Destructive images of beauty

The sharp contrast between a beautiful, sexy female form and the emaciated images that are often dished up as beauty on TV makes one think about how vulnerable we are to suggestion and what a devastating effect this can have on our body image.

Juliette vs Calista
Two of the images of modern beauty are Juliette Binoche and Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal. The one image is that of a beautiful, vibrant woman who is totally in charge of her life, while the other is of a haunted, starving waif who is totally out of control. I know which one of these images I’d like to look like! Give me Juliette any day. Some of the shots of this stunning woman in ‘Chocolat’ are unforgettable.

Now please don’t get me wrong: I really like Calista and enjoyed watching the wacky antics on Ally McBeal, but I think that she not only ruined her own life, but also that of countless other young women. A few years ago, the papers were full of snippets describing Ally’s fainting spells, her lack of sleep and, most distressing of all, that she has bulimia.

This was a sad indictment of modern values. But what upset me most, was that there are so many other young girls and women out there who are copying her example. They'll do anything to lose weight until they're reduced to skin and bone: starve, vomit, exercise to exhaustion or swallow any magic potion or pill that promises unrealistic weight-loss. The list is endless.

Are you bulimic or anorexic?
I get many questions from readers who are caught in the destructive trap of eating disorders and all of them are desperately unhappy. But how do you know if you're a victim?

Here are a few pointers:
If you answer "Yes" to two or more of these questions, you're probably anorexic or bulimic.

  • Are you obsessed with losing weight?
  • Are you very thin, but think you're still gross and fat?
  • Do you diet all the time?
  • Do you, after eating, induce vomiting to lose weight?
  • Do you hate yourself?
  • Do you feel out of control?
  • Do you feel suicidal?
  • Do you starve yourself and then gorge until you want to throw up?
  • Do you exercise every day until you feel totally exhausted?
  • When you look into the mirror, do you see a fat, ugly person?

How many times did you answer "Yes?"

Get help!
If you suspect that you're either anorexic or bulimic, you need to get help fast. Contact a clinical psychologist and/or a dietician to help you get out of the eating-disorder trap immediately. Eating disorders can be fatal and I lost two friends at university to these cruel illnesses.

People with anorexia and/or bulimia generally suffer from underlying psychological problems. They often actually hate themselves and their image. Anorexics have a distorted body image and cannot see that they're fading away. All they see when they look into a mirror is a gross, overweight slob, even if their ribs are sticking out.

There's also usually a drive to self-destruct. Anorexics are often aware of the fact that they're harming their health and causing permanent damage to their bodies by starving themselves mercilessly, but they are unable to stop inflicting this self-punishment. These people need help from a psychologist so that they can identify the underlying psychological problem and learn to cope with it. If you like or love yourself a little more, you won’t want to destroy yourself.

People with eating disorders need to be taught how to eat normally again and this is where they need the help of a clinical dietician. If you contact a dietician, s/he will assist you to start following a balanced diet, help you adjust your food intake and eliminate the deficiencies you might have developed.

(Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated April 2011)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

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