gender Equity Network, discussed the strengths of the body neutrality movement, explaining that it does more to address systemic issues than body positivity.  

Shah also explained that another aspect of COVID-19 body image is the impact that the pandemic has had on the ability of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals to present in a way that is comfortable for them.  

“For a lot of students, quarantining at home has made things difficult for them; being able to express themselves in the way that feels right to them is maybe not safe for them at home or just not as comfortable,” explained Shah.  

In order to combat this by providing students with gender affirming items and to provide students with sexual health items, WGEN began an initiative last year to provide students with gift cards to access these items.   

“Last year, my predecessor and the former director of [the Student Health Education Centre] collaborated to create a program called collective care, which is our peer-run resource distribution program that is able to run virtually. How it works is students will request a gift card — we have a range of stores that we’re able to provide gift cards to — of a certain amount and indicate why they need it and then we're able to send out these e-gift cards anonymously to them,” said Shah. 

Body image can be tricky to navigate and is ultimately a unique experience for every individual. With all the challenges that the pandemic has posed, the relationship that each person has with their own body can change in both positive and negative ways. However, when we support one another in our communities, we can help alleviate some of the stressors around feeling comfortable in our own skin.  

By: Emile Shen - WGEN Contributor

Time and time again, losing weight and getting healthier are the top New Year’s resolutions. The New Year’s surge of people at the Pulse and the subsequent disdain and groans from the regulars about newbies crowding up the gym is a predictable result. My concern is not with the plethora of benefits that these physical activities bring, but with the societal pressure to lose weight for aesthetic purposes.

My relationships with food and body image have been my longest lasting and by far most complicated. Others had told me since before I started grade school that being skinny made me a better person and would grant me better treatment. When you’re little, it is cute and acceptable to be chubby. When I got to Grade 3, my classmates started commenting about the roundness of my stomach and face. By age 10, I was told by classmates to stop eating so I could stop being so fat. I tried to brush it off, but still felt hurt by the words that were hurled at me.

As such, these New Year’s resolutions are neither simple nor methodical for me. Deeply ingrained in me through my peers and through my mother is that thin meant good and it meant being likable.

Fast forward a decade and a half and I am considered to be an average, “healthy” weight. I unequivocally celebrate body positivity in other women. But I have a difficult time rationalizing acceptance of others to the problematic pride I feel for myself when I manage to eat skimpy meals and feel the outline of my bones more sharply.

I don't know if it is more comforting or disturbing that I was not alone in these thoughts.

The defiant ways my curves grew and my weight surged in undergrad felt as out of control as the weakening of my mental health and the lack of a grasp I had on my identity. Was this a moral error? Why couldn’t I just do the things that I know mean healthy and active living and fitness and clean eating? Why was it so hard for me? Why was there such a mental barrier? McMaster’s services to help with these questions are suitable, but simply cannot compete with such a large amount of seemingly unfixable societal pressure.

I don’t know if it is more comforting or disturbing that I was not alone in these thoughts. Dr. Linda Smolak, a specialist in the psychology of eating disorders, found that by age six, girls start to express worry about their body appearance and 40 to 60 per cent of elementary school girls are concerned about becoming too fat. Individual experiences vary substantially along the spectrum, but this concern of weight gain follows most women throughout their lives.

It stresses me out when my friends count calories or talk about how many pounds they have lost since working out more regularly. And although logically, I know that others’ choices regarding eating and exercise have nothing to do with me, it still remains a paralyzing force. I don’t understand how society is simultaneously so individualistic but judgmental about what bodies are deemed appropriate or not. The amount of space a body takes up should not dictate how a person is treated.

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By: Emese Sykes

I know first-hand that body shape, size and even standardized charts can’t tell you whether or not someone is treating their body with the respect it needs. I also know that none of those same measurements should have any bearing on the level of respect a person receives from others.

As a person with a relatively tiny body, I find myself on the receiving end of quite a few awkward, challenging and even insulting comments about my body and eating practices. Everything from “That’s all you’re eating?” to “Where are you putting all that food?” and even “You’re too skinny. Eat some dumplings!”

