In modern society, the pressure to look good is omnipresent. The popular culture, photoshopped pictures of stars, glamorous magazines… today’s population is flooded with images of beautiful people. Not surprisingly, it has been argued that this is one of the causes that more marriages fail today than ever before.
As one glances at these unattainable ideals, the unconscious registers that there are incredibly attractive mates available, and the “real people”, no matter how attractive, seem to lose in comparison.
Mores change, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a beautiful woman was considered a chubby woman; one needs only to look at The Three Graces to understand the extent of this statement. However, since the 1960s there has been a decreasing weight trend in Playboy centerfolds and fashion models. In some young men, the media obsession has resulted in steroid use and excessive weight training.
However in mostly young women and some homosexual young men, the pressure to be thin has taken a very dramatic turn, sometimes with fatal consequences: eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating are categorized as mental illnesses in the DSM-IV-TR. Anorexia nervosa is the least prevalent of the three, but also the most dangerous. The disease consists of a person voluntarily refusing pretty much all nutrients and having a deluded idea about their own body. In their distorted perception, those affected see themselves as grossly overweight no matter how extremely underweight they are.
Also, aside from depression, brain and major organs’ tissue damage, social withdrawal, and generalized dysfunctions, the electrolyte imbalance can lead to cardiac arrest. The 1970s singer Karen Anne Carpenter died as a result. Bulimia nervosa patients alternate between starvation and eating, which then is compensated by excessive purging (abuse of laxatives, over strenuous exercise, and induced vomiting).
Binge eaters have the reverse pattern in which they simply cannot control their eating and consume large quantities of aliments until they are physically in pain.
Models such as Kate Moss, who was famously quoted as saying that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, and others, have been blamed for the outbreak of eating disorders in younger and younger girls. Indeed, not only teenagers but girls as young as 8 and 10 years old have been reported to starve themselves for “perfection”.
After the death of anorexic models Uruguayan sisters Eliana and Luisel Ramos, and Brazilian Ana Carolina Reston in 2006, many countries have prescribed a minimum body mass index for models for fashion shows to be acceptable. Further, ProAna and ProMia sites (sites encouraging eating disorders as a lifestyle) have been taken down.
Still, in 2010 Miss Australia pageant contestant Stephanie Naumoska was accused of having anorexia. The extremely emaciated contestant explained that she eats well and that her thinness is due to her Macedonian heritage, but nutrition experts are skeptical.