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Turning on the TV today means seeing girls in swimsuits, models on a runway, or beautiful girls starring in movies. What do they all have in common? They all have skinny, perfect bodies, and they all influence how many girls today look at their bodies. In today s day and age many young women are very sensitive about body image and how they fit into society s standards. Because of this, more than 100 girls and women die each year from eating disorders. In DePaul High School alone, 95% of the girls I spoke to say that they have developed bad eating habits or have gone on crash diets in the past year. 99% of the girls said that they are not comfortable with their bodies and body weight, and 100% say that they feel that society effects the way girls today look at their own bodies. Weight is constantly talked about at school. There is no way that students can stay away from the subjects of “getting fat” or “being chunky”. At lunch time many girls do not eat, or if they do, their “lunch” consists of a hot pretzel and a Nestea. Being surrounded by people obsessed with looks and weight; one can easily be brought into the trap of an eating disorder. The most common eating disorders of today are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These eating disorders are the “third most common chronic illnesses of adolescence.”(Pettei 8) Anorexia nervosa is characterized by drastic weight loss. This disease is found mostly in young women ages 12-13, but is seen again in women ages 19-20. There have been cases in girls as young as ten or eleven years old. Most of these girls belong to middle or upper-class families. It is found mainly in 12 and 13 year old girls when reaching adolescence because at that time young girls mature physically, emotionally, and socially. Because of this, many young girl s bodies change. During these times girls tend to become awkward-looking for about a year. Some areas of their bodies may be unproportional causing girls to want to lose some weight. Anorexia nervosa is a deadly disease, but if found early and treated properly, eight out of ten girls can be cured (Heller and Rhodes 95). How do you know if a girl is suffering from anorexia nervosa? There are many warning signs that show us. In the first three months the girl decides that she needs to go on a diet (it takes very little for this to happen). “An anorexic s first diet is like an alcoholic s first daiquiri.” (Heller and Rhodes 98) Soon the diet turns into skipping meals and cutting out many foods from their diet. They also begin to increase exercise. An anorexic talks about food a lot and is very conscious of her appearance. She is always looking in the mirror or store windows at her body, and in her head saying how many pounds she needs to lose. What was once a simple diet turns into a sick obsession. In three to six months the girl meets her goal weight, but she continues to diet because she still “feels” fat. She begins to exercise obsessively, and focuses on that on “fat” area (usually thighs or stomach). She becomes irritable and restless. She begins to cut down on her social contact, and develops a morbid fear of fat. Around this time parents need to seek professional help from someone who specializes in the treatment of anorexia nervosa for their now anorexic daughter. After six months the girl has a severe, fatal case of anorexia nervosa. Her weight drops noticeably: to below 85% of normal body weight. Some girls become very withdrawn from everything and others become frenetic (exercising to excess). The girl then ceased to menstruate, and she grows a thick coating of hair called lanugo on her body. Around the sixth month, the girl needs to be hospitalized. Why do girls do this? Many young girls feel that they need to have perfect bodies. They have to be called skinny. They have to be able to look in the mirror and see the body that they have always wanted. High school girls need to be liked by boys and they have to fit in. They need to be able to walk down the hallway and say, “I m skinnier than her and her and her.” This puts them in control. They think that being skinny will get them social status that they strive for. Some girls suffer anorexia because of family problems. Other girls starve because of social problems such as sex or friends; other girls because of grades. Some high school girl cliques have calorie counting competitions. Low self-esteem (Heller and Rhodes 96). They think that if they become thin, people will like them and they will have better self-esteem. Some girls are afraid of maturity. They want to have the body that they had as a little girl. These girls are afraid of growing up and facing the problems of a teenager. Sexual harassment is said to be a possible cause. Teenagers seem to be afraid of sexual harassment, and they often feel dirty and unclean after. These girls then may starve themselves because of these problems. There are so many reasons why anorexia nervosa is a big problem today. How can family life cause anorexia nervosa? Some girls suffering from anorexia nervosa have a family life that looks perfect from the outside. As I said above, most are from middle to upper-class families. The fathers have good jobs, and the mothers are actively involved with the live of their daughter. The mothers may play a big part. Many mothers of anorexic girls are too involved in their lives (Heller and Rhodes 97). They make sure that their daughters are perfect, and push them to be the best. They are in control of their lives (Kinoy 39). The daughter may begin to starve herself to be thinner, but most of the time the case is to show her family (mother mostly) that she is in charge. She wants to control her won body. Control is a big factor in anorexia nervosa (Heller and Rhodes 97). Another family problem may be attention. May times, the anorexic member of the family is the youngest or middle child. This child may be the quiet, reserved, and “invisible” member of the family. Her older sisters or brothers may have problems, and may attain all of the attention from the parents. She may be the bystander, the one that most people called “the perfect child”. She is the perfect child because her parents do not even see her faults because they are too involved with the other siblings. The young girl may then starve herself so that she can be the center of attention. “A child who develops an eating disorder has the satisfaction of seeing her mom and dad come together out of concern” (Heller and Rhodes 98). Many families are shocked and surprised when the member of the family who was once the perfect child is diagnosed. They also never seem to realize that they are the cause.