I get “compliments” in the form of thinly veiled complaints about the speaker’s own body (Um, thanks for making me feel awkward, I think you’re beautiful, by the way). Yet when I go through seasons of overeating and avoiding exercise, I start getting the real compliments: “Wow! You look so healthy now!” I end up being approximately the right size, and even the perfect BMI to match someone else’s prototype of a young healthy woman when I’m treating my body poorly.

I’ve had to learn and re-learn that not everyone is going to accept that my body’s natural size is a result of genetics, rather than dieting, discipline, or an unhealthy body image. It says nothing about my character or my lifestyle, and nothing about anyone else’s either. As such, I’ve had to learn and re-learn to take care of it properly, and not force it to change into an unhealthy imitation of someone else’s healthy body.

While the size of my body has at many times apparently qualified it for public debate and appraisal, I can usually laugh awkwardly and run away. Yet I know there are many men and women who find themselves in much more detrimental situations because of discrimination against their body’s size or shape.

As it stands today in Canada, protection against sizeism is not included in human rights codes. In other words, you can’t lose your job because of your religion, your disability, or your gender. But if your employer considers your weight to be an issue, you don’t have much legal support to fight getting laid off, or getting passed over for a promotion, or even not getting hired in the first place. Sizeism seems largely overlooked by Canadian law, with only one noteworthy exception: the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling that any large persons in need of two seats on an airplane must only be charged for the one.

Even in the most recent update of McMaster’s Discrimination, Harassment & Sexual Harassment: Prevention and Response policy, body shape and weight discrimination are missing from an extensive list of individuals and groups protected by the university’s policy (which, thankfully, includes an “other” catch-all).

These and other examples of institutional blind spots, coupled with a very profitable weight loss industry can contribute, first of all, to a lot of pressure for Canadians to change their bodies (whether their weight poses a medical problem or not). Moreover, the omission of protection against sizeism gives permission to employers, teachers, doctors, and the general public to treat any adult or child they perceive as underweight or overweight with less respect than they deserve. This culture cultivates a judgmental, comparative and even competitive attitude towards body weight and shape, in which individuals must answer to strangers’ assumptions of character, choices and lifestyle based on how our bodies are perceived.

Shape, size, tests, charts and numbers are completely unrelated to the amount of respect that you owe yourself, the respect that anyone else owes you, and the respect that you owe others.

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By: Grace Kennedy

I think that sometimes we fall into a rut when taking feminist stances against the media and popular culture. We look at an image or video that objectifies women and decry it for doing so, but we often leave issues on the table about why the objectification of women is so harmful.

Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea just released a new music video called “Booty,” featuring prominent bumping and grinding, while barely clothed, amidst (what has become the norm for music videos) provocative and sexual dancing throughout. There is nothing new about this video.

The song seems to be trying to promote women with “booties” and some may make the argument that this enhances women’s self-confidence by publicizing acceptance of body types outside western society’s obsession with “skinny.” However, it is dangerous to think this way and give the video any legitimacy because it causes us to overlook the harm in objectifying women.

When someone is objectified, it means they are quite literally being looked at as if they were an object. It does not matter what type of object, whether you sing about being voluptuous, being skinny, or being athletic. The point is that you reduce women to their bodies. There is no doubt that western culture should drop its obsession with skinny body types. However, the mere preoccupation with talking about body shapes takes up such a great deal of our time, at the stake of all the immaterial values, strength and innovation that women offer.

Talking about our bodies, no matter in what form, is hurting women. No matter in what context you discuss it, it is detracting and distracting from issues in society that we need to be giving our time, efforts, and passions to. Society has struggled without women’s intelligence and empathy for too long and we should strive to drop body talk altogether.

Nima Nahiddi
Student Health Education Centre

The moment I realized that there was a problem with the idea of “fitspiration” was when I stumbled onto the amusing Buzzfeed article “13 Epic Moments of Drinkspiration”. Fitspiration, a combination of the words fit and inspiration, is a term used on Internet blogs and social media to create a community in which one strives for a fit lifestyle. It is theoretically supposed to be a healthier alternative to the idea of ‘thinspiration’ – working out to become thinner – as it embraces images of toned and bulked up men and women.

