No sooner had the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve when the advertisements began running: lose weight in the new year, begin a diet as part of your resolutions, change your body in 2013. Store displays are now proudly featuring work-out equipment, diet supplements and other means of losing weight (some more healthy than others).
Certain companies like Special K have tried to put a somewhat more positive spin on weight and resolutions, via their “what will you gain when you lose?” advertising campaign. This campaign began in 2011, but last year the company began encouraging consumers to upload videos describing what they will gain emotionally after they lose the weight (such as moxie, pride and peace).
In a series of television commercials, women in New York’s Times Square are invited to step on a scale; instead of a number, words like satisfaction, confidence and joy pop up to the delight of the women (no men are featured in the ads since the company markets almost exclusively to women). This would be a fantastic idea, if not for the fact that Special K is encouraging women to gain this positive message via using their products as part of a diet. This isn’t the first time that Special K has taken the body empowerment and distorted it to push their dieting products- they have employed similar tactics during the summer for “swimsuit season.”
We have supported the idea of stepping away from the scale as a means of breaking the cycle of judging self-worth by numbers, but so many of these promotions and advertisements are emphasizing one’s weight as a triumph and indicator of keeping a resolution. Even on a popular television show like “The Biggest Loser,” the number of the scale can easily deflate the enthusiasm of the contestants if the weekly loss is less than anticipated. While emotional changes are part of the process, the change in weight via scale numbers is emphasized above all others.
Some of the most significant changes that you can make at the start of a new year are changes to the inside of your body, not the outside. You don’t need a scale or diet products to achieve this; satisfaction, confidence and joy are obtainable regardless of one’s weight or appearance. Perhaps this year, we can all resolve to gain a positive body image without depending on the scale numbers for that. In 2013, let’s resolve to gain a better self-image and self-worth and lose the focus on numbers.
At Someday Melissa we are dedicated to raising awareness of eating disorders and having
open and honest discussions about ED and all that encompasses. Something we focus on a
lot is recovery. Recovery is possible! Although I’ve been in recovery for nearly 5 years now,
sometimes I wonder exactly what recovery is supposed to look like. Maybe you do too?
Lately I’ve found myself slipping a bit in my eating behaviors. I’ll admit to being a little
stressed lately because I work several jobs, am a writer and am in a play. There’s a lot going on
and it’s easy to feel a little out of control with it all. It started with simply being too busy and
forgetting to eat. I’d remedy that as soon as I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. But in the
back of my mind was the little voice of ED asking, “Doesn’t it feel nice though that you didn’t
eat?” I hate that persistent voice.
I have a no weighing policy. Maybe you do too? I don’t own a scale and the only time I am
weighed is when I go to the doctor. For me, not knowing is best. I go by how I feel and how
my body is doing and I know when I feel great and I notice when things feel out of whack.
It’s a great way to really get in tune with yourself. My roommate brought home a scale a few
weeks ago. I took one look at the scale and heard ED again, “Lovely, isn’t it? Don’t you want to
know?” I asked her if she could hide the scale and never tell me where she put it and luckily for
me, I have a good roomie because she did. Extreme? Maybe to some, but not to me.
These are the things I have to do in order to remain healthy. Recovery is an ongoing process and
for me (this doesn’t apply to everybody out there at all), it will always be. So I do my best to
counteract ED. I eat when I don’t necessarily want to and nothing looks good. I keep with my
regular walking schedule and don’t try to increase it. I look for inspirational quotes. I browse
the Someday Melissa pages because you guys inspire me. Maybe you do too?
Recovery is different for all of us, but the one thing I always do my best to remember is how
much happier and healthier I am now. I won’t let ED take that away again.
Even for those of us with little to no athletic talent (myself included), the Summer Olympics is an exciting time to watch the world’s finest athletes compete for recognition, honor and glory for their respective countries. Every four years the familiar images return: the passing of the torch, the gleam of gold, silver and bronze from the podiums, the faces beaming with pride. This time, the subject of eating disorders among athletes is also a topic of conversation. Notably, British triathlete Hollie Avil competed in the 2008 Olympics but declined to participate this year and is quitting the sport altogether to focus on her mental and physical health due to an eating disorder and depression. After a coach recommended that she lose weight to run faster, her weight dropped significantly but along with that came disordered eating habits and depression.
While the increased attention on eating disorders and Olympic athletes is bringing awareness, it is also important to recognize that disordered eating can occur with sports at all levels. Risk factors for athletes in any age group include sports that emphasize appearance or weight requirements (gymnastics, diving, bodybuilding or wrestling), individual competitions and endurance sports. Female athletes in judged sports have a 13 percent prevalence of eating disorders, compared to just 3 percent in the general population. Youth and adult sports are not limited to a casual game on the weekends anymore; youth sport league in many sports now go year-round. It’s also not just a concern for females; more and more male athletes are being diagnosed with eating disorders at younger and younger ages, even while still in middle school.. There are ways to reduce these risk factors in sports on every level, including:
- Positive, person-oriented coaching style rather than negative, performance-oriented coaching style.
- Social influence and support from teammates with healthy attitudes towards size and shape.
- Coaches who emphasize factors that contribute to personal success such as motivation and enthusiasm rather than body weight or shape.(Source: “Athletes and Eating Disorders: What Coaches, Parents, and Teammates Need to Know,” National Eating Disorders Association)
Even so, the perception of athleticism and bodies is still primarily based on a model of thinness for men and women. In the recent issue of ESPN The Magazine‘s annual “The Body: Bodies We Want,” there are mixed messages of positive body images with reinforcements of how fitness and athleticism is represented.
