23 September 2016
Ms. Sara Thompson
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an eating disorder is described as ‘any of several psychological disorders (anorexia nervosa or bulimia) characterized by serious disturbances of eating behavior’. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa, meaning loss of appetite, is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Bulimia nervosa is normally characterized by periods of excessive over-eating followed by self-induced vomiting. Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, often quickly, causing discomfort and feeling a loss of control during the binge. Unlike bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not compensate for overeating by purging.
In the 1680’s, Dr. Richard Morton of London provided the first formal description and diagnosis of anorexia as a medical condition describing his twenty-year old patient, who reportedly died two years later, as a “skeleton clad with skin”. Although this is the first documented medical case, signs of eating disorders have been around since the first century. Rich ancient Romans use to over-indulge at banquets and relieve themselves by vomiting so they could return to the party and continue eating.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any other mental illness with 5-10% of individuals with anorexia nervosa dying within 10 years of contracting the disease and 18-20% dying after 20 years. In the United States alone, over 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. Ninety percent of those with eating disorders are women between the ages of twelve and twenty-five. Anorexia is the third most chronic illness among adolescents. The idea of being thinner can originate as young as seven years old, with forty-two percent of 1st through 3rd grade girls claiming that they wish to be thinner.
Although eating disorders have been around since the first century, the rise in eating disorders has just recently happened. In the 1920s and 1930s, anorexia nervosa nearly dropped out of all psychiatric discussion, but in the 1970s it began to appear again and continue to rise into the next decade with anorexia being known as ‘the disorder of the decade’. Many people believe that eating disorders arise in people because their body image does not match that which society portrays to us. This may be because twenty years ago, the average BMI (body mass index) of a female model was only 8% less than that of an average American female. Now the average BMI of a model is 23% less than an average American. Although the average BMI of an American women has risen from 26.6 to 27.5, the average BMI of a female model has also shrank. Editors will now sometimes have to ‘spray curves’ onto a model because she is so small. The trend of models getting thinner is also apparent in ‘plus’ sized models. Ten years ago, the average plus sized female model ranged between sizes 12 to 18. Now, the average ‘plus’ sized model ranges from size 6 to 14. More than half of average American women actually wear a size 14 or larger, meaning that a ‘plus’ sized model no longer represents the average American woman.
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