While we are doing this repair work for ourselves, we can help our teenagers do it right for the first time. It is much easier to build a child than to repair an adult!
Consider Marilyn Monroe for a minute. Today’s society would consider her “plus-size” as she was a size fourteen. But, in her day, she (along with a very good agent) was able to convince the rest of society that she was THE most beautiful. Everybody tried to look like Marilyn – right down to the bleached blonde hair and “full figure”. Here again, perception rules! The tragedy happens when we look deeper to see the personal perception that Marilyn had of herself. She did not think of herself as beautiful or successful. Whether you believe that she committed suicide or was murdered, the fact remains indisputable that she was unhappy. She was always reaching to fit into that “Beautiful People” group or the “Success Regime”. The sad fact was that she has already arrived. Still, she didn’t see it. She had reached the brass ring, but then she felt she need to gold-plate it.
We can think of several such figures throughout history and within the modern day society. Princess Diana appeared as if she had the world by the tail when she married Prince Charles, but we watched her struggles within the media and the paparazzi. And, several movie stars have literally fallen apart right before our eyes as their stories are told within the press. The sad truth is that even if you have a near-perfect body, you may not be able to appreciate it. One example is from Figi. Ellen Goodman (1999) writes of the “Joy of Fat” in this remote country. The women greet each other with cheerful exchanges of ritual compliments of “You look wonderful! You’ve put on weight!” Sounds like dialogue from Fantasy Island? But, this Western fantasy was a South Pacific way of life. In Fiji, before 1995, big was beautiful and bigger was more beautiful – and people really did flatter each other with exclamations about weight gain. In this island paradise, food was not only love, it was a cultural imperative. Eating and overeating were rites of mutual hospitality. Everyone worried about losing weight – but not the way we do in America. “Going thin” was considered to be a sign of some social problem – a worrisome indication the person wasn’t getting enough to eat. But, something happened in 1995. A Western mirror was shoved into the face of the Fijian people. Television came to the island.
Suddenly, the girls of rural coastal villages were watching the girls of “Melrose Place” and “Beverly Hills 90210”, not to mention “Seinfeld” and the soap operas. Within 38 months, the number of teens at risk for eating disorders more than doubled to 29 percent. The number of high school girls who vomited for weight control went up five times to 15 percent. Worse yet, 74 percent of the Fiji teens in the study said they felt “too big or fat” at least some of the time, and 62 percent said they had dieted in the past month. (Goodman, 1999)
While a direct causal link between television, magazines, advertisements and eating disorder cannot be provem, this is certainly a good argument. The beautiful starlet does not cause anorexia. Nor does the pencil thin fashion magazine model cause bulimia. Nevertheless, you don’t get a much better lab experiment than this. In just 38 months, a television-free culture that defined a fat person as robust has become a television culture that sees robust as, well, repulsive.
Think about the models from the sixteenth century. In their day, they were considered the ultimate of perfection beauty. Yet, they would have been a size sixteen in today’s society. Consider the ladies with their parasols at the turn of the 19th century. Fair skin was the rage. As tan face and body meant you had to work. Now, we all risk skin cancer for that same tan skin. Once again, perception rules!
Goodman, E. (May 1999). The Joy of Fat. The Courier Journal. Louisville, Kentucky.