T Nation

Body Image and Eating Disorders


#1

Here is a topic I chose for a paper in a "sociology of human movement" class:

"Increasing socio-culttural evidence indicates that body image and eating disorders are serious health problems among young people. How much should Ontario's education curriculum and policies be involved in the issues of body image and eating disorders?"

I already have an idea of where I'm going with this argument, but just wanted to get your guys' opinion. It's a pretty controversial topic, so hopefully we'll get some good discussion going.


#2

My personal opinion is that you can't fix this in health class. I remember health class. We watched a video in junior high about what an erection was and how girls have vaginas. I learned that wet dreams, talked about openly in front of your friends at that age, makes you feel really strange.

Bottom line, health class didn't teach me much of anything. Many of my perceptions and my foundation for body image were laid by peers, the media, and those I looked up to while growing up.

You have more with eating disorders now because it is a backlash for the obesity epidemic along with the mass feminization of American males (possibly Canadian males as well). It is now cool to look like a bitch as long as you dress with Hollister gear and your girlfriend looks strangely comfortable in YOUR jeans.

Today, you have super lazy couch potatoes whose idea of exercise and physical activity is walking aaaaaallll of the way to the mailbox and back in houseshoes with your X-box 360 on pause. You have guys who actually come all of the way to the gym JUST to train abs.

The fact that their arms are comparitively smaller than the bar used on the benchpress seems to concern them none at all.

You don't fix that in health class. It will take a much larger change than your underpaid Health teacher can handle all by herself.


#3

I notice that people who do care about how they look are following misguided ideas, and start turning toward starvation, binge-and-purge, and abusing laxatives. Contrasting, overeating.

Even in the military I see this occasionally among soldiers who have either failed the fitness test. They will embark on a journey of anorexia and sabotage the hell out of their bodies in an effort to meet bodyfat standards.

I can only hope that somehow, some way, the collective in America will discover rational eating habits.

I'm seeing the following in the military gyms, which you all are no doubt seeing in the commercial places yourselves:
Mr. Nitro-Tech: He carries that stupid tub of powder EVERYWHERE. He's drinking the shit at work, home, in the toilet, in the sauna and not building any muscle anyway. He still lives on Hot Pockets, pizza, Coke, and Honey Buns

Captain Pills: He's taking more pills than a schizo in the loony house. He looks sallow from the stimulants that burned up his adrenal glands two years ago and insists he has the formula for his success. Same diet as above with the daily trips to some local fast-food grease joint.

The Runner: This dude doesn't eat. Period. Well over six feet tall, 130-ish pounds, looks like someone with AIDS and may drop dead any second. Runs farther than Forrest Gump yet can't keep up with combat drills during training. Holy hell, give this dude a large steak!

All of these are no doubt perpetuated by whatever publication they prefer, a local idiot, or both.

The other end of the spectrum is the group that makes up the "rest". The dudes wolfing down Doritos, pizza, vending machine food, etc whilst racking up record hours on the game consols in their rooms or on the computer. I seldom see anyone on the basketball courts for entertainment nowdays.

One example that is sticking out is that the Army actually has to recruit obese people just to keep the ranks filling. It's partly because of decline in the recruiting, but also most people were being sent away due to fatness. Additionally this is the same for higher training such as Special Forces. They won't turn you away as often.

They just PT your ass until your not a fatass anymore. I was invited to do the Bataan Death March that happens every year. There is a chance that there won't be enough people to form the team because of laziness or inability to stick to it due to shitty eating habits.


#4

Hey man, I used to work at Hollister!


#5

That was my main point as well. Since beauty ideals come from the runway, and Hollywood, what can schools possibly do to decrease eating disorders? Education certainly doesn't work. Just look at all the money schools spend on drug education. Yet, drugs are as popular as ever, if not more so.

So I figure that when the ideal for beauty is a healthy ideal (ie Marilyn Monroe over a 90 pound runway model), and still good looking, eating disorders will start to decline.


#6

This is a perpetual circle.