Although I had heard about the hashtag fitspiration - or ‘fitspo’ - I never recognized the harm it could do to one’s idea of a healthy body image. The Buzzfeed article, initially hilarious, started to slowly freak me out. It combines quotes often attributed to ‘fitspiration’ images with pictures of binge drinking. And the hybrid pictures eerily make complete sense. For example, “obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated” could relate as much to alcoholism as it could to a person running that extra mile. The most shocking for me was “CRAWLING is acceptable. PUKING is acceptable. TEARS are acceptable. PAIN is acceptable. QUITTING is UNACCEPTABLE”.  Personally, if I saw someone with any one of these symptoms at the Pulse I would take them straight to the Student Wellness Centre.

Although the idea behind fitspo can sound inspirational, it continues to perpetuate unhealthy philosophies related to one’s health and fitness. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, 27 percent of Ontario girls 12-18 years old were reported as being engaged in severely problematic food and weight behaviour. Moreover, Health Canada found that almost 50 percent of girls and almost 20 percent of boys in grade 10 either were on a diet or wanted to lose weight. These images, which are supposed to inspire us, only aggravate the unrealistic body image that is portrayed in the media and which we have come to think of as the norm for beauty. Moreover, by promoting the idea that “quitting is unacceptable,” these images reinforce the idea that anything should be done to achieve this type of toned body. Going to such extremes is often characteristic of many eating disorders and fitness addicts, where your mind is telling you that you must be committed, and that taking drastic measures is acceptable.

The idea of “fitspiration” is further problematic as many of the individuals in these posters are not only muscular but also thin. It is incredibly difficult for anyone, especially women, to bulk up or become toned without putting on additional weight. Our bodies need more calories, protein, and fat in order to actually build muscle. Furthermore, striving to have such a body is often extremely unrealistic.

The media, especially so-called “Health” magazines, perpetuates the idea that these types of goals are attainable. If you’ve ever seen the cover of Men’s Health Magazine, you’ll know that you could apparently have a set of 12-pack abs in no time at all. What they leave out when they include the “Henry Cavill Superman Workout” is that the actor was paid for several months to solely workout in preparation for his role. The studios gave him their own special food, a personal trainer to workout with twice a day, and a nutritionist. And even with all that support, Henry Cavill said it was a horrible routine, and that he was glad to be rid of the experience.

I am not bothered with the idea of being inspired in life to be fit and healthy. The problem is that these images misuse and thus create a new, unhealthy definition of fit. Having a toned, muscular or thin body does not necessarily indicate health. You could actually be overworking your body and causing serious damage to yourself. Pain is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong, not its way of encouraging perseverance. “Puking” is never acceptable when working out. I think it’s time for society to redefine the way we see healthy. We should stop creating unhealthy and unrealistic connotations for words like fit, thin, toned and muscular.

 

Edward Lawlor
The Silhouette

“You need to eat more.”

As a tall, lanky teenager I have heard this one time too many. I have been openly criticized for my weight by peers, co-workers and even teachers. Today, there aren’t many people who would approach their overweight peers, co-workers or students and tell them to “hit the gym,” or “lay off the fries.” So why is it acceptable to tell someone they are not allowed to be thin? It seems that this age of self-love and size acceptance has left out one demographic: skinny people.

Now, before you angrily turn the page and curse the media for trying to tell you that “thin is in,” please read on. I do not represent any media entities. I am a sole person, trying to plead my case. It is no secret that the media often portrays only one body type as being ideal, and in doing so leaves everyone else feeling physically inadequate. In light of this unfair portrayal, many have spoken out against it. However, some have misdirected their dissatisfaction at thin people. One need only search “skinny hate” on the internet to observe this.

Often people who find themselves struggling with their weight will direct their unhappiness towards the thin individual. These same people will even go so far as to say “being thin is unattractive” or “I’d rather have curves than have people see my bones.” While these statements might have the intention to target the media, they in fact do more damage to those who are thin. It seems almost counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? In an attempt to reject the preference of one body type over another, they have done the exact opposite.

