Wednesday, March 11, 2009

'Mia Culpa

There's a thin line between extolling the virtues of fitness and sliding into an obsession with weight and body and eating. I think I've done a reasonable job of staying on the right side of the line (some recent posts notwithstanding), but recently in class we saw an episode of Nova called Dying to Be Thin devoted to eating disorders, and it definitely stimulated lots of thought.

The piece profiled several women in the process of recovering: a ballerina for whom anorexia was a fringe benefit of her job; a teen who couldn't see herself as anything but fat, even as she was disappearing; a married woman with kids who was bulimic. Suprisingly, more than one of the women interviewed noted that well-meaning scare films about anorexia and bulimia gave them explicit ideas about how to control their weight. They hadn't thought of vomiting after meals before, but after seeing the movie, they began experimenting.

Then there was the woman who was described as a voracious eater, but couldn't stop herself from exercising. Painfully thin, she was shown finishing a race as she noted in a voice-over that the last three miles of the 26-mile marathon, she was consumed by only one thought: "When can I get back to the gym?"

Now, two-hour workouts notwithstanding, none of my behaviors are as extreme as those shown in the documentary, but I do believe that a great many (white, middle class) women in the U.S., certainly including myself, can be located on a spectrum of, well, let's not call it eating disorders, but messed up eating patterns. How many women do you know who consistently eat healthy food when they're hungry, stop when they're full, and never feel guilty about what they've consumed?

I don't think I'll ever cross the line into true eating disorder. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but it's also very true: The markers for these types of syndromes all point to a type of self-controlling perfectionism that anyone who has seen my untidy house knows I lack. But it pays to keep an eye on that line and make sure I'm engaging in (and modeling for anyone who may be watching) eating and exercise patterns on the healthier side of it.


Sarah said...

Did you see the thing on Oprah recently where young African women were force fed to achieve an 'ideal' of a very rounded body?

Miriam said...

No, but we talked in class about that phenomenon, apparently fairly widespread in cultures that don't get enough to eat. Their ideal body is a lot different from ours.