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Issues for Men :: Cultural Roles :: The Media
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Cultural Roles

It used to be thought that Eating Disorders were only found in college-aged white women. It is finally coming to light that this statement is just not, nor never was, true.

Shades of Grey

It was once a widely held belief that the only people who suffered from Eating Disorders were white, middle to upper class, American women. I can tell you, from the hundreds to thousands of e-mail letters I have received from the sufferers themselves, by far, white women are not the only ones suffering.

A great number of researchers are focusing in on why there seems to be an increase in the growing number of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American sufferers who are coming forward to say that they indeed are afflicted with an Eating Disorder.

"Dangerous Eating" (Essence Magazine, Villarosa) featured an article on the subject of Eating Disorders in Black women, providing a possible insight. "The Black-American culture traditionally accepts more fat on women than the White culture, but when Black middle-class women become integrated into White culture while they are trying to get ahead, they become more at risk of developing Eating Disorders."

As African-American and Hispanic women compete more and more in the professional job market and face the pressures of trying to succeed, they can be faced with discrimination as well as society's portrayal of the successful "smart, beautiful and thin" career woman.

There has been a steady increase in famous African-American and Hispanic figures in the media. While this is a wonderful thing that helps to represent the truly diverse country the United States is, there may also be a "down-side" as well. Young white women and girls faced with thin and beautiful white celebrities aspire to be like them -- it would make sense to think that young Black and Hispanic women and girls, when faced with seemingly beautiful and thin celebrities sharing the same culture (such as Janet Jackson or Mariah Carey), might also wish to achieve the same physical goals.

The psychological reasons that women of color develop Eating Disorders are virtually the same. Family problems, parents with negative coping mechanisms like alcohol, history of abuse, and/or relationship issues, plus a need to cope with stress, pain and anger, and a low self-esteem. In addition, Black, Asian, Hispanic and Native American women also face issues of discrimination that may contribute to their low self-worth and desire to be loved and accepted.

From the About Face Organization's Website: "The more a person is pressured to emulate the mainstream image, the more the desire to be thin is adopted, and with it an increased risk for the development of body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders."

It is important to take into consideration the awareness that has spread in the last fifteen or so years about Eating Disorders themselves. Whereas issues of culture may not be addressed often enough, there may still be a better overall knowledge of what these disorders are, throughout a more diverse community. Whether teens and college students are getting the education at their school, through clinics and women's centers, through the television or on the internet, all groups of people may be more apt to recognize that they are suffering from an illness and are not alone. Prior to 1980, it was highly unlikely that any information, let-alone accurate information, was reaching anyone other than through doctor's offices typically treating the white, middle-to-upper class community. It is highly possible that up until recently, due to lack of awareness and the stereotype that this was a "white teen or college woman's disease", many women of color were either suffering in silence or didn't recognize how severe their problem could be.

It's a Small World

Eating Disorders are one of the most common psychological problems facing young women in Tokyo, Japan. According to a Japan Certified Clinical Psychologist, many who came for counseling often gave their reason for doing so as experiencing problems in having healthy interpersonal relationships such as with family or in social environments such as at college or within the workplace. There is still a great shame attached to seeking counseling in Japan, and for this many people do not get the help they need or deserve. It also makes it nearly impossible to determine exactly how many victims of Eating Disorders are in Japan.

In Argentina the incidence rate of Anorexia and Bulimia is out of control. The percentage of sufferers (based on population) is almost three times greater than that of the United States. Women across Argentina will resort, at all costs, to look their best and are obsessed with their bodies. According to an article written by Lori Leibovich, "Some blamed the nation's preoccupation with the body on the country's volatile political and economic climate. Others said that the Italian immigrants who settled in Argentina at the turn of the century simply brought with them a flair for fashion and an appreciation of beauty. And some Argentine feminists say that 'machismo' is responsible for the epidemic, encouraging a climate where women are valued for how they look, not who they are." Women that don't fit the harsh Argentine ideal end up in their own world of self-hate.

Eating Disorders are on the rise in China and experts feel this may have to do with the rise of diet fads throughout that region. Advertising of diet products that flood the market emphasize to the public that life is better when a person is slim, so sufferers faced with problems in their life may turn to dieting as an answer. Not to say that all people who diet will end up struggling with an Eating Disorder, but persons with a low self-esteem who may have been susceptible to workaholism, alcoholism or drug addiction, will now also be more at risk for developing an Eating Disorder.

No Discrimination

Either way, no matter what color, race, cultural background or sexual orientation a sufferer comes from, the Eating Disorders that affect them are devastating. Each person, male or female, is suffering inside from the emotion turmoil that led them to seek comfort from Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating... And like I have said hundreds of time, each of them deserves to find help and recovery so that they may learn to love themselves, inside and out.

Read an article by Graduate Student, Jennifer Daniels

Link: The About-Face Organization

Link: Anorexia and Women of Color

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