Now, I am not oblivious to the sad reality of eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. They are awful afflictions, which no one should have to suffer through. But, there does exist a third reality: some of us are born thin. Whether it be hyper-active metabolisms, genes or simply fate, there exist humans who eat normally, but find it hard to gain weight. We should not be shamed for our naturally slender physique, the same way no one should be shamed for their naturally full-bodied physique.

Furthermore, the proverbial grass is not much greener here on the thin side of things. There are drawbacks attached to every body type, and ectomorphs are no exception. People often associate a lean figure with weakness, so it may come as no surprise that slender children and teens encounter bullying. I remember being made fun of for my weight (or lack thereof), throughout elementary and high school. Being called scrawny, bony and lanky subtly prompted me to wear long sleeves and pants constantly. I would refuse to leave my home without a sweater on, even in the summer heat for fear of being ridiculed. Shopping for clothes can be almost as discouraging, when pants won’t stay up and every outfit makes you look like a toddler playing dress-up. And being told by others that your gaunt frame is reflective of poor health is always disheartening.

To be clear, I am not scrounging for sympathy by stating the aforementioned facts. If they represent the peak of my bodily setbacks, I should count myself as fortunate. Nonetheless, it should be made known that being thin is not always beneficial.

I am not looking to spark a war against people who are not thin: I only wish to inform. Everyone has at one point had issues with their body, whether they be skinny, portly, lanky, curvy or somewhere in the middle. Truth buy discount cialis be told, there is nothing wrong with being naturally thin – some of us just are. Conversely, there is nothing wrong with being naturally full-bodied either – some of us just are. Keeping this in mind, let us celebrate body types from every point of the spectrum, not just our end.

By: Matthew Greenacre

 

When one thinks about eating and body image disorders, the picture of a muscle bound behemoth benching twice his weight is one that rarely springs to mind. Rather, extensive public health campaigns focussing on anorexia and bulimia have planted the image of a skeletal teenage girl in the public consciousness to exhibit the gravity of a previously ignored and very real disease. This image isn’t untrue - despite the fact people of both sexes, of any age can be sufferers - the majority of cases of anorexia and bulimia occur in young women. Thus, for many people it may be difficult to consider the antithetical case of a young man with an uncontrollable desire to gain muscle mass as a similar type of disease.

Muscle dysmorphia is the term given to individuals who have intense anxiety about their physique, driving them to undergo strict dieting, obsessive weight lifting and exercise regimes. However, a person striving to sculpt not just a six or eight but a ten pack does not necessarily have dysmorphia. Like many psychological disorders, it can only be defined as a disease when it disrupts a person’s life or is a source of unhappiness. For example, if a person’s concern about his or her muscularity is extreme, negative, or interferes with his or her social or professional life, there may be an issue. It is not just a question of whether one takes steroids or lives in the gym. Regardless of how much muscle persons with dysmorphia develop, or fat they trim off, they remain self conscious and unhappy with their appearance.

The criteria that are used to diagnose muscle dysmorphia can be found in a brief questionnaire called the Muscle Dysmorphia Disorder Inventory, and the similarity to anorexia is undeniable. Unsurprisingly, muscle dysmorphia affects men more than women. It closely mirrors anorexia in that it is more prevalent among a specific gender in a defined age range. There is a genetic component to muscle dysmorphia, and it usually begins in mid to late adolescence. Also, both disorders manifest with the same extremely rigid routines of diet and/or exercise, and overbearing shame and guilt if this regimen is broken.

For those of us who were not lucky enough to be handed a six-pack along with acne and social awkwardness, worrying about one’s physique is a normal part of male adolescence and young adulthood. But why does the mild nagging sense of insecurity that many of us feel turn into an obsessive addiction to the gym for some? Just as glossy images of pencil thin models and photoshopped actresses have been blamed for anorexia, cultural values and popular media play a role in propagating muscle dysmorphia by fuelling the inadequacy that one study claims 95% of young men feel.

