Emotional Health · Health

Not From Thin Air: The Emergence of Eating Disorders

Suddenly this power had become something that could be controlled, and a choice. It was a choice that some women began to see as a negative one, and male hegemony, eager to hold onto their status, gladly participated in downgrading the respect once given to female anatomy and function. Meanwhile, popular culture joined in, reinforcing these changes and creating a vicious cycle. The media didn’t create these changes—on the contrary, they were responding to the same deep-seated cultural shifts, but they helped reinforce them.

Today, of course, social media has significantly amplified the power of cultural shifts to catch on rapidly and forcefully. The word “meme” has been created to reflect how quickly a trend can spread into the culture at large. Girls’ obsession with themselves and their bodies have dangerous new avenues for expression, and new ways for them to become victims of criticism have, too.

Where is this leading? As the United States prepares for a process that might elect our first female president, we have seen a male candidate emerge who is unabashedly critical of women’s bodies. While his probable opponent has spent her public lifetime having her looks assailed from many directions, except for his eccentric hair, he has had a free pass. Even a young woman who approaches the “accepted” ideal of physical beauty, like Megan Kelly, has been crudely targeted  simply for being a female.

Many men are loving this, it seems. As women’s power has increased, and the “threat” of greater equality looms, the need to objectify them and their bodies has remained strong. Meanwhile, eating disorders have become a public health crisis. They are the No. 1 psychiatric cause of death. It’s certain that though many factors have gone into the toxic brew that has produced this crisis, eating disorders are definitely not a passing trend and certainly didn’t arise out of “thin air.” We as women can start to fight back by respecting our bodies (and one another).  If we don’t, how can we expect men to? If we don’t, even as women gain in power, many will continue to wither and die. We can all help by trying to develop better attitudes ourselves and supporting one another, engaging in less self-critical behavior, especially less “body talk.” Let’s set the right example for young girls on the brink of adulthood.


Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. The Body Project: an Intimate History of American Girls. 1997.
Kohut, Heinz. The Analysis of the Self. 1971.
Lawson, Carol. “Anorexia: It’s Not A New Disease,” The New York Times, December 8, 1985.

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  • Micki LeCronier June 30, 2016 at 9:37 am

    This reads like a history of eating disorders. Thank you SO MUCH for addressing this crisis.