It’s okay to stare. That’s what The Body Issue is here for. Each year, we stop to admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who’ve pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god. To … well, gawk. So go ahead; join us. (Source: ESPN The Magazine)
In looking at the athletes represented, all have well-defined muscles and shapely, attractive bodies. In reality, it is difficult to distinguish these athletes from models in fashion magazines. How is it different to “gawk” at these bodies than the unrealistic representations in other magazines?
It was disappointing that ESPN did not highlight one of the most-discussed athletes who will be competing in the 2012 Olympics. She is the embodiment of strength and athleticism, plus courage and determination. Her name is Holley Mangold, a 22 year-old who has only been competing in weight-lifting events for the past three years but is already breaking records and heading to London for the opportunity to win a medal for the US. Holley doesn’t look like the other athletes profiled in the ESPN “The Body” feature, but her body is just as capable of competing as any of those photographed. Holley may not look like your typical supermodel but she can lift over 300 pounds- a real-life superhero. She is truly an athlete to stand in awe of for her body and talent.
You don’t have to be the parent of or an Olympic athlete to learn to recognize the warning signs of eating disorders and promote a positive body image. From parents to coaches, teammates and fans, we can all do our part to squash the negativity about athleticism and body image that can contribute to eating disorders. After all, today’s child could be tomorrow’s Olympic gold medalist.
It all started with a simple request to Seventeen magazine by 13 year old Julia Bluhm: to print one unaltered (i.e. non-Photoshopped or airbrushed) photo spread per month. Through an online petition, Julia gained over 30,000 signatures in support of the challenge to the magazine and hand-delivered the signed petition to the Seventeen offices in New York City.
“I look at the girls, and a lot of them, like, they don’t have freckles, or moles, anywhere on their bodies,” she said. “You can’t, like, see the pores in their face, they’re perfectly smooth. Their skin is shiny. They don’t have any tan lines or cuts and bruises or anything like that.” –Julia Bluhm, as quoted in the New York Times
In a statement issued to the website Jezebel.com, a spokesperson for Seventeen stated:
“We’re proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue — it’s exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers — so we invited her to our office to meet with editor in chief Ann Shoket this morning. They had a great discussion, and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that’s how we present them. We feature real girls in our pages and there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity. “
While a diversity of sizes, shapes, skin tones and ethnicity is important in print magazines (and media in general), accurate representation is just as vital. Dove was heralded for their “Campaign for Real Beauty” featuring women who were not models, but rumors circulated that the photos were indeed altered via Photoshop. What is the benefit of representing “real beauty” if it is still altered and not truly real?
There’s been much discussion during the Keep It Real Challenge about images of beauty in the media and how they can impact body image. Individuals with a negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss (National Eating Disorders Association).
Our film “Someday Melissa: the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope” was created after Judy Avrin lost her daughter Melissa to an eating disorder in 2009; throughout her battle with bulimia, Melissa struggled with negative body image issues and lack of self esteem. After Melissa passed away, Judy discovered , dozens of celebrity photographs on her computer, some posed and some candid shots. Juxtaposed to these were pictures of Melissa in similar poses. Here was Melissa, comparing herself to those unrealistic images of beauty as the bulimia took hold and eventually took her life.
It is unrealistic to expect the media to completely do away with the practice of altering images in order to promote a particular standard of beauty and body image. However, representations of both men and women – without retouching – is a step in the right direction. Every effort to “Keep It Real” matters, no matter how big or small, in the fight against a negative body image and eating disorders. We hope that through our film, educational materials, and the non-profit organization we founded to increase awareness of eating disorders and support their early detection and treatment, Someday Melissa can shine some additional light on this ever- growing problem.
The first day of summer doesn’t arrive until June 20th, but here in New Jersey the temperatures are already soaring past 80° F. Even before the mercury began to rise, certain signs of summer were already prominently front and center. Not blooming flowers, not lush green grass, not clear skies with the sun shining bright. No, these signs of summer were in advertisements- the warnings that “swimsuit season” is approaching. Without fail, each year these ads begin to pop up with messages that summer requires a specific type of body that can only be achieved with their products.
One of the worst offenders of this is the cereal brand Special K, which has managed to push a dieting agenda in ads all year round. However, the ads leading up to summer are particularly egregious. This year, the ads feature a woman walking on a beach and wearing a cover-up; suddenly, the wind whips the cover-up off her. Her expression is first one of shock and horror, then contentment. The voice-over states “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you can. Take the Special K challenge… lose the cover-up and show off your confidence.”
The message of the ad clearly articulates that the only time that it is socially acceptable to not be shrouded in a cover-up at the beach (or pool or wherever) is if the body meets the standards of society, i.e. one that has lost weight by using these diet products. The message itself is even somewhat misleading because if the part about taking the Special K challenge is removed, the message has a positive spin: “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you can…lose the cover-up and show off your confidence.”
Not everyone has the confidence to lose the cover-up, regardless of their size or shape. Perhaps the message should be “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you want to.” It’s not about whether others approve of your size and body in a swimsuit, it’s about your own perspective on your body. Maybe one day you will want to lose the cover-up, maybe other days you won’t. Let’s leave that up to ourselves and not Special K to determine that.