Nothing in American culture has caused so many health problems as the Beauty Myth. The belief, due to media-crazed hype, that women must be painfully thin to be beautiful has caused both physical and mental distress for so many young women. The fact these issues are mostly ignored outside the medical community is an even larger problem. It is ignored because it affects mostly the half of the population that is thought to be unworthy of thought, women.
Using myself as an example; I have been on both sides of the weight issue and have been part of the problem. As a model in my teens and twenties, I was painfully thin and portrayed that image. I was also suffering from a common disorder among our young, anorexia nervosa. I counted every calorie, lived on salad almost exclusively, and exercised like a madwoman to maintain the weight expected of me. At five-foot-five (66 inches or 165.10 CM), that weight was an unhealthy low of one-hundred-ten pounds (50 KG); right off the BMI chart altogether at the low end. Normal weight for someone my height is roughly one-hundred-eighteen pounds (54 KG) up to one-hundred-forty-eight pounds (67 KG): and I strove to lower that even more.
Fast-forward to my forties, and I am attempting to find some relief from a lifetime of major depressive disorder. I was put on a medication called Remeron, a tetracyclic drug, used for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In six months I gained a whopping one-hundred-fifteen pounds (52 KG)! Suddenly I went from the normal end of the BMI chart to the obese domain. I was devastated, as you may imagine. My delayed research indicated that researchers don’t know why, but some medications can cause weight gain of up to twenty pounds a month and change your metabolism and the way your body stores nutrients. I have struggled for the past ten years to remove that weight, with little result.
I now have all the complications you would expect from being overweight: diabetes, high cholesterol, and self-esteem issues aplenty. As a teen suffering anorexia, my self-esteem has always been largely tied to my weight. I now live with “fat discrimination” and “body shaming” as a regular occurrence. One of my oldest friends does not believe that I don’t just sit on the couch, stuffing my face with pies, cakes, and cookies. I have
been called both a cow and a pig, especially by young men.
I have now seen both sides of the beauty myth coin and would like to call attention to them both. Neither extreme is healthy, either physically or mentally, for anyone, man or woman. For men, it is different. Men don’t live under the beauty myth’s focus. Not to say, by any means, that there aren’t young men whose self-esteem is tied to body weight and image, or suffer the debilitating effects of anorexia, there are, but it is far less common than it is for young women.
Human beings come in all shapes and sizes. Many have medical issues that put them on one side or the other of a healthy weight to begin with. Most women do not meet the glorified ideal portrayed through the media naturally. We expect a young woman to be thin to be beautiful putting a tremendous strain and mental fixation on our youth. Who doesn’t want to be considered beautiful?
Especially in this media-driven, advertising society where beauty is worshiped more than any god. It forces young women who were not fortunate enough to be small-boned and low in body fat into being anorexic to fit that image, to fit in, to be good enough, loved enough. In the case of so many, like Karen Carpenter, a music icon of the seventies, it can lead to death, or at the very least, an unhealthy idea of eating. I know an eight-year-old girl whose mother put her into modeling.
She is already showing signs of developing anorexia, and she’s not alone. The age of development of these disorders drops every decade. Body shaming has become a common term because it is so prevalent in our society which is so enmeshed in social media.
The good part of social media is that people have become more aware of health and wellness. We have begun, as a culture, to educate ourselves about a healthy weight and how to achieve and maintain it. At least among some of the adult population. Our young women are still inundated by the media ideal of beauty being an unachievable or life threatening level of thin. It’s time we started to open our eyes to the problem of the “beauty myth” and start to break through it.
Michele is an American writer, a student of psychology, and a substitute teacher. You can follow her blog ‘a single step’ here: