By Vivian Scimone
Recently, movements and campaigns encouraging body acceptance have risen up in the United States and around the world. Mostly, these movements have been in reaction to the increased prevalence of eating disorders and increased public awareness of the reality of body shapes and sizes. At East, students learn about eating disorders in the required course, Healthful Living. In this class students spend one semester learning about the main aspects of health and the other semester partaking in physical activity.
“I think that there should be more emphasis on nutrition [in East’s health classes],” said senior, Jocelyn Reckford.
Reckford believes that one required year of Healthful Living, including the lessons and the physical education time is sufficient for students. Elizabeth Gammon, senior, agrees with Reckford.
“I think that health is fairly important for students at East,” said Gammon. “All of my friends do something to try to improve their health or at least stay aware of it.”
Steve Marquis, Healthful Living teacher and East cross country coach, thinks that students should take more physical education courses.
“I think we could use a little more time in health, but I definitely think that kids should take more P.E.,” said Marquis. “I think that for a lot of kids they’re not going to be active unless they have to.”
Despite the apparently healthy approach that most East students take, there is still an array of issues with body image at East and in the world. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), approximately 11 percent of high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Many teenagers face pressures to be a certain weight or to look a certain way in order to feel confident in themselves. Most of these pressures originate from the media, including TV, magazines, and social media which glorify slender body types and emphasize the importance of appearances. However, there have been recent efforts in order to decrease the effect that media has when it promotes unhealthy diets.
In 2006, a major fashion show in Madrid, Spain banned overly thin models. Underweight models, models who were under the normal BMI were turned away in favor or models who fell within a normal, healthy weight. This decision brought up the prospect of weight restrictions at other shows or in the form of legislation in Spain and other countries.
In December 2015, France passed several laws to combat anorexia. This legislation placed different regulations on models and the use of model photos: for a model to get work they must have a certificate of health saying that they are not undernourished or suffering from eating disorders, pictures of bodies of models in media that have been altered in any way must be clearly marked, and anything that promotes anorexia is considered illegal.
“I think these countries are definitely moving in the right direction, and I would certainly want something similar to be passed in the US,” said Reckford. “Eating disorders are so tragic and disruptive, and legislation that promotes realistic body image expectations would be beneficial to the country.”
“I like the fact that they’re monitoring it and not letting these girls go into it because they have a problem,” said Marquis. “It’s not just an eating disorder, it’s a mental disorder. I think that’s a part that people tend to forget about it. These people really need mental help and guidance.”
More social and media campaigns have also begun to crop up with major companies. Aerie Real by American Eagle has started using models who deviate from the traditional tall and slender body type portrayed in media. As another part of the campaign, Aerie does not photoshop their models in any way that drastically alters the original picture.
“People with more average and healthy body types are good for people to see because it will inspire them to be happy with their own healthy body types,” says Gammon.
“I love the fact that anybody can model,” said Marquis. “I think that it sends an awesome message to kids. I tell kids in class that rather than go by body type [to determine beauty] why don’t we go by [how] the person feels mentally and physically? If they know they’re exercising and doing the right thing and they’re mentally healthy, that’s all that should count.”
Another major company has recently made body-positive changes in their product is Barbie. Starting in 2016, the iconic skinny doll now comes in four body types including tall, curvy, petite, and original. There are also more options to customize dolls with specific skin tones, hair color, and outfits.
The Barbie brand has regularly been heavily criticized for the doll’s infamous body shape and size. Now the dolls are much more inclusive for more women, allowing women to feel represented and beautiful.
“I think this helps teens have more realistic body expectations for themselves, since the classic model look reflects a very small percent of the population,” says Reckford.
The average American woman is 5’4″ tall and weighs 140 pounds, while the average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women. (Smolak, 1996). This vast discrepancy between the average reality for many women and the “reality” portrayed in the media can account for the dissatisfaction that many women feel with their bodies, which is often a leading factor in developing an eating disorder.
Hopefully movement towards education on health and physical activity combined with a more body-positive image in the media will allow more people, including teenagers at East, to feel comfortable in their own skin.