Aspirational advertising for men has been used long before the Bowflex infomercials placed an unused hunk of metal in everyone’s garage. From the 1920s onwards, the Italian bodybuilder Charles Atlas made a fortune selling the Dynamic Tension muscle-building program to millions of people. Part of his advertising was the story of how he turned himself from a “97 pound weakling” into a “muscleman” after having sand kicked in his face by a bigger, stronger boy. This almost laughably cliché story is actually reminiscent of case studies of muscle dysmorphia in which an incident, such as an offhand comment about a person’s appearance heightens his or her insecurity, triggering an obsessive anxiety about their body image. The sheer success of this industry suggests that it takes little more than a bodybuilder with a shake-weight to trigger men’s anxiety about the state of their biceps.

For the majority of people this anxiety is kept in perspective and does not govern our lives or prevent us from spending time with friends, as is the case for some. Though this disorder is only just being recognized and few people have been treated, case studies of patients that have received counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy show that these measures can be effective and eliminate sufferers’ misconceptions about their body. For some such men, it might be helpful to keep in mind a study that showed that women do not prefer broad shouldered, body builder body types any more than slim and slight male bodies.

 

Nour Afara

 

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to leave all of your personal insecurities behind. Cast away those morning shudders when gazing at yourself in the mirror because the answer to all your problems is here.

Forget practicing your confident face (or your duck face), plastic perfection is what has been making the news for years now. I’m not here to rant about old news - I’d like to think of myself as a little more fresh, and hip, if I might add. Instead, I’m looking at something more specific within this topic — plastic surgery and young adults.

Is it ethical? Is there an age that can be deemed too young to make such a decision? Are young people ready to make physical alterations to themselves? The questions could go on but I must make it clear that my article is not directed towards those who undergo plastic surgery for medical reasons, but those who do it for aesthetic purposes.

I think that plastic surgery is a great development and that young people should definitely take advantage of it. Although everything that is done in excess is, well, excessive, plastic surgery is no exception. I believe that the only valid reason for having plastic surgery at a young age is for the purpose of being happy or happier. That’s where it all ends. It can be said that you must learn to love yourself as you are — if you can’t accept yourself, then who will? However, I will strongly argue against all of those idealists who assume that loving yourself is the easiest option.

I thought it would be interesting to get the input of some students on campus about this topic. Jessica Grendzienski, a second-year English and history student also thinks that everyone “should be happy with their bodies and not try to change certain parts about [themselves] since that’s what makes [them] unique from others.”

Although this may be the ideal mindset, being unhappy with your body is a huge obstacle to overcome. This isn’t obesity where the weight can potentially be lost or ugly glasses that can be replaced with contact lenses — this is your physical structure, your skin and bones. The only way to change that is to go under the knife.

So all that’s left now is to determine if you’re ready to undergo surgery for the sake of your happiness. How frustrated are you with your imperfection? How sure are you that this surgery will make you happy with yourself? These are questions you must answer for yourself but my goal here is to educate others that there is no shame in going to great lengths to make yourself happy. I feel that the topic of plastic surgery is overly glamorized in the sense that there is this assumption that “no one I know has had plastic surgery.”

This assumption is false. I think that those who have undergone procedures tend to hide it from others, fearing judgmental opinions and prejudice. The most vital thing to remember is to make your decisions based off of your own emotions and your own thoughts.

Natasha DalliCardillo, a second-year English major agrees with this mindset and said she has “never had any surgery done but that does not mean [she] would stand in the way of someone else’s happiness. [She thinks] everyone is beautiful just as they are.

“However, if it will truly make them happy, then they should go for it, by all means.” And that’s exactly what I did. Although I will not go into extensive detail, I will confess that I have undergone plastic surgery. My reason?

Because for the majority of my mature life I absolutely hated a certain feature of mine. Finally, I decided to “fix” my problem and I can confidently say that I am much happier with myself now than ever before.

Plastic surgery among young people should not be embarrassing or something to hide from. It is an opportunity to feel fantastic when you otherwise do not. As long as you have come to this decision on your own and are ready to start glowing with happiness, go for it.