How does self-esteem play a part? Anorexia nervosa is sometimes described as self-hate (Orbach 132). In many cases, the anorexic girl has been shown hatred in some way. Many times this hatred is sexual abuse, and they have experienced it as a young child. If the anorexic has experienced this abuse, she believes that it was her fault. She asks herself, “How could I let that happen to me?” In that situation, she had no control. All her life she may remember the abuse, and it bothers her because she could not be in charge. Her life is constantly filled with guilt and low self-esteem. Her low self-esteem causes her to feel a lot of sadness, have many mood swings, and have a lot of hate inside of her. The hate is for herself and the person that she is. She may feel that she is a worthless, horrible, and meaningless person. She cries often and starts to think that everything would be better if she were not around. Instead of suicide, she may try to stop these terrible thoughts by creating a self-image of herself: an image of the person that she has always wanted to be. She creates this person by giving herself rituals like strict eating restrictions, obsessive exercising, or perfect study habits. She creates a self-image that counteracts with the “terrible” person that she was before. She usually will be very strict with her eating and begin to starve herself, and the becomes diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. (Orbach 132-133) How does control play a part in anorexia nervosa? Control does play a huge part in anorexia nervosa, and I have mentioned it many times. A good example of an anorexic s control is in Steven Levenkron s The Best Little Girl in the World. In this accurate fiction novel, Levenkron describes Francesca “Kessa” Dietrich s struggle with anorexia nervosa. Francesca was a talented dancer, a good student, and a perfect child. One day at dancing class, Francesca decided that she was too fat to be a prima ballerina, and although she was 98 pounds, she felt that she was disgusting. She began to starve herself, practice her dancing every night for hours, and make sure that her room was perfect. After dinner she would throw up her food in the bathroom. Every night she would perform rituals: go to dancing, come home, practice, dinner, throw up, dance, sleep. She began to stop doing all of hr homework, and she started to fail all of her classes. She renamed her new “perfect” self, Kessa. Kessa was unlike the old, fat Francesca; Kessa was a thin, beautiful ballerina. She began to create more and more little rituals or “magic tricks”. (Levenkron 200) At dinner she would cut up her food into fourths, then eighths, then sixteenths. Then she would eat exactly five sixteenths and nothing more. When she saw food, she would find out the amount of calories in it, and divide it by four, then eight, then sixteen, then thirty-two, and so on. Before school she would say to herself, “If I walk around the block and don t step on the cracks, then I will go in.” These rituals gave Kessa control over everything. When Francesca was growing up she was shy, did not have many friends, and did not get much attention from her family. Her two older siblings got all of the attention from her parents. Francesca often felt very withdrawn from the rest of the family, but yet she was very dependent on them. Kessa performed the rituals that she crated because they made her independent and in control. In her head, the rituals gave her control over how other people thought of her also. She would say, “If I get to the light before it changes, then so and so will like me.” She became anorexic because she knew that she could control how much food she put into her body. It was one thing that she had control over, and soon these “magic tricks” took over her body and almost killed her. Not only the fictional character, Kessa is anorexic because it gives her control. Most anorexics want to have control over something because they were always dependent when growing up. Control gives the anorexic a way to be and independent, in charge individual. How can anorexics get help? When girls become anorexic, parents can usually tell that something is wrong with their daughter s eating habits. If they see that their daughter is not dieting normally, they should not take the matter into their own hands. Parents should automatically put the problem in the hands of a professional- someone trained in the treatment of eating disorders. A medical evaluation is a good idea because it will tell how much physical damage, if any, has been done. An anorexic patient should always see a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist tries to help the girl conquer anorexia and change her view of her body. A psychiatrist asks the girl a variety of questions. Usually she has a hard time opening up to him/her because anorexics often isolate themselves from others- especially people who try to help her with the problem. Most anorexics, at first, seem very withdrawn and mistrustful to the psychiatrist. He/ She tries to help her work on accepting her wants and needs, taking the fear out of food, and “reconciling” her to her body image (Orbach 123). He may tell her to look at how family members look at food and see if the find pleasure in eating. After time the psychiatrist builds a bond with the anorexic and can move on to help her from there, always hoping that the girl will get better. A normal teenage girl can get “sucked” into anorexia nervosa. Every day we see how people are more perfect than us. Teenage years are hard times. We are struggling to say the right things, wear the right things, and be accepted by everyone. Society should help teenagers of today by helping them realize what normal weight is. Society often shows us the exaggerated body image. That image is often what we strive for. Anorexia nervosa is present everywhere, and evidently it cannot be stopped. From my personal research, I see now that anorexia nervosa is something that we all have to deal with because it will always be here.

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