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Anorexia (continued)

Anyone involved in treating anorexics soon becomes aware of the contradiction of potentially beautiful young girls, who while denying their actual beauty, pursue an ideal of beauty and often end up emaciated and extremely unattractive. In cultures in which food is scarce then obesity symbolizes high social rank and access to resources. When food is readily available and anyone can be fat, then to be thin can symbolize high social status. It signifies self-control. These days even 6-9 year olds in western cultures are concerned about their weight and shape. Immigrants to western societies do not themselves develop eating disorders but their daughters do. There is no single cause of anorexia but rather it is caused by a combination of factors including genetic, biological, family, individual and social/cultural. Evidence for the social/cultural causation can be seen in that here are relatively few anorexics in a culture in which most people do not get enough to eat.

 

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In 1983 the singer Karen Carpenter died at age of 32 from anorexia nervosa. This brought eating disorders to America's attention. In 1987 the average model weighed 23 percent less than the average American woman and by the 1990s five million American women were suffering from eating disorders.

The fashion industry doesn't cause eating disorders in young women. Glamorous images of thin models reflect something else which is going on. All of us have genes which seek to reproduce themselves-it is built into our psychologies. Status means access to resources like food and mating opportunities. There is an inherent psychological preference for status because, in our ancestral past, higher status meant better chances of survival as it usually meant greater access to resources and greater comforts. This, of course, is still true today in many parts of the world. In the Western world where there is a surplus of food to aspire to be thin is associated with aspiring to higher status. The tragic paradox is that the aspiration to be thin, when over exaggerated as in anorexia, carries with it a significant risk of other health problems or, in extreme cases, mortality.

The author of this article is a qualified and experienced psychotherapist with many years experience working for the NHS in the UK. Information in this article is purely for educational purposes. If you suspect you may be suffering from anorexia or other eating disorder please seek appropriate help from your doctor or a properly qualified mental health clinician.

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