TYLER HAYWARD / SENIOR PHOTO EDITOR

Cassandra Jeffery 

Assistant InsideOut Editor

According to the Slimband dieting center, the average 20-year-old woman weighing in at 120 pounds and reaching a height of five foot, two inches should consume a total of 1776 calories per day. Not 1880 or 1978, but exactly 1776; one calorie over and the wrath of Jenny Craig will become more stressful then a biology midterm.

If you’re looking to be under the 120-pound mark, then try cutting down your calorie intake to 1421 per day. Slimband then goes one step further, suggesting 1065 calories per day for extreme results. After all, extreme measures lead to extreme results.

Our society is overly obsessed with calorie counting, to the point that we analyze every bit of food being consumed. Let’s say you eat the 120 calories in a large apple, a 300-calorie slice of pizza, and the 150 calories in a beer; six beers later and you’re over the calorie count for the day.

Next time, you’ll just have to avoid eating when preparing to drink. Often, an obsession with food, body weight, and dieting can lead to extremely dangerous illnesses, such as various sectors of eating disorders.

The pain and health complications affiliated with eating disorders are an inevitable result, yet time and time again individuals let their unrealistic goals of body perfection compromise their health.

Does beauty truly mean pain? Just a year ago, Rory Dakins, third-year Commerce student, would agree with such a statement. For four years, Dakins fell victim to bulimia nervosa.

“I wanted to be thinner, but I didn’t have the self control in order to restrict myself from eating. So when I would eat, usually junk food, I would feel guilty. Gaining weight was just not an option, so I would panic and purge,” confesses Dakins.

Eating disorders are vicious cycles, often resulting in continuous relapse coupled with a negative relationship to food and body image. “It would go through stages of intensity. For example, on certain days I would throw up an apple. It’s really an addiction that was hard to defeat. I would be constantly thinking, ‘What’s worse, gaining weight or just purging my food?’” says Dakins.

An obsession with food and body image has detrimental effects to an individual’s health and self-esteem, though the severity of eating disorders are frequently undermined or altogether ignored.

According to the Mental Health Association, 70 percent of women and 35 percent of men are on a diet. Of women between 15 and 25, one to two per cent have anorexia and three to five per cent have bulimia. Ten to twenty per cent of those who develop eating disorders die from related complications – that’s a higher rate than any other mental illness.

The severity of eating disorders varies among individuals, and for the most part, detecting that someone has an eating disorder is difficult. However, eating disorders are prevalent in both genders and many cultures. The most obvious form of pressure that contributes to an eating disorder is the glamorized media portraying men as buff and women as too thin. Depression, self-esteem problems and identity issues are just some of the many contributing factors to eating disorders.

The Mental Health Association has categorized three of the most commonly known sectors of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating. Symptoms for anorexia include refusal to maintain appropriate body weight, dietary and exercise extremes, and constant reference to the body as being over-weight, despite dramatic weight loss.

Anorexia is essentially the refusal of food to the body, whereas bulimia is the process of purging unwanted food from the body post-consumption. Symptoms of bulimia include “self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives and diet pills, and eating beyond the point of fullness,” according to the Association.

Binge-eating disorder is a constant flux between overeating and excessive dieting. Symptoms include periods of impulsive and continuous eating followed by sporadic dietary crashes.

The effects of eating disorders are extremely damaging to our health. Anorexia essentially starves your muscles, as well as the heart. The heart can slowly begin to deteriorate and eventually stop because of starvation. According to the website Eating Disorder, “bulimics frequently experience muscle cramps, heartburn, fatigue, bloody diarrhea, fainting episodes, dizziness, and abdominal pain.”

Rory Dakins eventually conquered her illness. Upon extensive research she realized the damaging health effects of bulimia were not a part of her ideal conception of thinness. Her fixation with body image did not improve overnight; healing took time and energy. Today, Dakins says that she has learned to accept her body and work towards realistic weight goals in a natural way.

Dakins’ experience will hopefully be a lesson for anyone struggling with an eating disorder. However, our superficial society gives us the perception that self-worth is reliant on an unrealistic notion of perfection. We need to stop aiming for an unattainable perfection and instead focus on altering society’s definition of what perfect entails; apathy should be reserved for the world of celebrity influence, not our bodies.

 

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