Way back when, when Anna Nicole Smith was first in Playboy the media was going ape shit that a girl with curves was in Playboy. Would this change the way women looked at themselves and how hollyweird and the modeling agencies chose women.

It didnt do one damn thing.

Designers of clothing make cloths that look good on a certain body type. They could chose an athletic body but they dont. Hollyweird still trots out skeletons with skin giving them the part of the hot babe everyone wants.

How do you change it? Teach our children to speak with their money and not to follow stupid fashion trends as a start.


#7

Serious eating disorders are often associated with underlying mental health problems such as depression, low selfesteem, problems arising from abuse. As such early intervention in mental health problems by counsellors and specialists would be valuable, as said it would be impossible to influence the culture of body obsession and the potrayal of underweight women as desirable and fat as bad / evil.


#8

Prof, while reading your post I felt that everything that you said is more correct, and better written than anything else I have ever read on the topic. I can also remember the kind of things that were taught in my health classes and how exciting it was at that age to see a tampon expand when placed into a glass of water.

In saying that I agree with everything you wrote, I also feel that another thing that is not going to have an impact on the young people today is the defeatist attitude that exists amount many of the older population.

We can say that health class taught us nothing, and drug education has had no impact on drug use today, which is most likely correct, but we can also guarantee that if the education department does nothing to teach kids about body image then then nothing is going to change in respect of the school system being able to help society in this regard.

Do you think that the words you wrote, which I agree with, display a defeatist attitude on our behalf? Should the schools not even try to impact the children regarding healthy body image?


#9

It isn't defeatist at all. It is PARENTS' jobs to help their kid grow up with the right values, not your teacher who, on average, gets paid about 30-35 grand a year which is about half what the toll booth worker in New York make a year. If your kids think Paris Hilton is a great person, you have fucked up. If your kids drop out of high school and begin beating up homeless people until they stop breathing, you have fucking failed. Likewise, if your kid has slipped past your attention and now weighs a skeletal 105lbs at 6'2", you might want to pull your head out of your ass and stop expecting the educational system to raise your kid for you.


#10

Again I whole heartedly agree with you on the subject of parents. However, in being realistic about the situation, you have to acknowledge that there are parents out there that are going to fuck up and not raise their children in the way, and with the right attitueds and morals that are needed. So I guess that I see there are a couple of options (I hope there are more) to allow for the fact that there are going to be, and are parents that will do poorly in their responsibilities. The first is to utilise the education system to try and correct the failings of parents, whether this be through the parents neglect, ignorance or multitude of reasons. The second is to educate the parents.

As the education system already has access to the kids I think that using this to correct the failings of parents is going to be more viable than educating the parents.

It is sad that children are being allowed by their parents to grow up with the attitudes that exist today, but the fact is it happens. Should the education just ignore this and let the kids work hopefully work it out for themselves or should it at least try to do what it can.


#11

I agree with this. Many parents no longer parent. They take the position of stand off, hands off, advisor and let their little bastard children run amok. Walk a shopping mall and watch the child/parent interactions. Would you have seen this behavior allowed when your parents or grand parents were kids?

We recognize the daunting task that education attempts to do in today's world. Teaching used to be a first rate profession but is now second rate. The best and brightest no longer go into education. If they do they get disillusioned quickly and leave for better paying jobs in the private sector. Who wants to start out making less than $20K a year with a 4 year degree? In many states that is what teachers start out at. Altruism aside you have got to be nuts to do this! You cant do better working at McD's!

The best teacher I had, who was respected by the students, taught more than just a lesson, but projected in himself a great role model. He was pink slipped due to budget cuts and returned to the Marine Corp. The guy who took over for him was a clown in comparison. Who would have been better to keep? Who made the biggest difference in the school? The best and brightest didn't get to keep his job in this case.

Today teachers in many schools try to teach but they don't get the message across. I spend hours each night teaching my kids their math and science that they don't understand from the day's lessons. Many nights I go to bed with the belief that the teacher doesn't have a basic understanding of the scientific principle that he/she was attempting to teach and the watered down text book does no better. If you look at the statistics, our schools are failing our kids. Do you want the schools as the primary educator in your child's life?

