The Tragic Truth About Body Image: Who is Exempt?

I am repeatedly taken aback by how many young girls have eating disorders. I have been a counselor for 6 years and run into the same problem every year: Girls are starving themselves to achieve the ideal body in the name of “beauty.” A year ago, a young 12-year- old girl I counseled came up to me during a break crying. She shamefully but earnestly confessed her eating disorder to me. Bulimia.

My heart was broken. She was so young.

She wasn’t the only one in my life struggling. This year I found out that one of my best friends has been fighting anorexia. I thought she looked thin. She’s 20 years old, and if she doesn’t stop, there could be serious consequences. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 20 percent of people who suffer from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder.

A New Hope: Ronda Rousey Faces Similar Struggles and Overcomes

Ronda Rousey has achieved the impossible. She is undefeated in the arena, received the Best Fighter Award (beating out Floyd Mayweather), and Best Female Athlete (beating out Serena Williams). But when the fame and achievement are put aside, we see that Ronda Rousey is not unlike many women and girls  in the United States: She too has battled with the dangers of anorexia and bulimia.

Recently, Ronda Rousey admitted to the public that she had turned to bulimia and anorexia to attain her desired body type. She said, “I was unhappy and thought that when I got the right body I would be happy.” She began to starve herself to get the body that is plastered all over the media: the “right body.” Skinny, curvy, beautiful, and oftentimes fake.

Rousey fought, and now after overcoming these dangerous eating habits, she says that it feels good to be guilt free when she’s eating because she doesn’t worry about every little bite.

And she isn’t the only one.

She struggles with what approximately 30 million women and girls struggle with across America. According to NEDA, a health awareness website designated specifically for eating disorders, about 40-60 percent of girls from the ages 6-12 say that they are concerned about their body shape or body weight. These elementary-aged girls are concerned about becoming “too fat.”

Why do girls as young as six care about how they look? Why does someone like Ronda Rousey, one of the most beautiful, successful woman athletes of all time, struggle with body image?

Where Does the Struggle Begin?

For years, women have been fighting for their equality. Equal to man. Man is the standard. It seems that being successful and powerful and strong is essentially being on the same level as men. The problem is, no woman wants to be called a “man.” So how can women maintain femininity while being successful and powerful and strong? By showing their femininity in their bodies. It seems that many successful women (especially in sports) have some sort of sexy or even nude photo shoot. Many use this to respond to criticism, saying, “I am a woman after all, you can see it in my body.”

Of course, the public loves the newest, sexiest thing and with iPhones in every hand, even young children are seeing what America is saying: be sexy, be beautiful, be powerful, and you’re somebody. Girls see the pictures of half dressed women and compare their own bodies. Perhaps this is why 81% of ten year olds have a fear of being fat.

Equality is not wrong. Women and men should have equal opportunities and rights. But America is confused. Being equal doesn’t mean that women are the same as men. It doesn’t mean that women have to prove that they’re equal by being sexy or being “as good as a man.” Being equal should empower women to achieve without having to prove themselves. Being equal should put women at ease to be healthy and work hard. Being equal should give younger girls hope that they can grow up and be a mechanic instead of worrying that they might grow up and be ugly and fat.

America: Wake Up

We must learn to empower rather than objectify. We must learn to create an environment that doesn’t ask for proof of equality. The false images of women has to end if equality is truly going to happen. When America learns to portray healthy bodies as the beautiful norm, then eating disorders will begin to decrease. When objectifying the bodies of women ceases to be the norm on the media, then girls will cease to compare their bodies and fall short to the unrealistic standards. But Ronda Rousey did it… she overcame and was victorious. And so can we, by fighting for ourselves, our loved ones, and the young girls in our country who are in the battle of eating disorders. We can begin in our homes with our family and friends.

Spread the news, “You can win this fight!”

Featured Photo Credit, The Sheaf