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Mirror Image

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Women do not have to buy the lie that their bodies must be perfect to be acceptable. "Body image is a person's perception of his or her physical appearance. A person with a poor body image will perceive his or her own body as being unattractive or even repulsive to others" (Wikipedia, p.1).

A woman's body image encompasses her physical appearance, size, and shape. Our body image is formed out of every experience we have ever had- parents, role models, and peers who give us an idea of what it is like to love and value a body. Images are formed from the positive and negative feedback from people whose opinions matter to us. It is also the way we ourselves have perceived our body to fit or not fit the cultural image.

One of the reasons for this body dissatisfaction is modern media influence. Deceitful messages about women's bodies that come from advertisements, movies, music videos, television, video games, and magazines all have a strong pressure for women to feel like they have to look like cover girls. These messages can cause women to develop a distorted perception of their physical appearance or to become obsessed with their "imperfections". They may look in the mirror and see a larger body than the one that they have. Large thighs, large buttocks, and a rounded abdomen may lead to distress for some women.

When a woman is in distress over her appearance, it can lead her into an eating disorder. "The fact remains that 2 million Americans--most of them women and girls--do suffer from eating disorders. In the most extreme cases, they literally starve themselves to death. Those who survive are at greater risk of developing brittle bones, life-threatening infections, kidney damage and heart problems" ("Gorman, Christine" p.1). The two most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is the relentless pursuit of thinness. A woman with anorexia refuses to maintain normal body weight for age and height and denies the dangers of low weight. She often weighs as little as 80 to 100 pounds and will over-exercise or take diet pills to keep from gaining weight. She is terrified of gaining weight, even though alarmingly under weight, and will report feeling fat even when emaciated. In addition, anorexia nervosa often includes depression, irritability, withdrawal, and social phobia or panic disorder. Anorexics develop peculiar behaviors such as compulsive rituals, strange eating habits, wearing baggy clothes to hide extreme thinness, and division of foods into "good/safe" and "bad/dangerous" categories.

Bulimia nervosa is the diet-binge-purge disorder. A woman with bulimia diets, becomes hungry, and then binge eats in response to powerful cravings and feelings of deprivation. She fears gaining weight and frantically tries to "undo" the binge by vomiting, misusing laxatives, exercising, or fasting to get rid of the calories. She believes self-worth requires being thin. Like anorexia, bulimia can kill. Bulimics are depressed, lonely, ashamed, and empty inside.

"Research suggests that about 1% of female adolescents have anorexia. That means that about one out of every one hundred young women between ten and twenty are starving themselves, sometimes to death. About 4%, or four out of one hundred, college-aged women have bulimia"("ANRED".p1).

These eating disorders if not stopped can lead to irreversible physical damage and even death. They can affect every cell, tissue, and organ in the body. Here are some of the medical dangers associated with them: "irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrest, death, kidney damage, liver damage, loss of muscle mass, destruction of teeth, rupture of esophagus, damage to lining in stomach, weakened immune system, fainting spells, and seizures"("ANRED".p.1).

As painful as the medical consequences of an eating disorder are, the psychological agony can be worse. Eating disordered individuals typically struggle with one or more of the following psychological problems: "depression that can lead to self-harm and suicide, anxiety, self-doubt, guilt and shame, feelings of failure, fear of discovery, compulsive behaviors, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness"("ANRED".p3).

Anorexia and bulimia are both very serious eating disorders that do not go away by themselves. However, eating disorders are treatable with help. A person with an eating disorder needs professional help to recover and become healthy again. A woman must have a positive body image to overcome an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a complex mix of physical and emotional problems. "Healthcare providers try to organize a treatment that will address these problems comprehensively. The goals of treatment are to provide education and to motivate the individual to restore healthy eating habits"("InteliHealth" p.3).

Treatment includes nutritional counseling; psychological counseling; and medication, such as antidepressants. A



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