Parents must be the primary educators in a child's life. To do this we must also be good role models. Saying you need to eat right and exercise all while sucking down a beer and a bag of chips as your fat ass surfs all 200 cable channels is not a good role model. The problem is this is what most of our children see.

I don't see it as defeatist. I see it as recognizing the limitations of the educational system as it is today. It is also recognizing the role parents must play in their children's life. Self image must come from personal accomplishment and not weather you are skinny, fat, muscular, or have bigger breasts than the next girl.


#12

Pretty boy.


#13

It's an interesting avenue that this discussion has taken. So do people think that parents and truly good teachers can resolve the eating disorders and body image issues?

I can see that on the one hand, parents have a significant influence on a child's early life, but on the other hand, after a certain age, it is TV that starts to raise kids, and implant ideas into their head. Even if parents try to educate their kids about body image, can that overcome the very strong influence of pop culture? That's an interesting question to explore.

Also, if not health class, what is the solution (or is there more than one solution) to the body image an eating disorder problems? Are parents the answer? Is it mass social change, where the ideal for beauty is a healthy ideal? Is it something else?


#14

It's not about education. It is about having a sense of self worth.


#15

First question- what is the 'sociology of human movement'? I may just be really stupid, but one of my BA's is in sociology and I am starting in on my Ph.D. in sociology this fall and I have never once heard of 'sociology of human movement'.

I don't know if socio-cultural evidence is the kind you are going to cite here, let alone if such evidence does exist. I can surely see the link between your topic and socio-cultural theory, I just don't see how exactly evidence can be pointed to as being socio-cultural - how can evidence show the prescription of social meaning to individuals' or groups' modalities of thought with respect to ideals or actions? There may be abundant correspondence between such things as the measurements of a GI Joe figure's biceps or a Barbie's wasteline and the practice of anorexia or bulemia amongst youth, which can then be intimated to be socio-cultural evidence, but in itself it is not such socio-cultural evidence.

Supporting any causal linkages you see to be evidenced by your 'socio-cultural evidence' will be difficult to do. Intuitively it does make sence - Barbie being a size Zero and GI Joe having 25 inch arms do indicate a cultural fixation with body image. But when it is reduced to it's causal basics - my doll has a thin figure so I am a bulemic - it is far less intellectually appealing since there are complex causal processes that underlie the phenomenon, one that is very difficult to evidence through all but the least generalizable methods.

You may wish to examine any programs that have attempted to address issues of body image and eating disorder amongst school-aged children. This would allow you to make more reasoned observations on the extent to which Ontario's curriculum should be involved in the remedy of these issues - you will know what has worked and thus should be implemented, and what practices should be abandoned or reformed. That and you won't sound like all of those cultural critics who essentially whine for 80% of their paper about the ills of our culture, only to conclude with the idea that we should do something.


#16

I believe that good parenting is the answer to the problem, however, saying that means that you have to acknowledge that bad parenting may make the problem worse. That is where I believe that the education system also has to get involved, unless we are going to send all the bad parents to 'How to raise your children 101'.

The education system and the values that they can attempt to teach will never come close to good parenting in terms of the impact it can have on someones life, but where the parenting in poor for whatever reason, something from the education system is better than nothing.


#17

That's not what the class is called, but it's just the name that I decided to give this class to avoid confusion. The real name of the course is "Kinesiology: sociocultural perspectives"

Actually, what I wrote, as the description for the assignment is word for word what was given. The class hasn't really gone in depth about the specific terminology "socio-cultural."
The rest of what you said (I hate to admit it) went way over my head.

Thanks for the tip. Actually, it is required to use a government source, and I figure that will be the biggest contribution to my paper. However, I am required to use other sources ((2 academic books, 1-2 peer reviewed journal articles (print or electronic), 1 government or similar research study, 2 reputable websites)), and besides the government source, I'm not too sure what to look for in the other sources.

But I suppose that will become clearer as I begin the research.