Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is no new phenomenon to the current generation. It is something that is widely known about but not enough is known about the condition itself. To some, it is considered beauty and to others it is shocking, scary and unattractive. It is life threatening.
Key facts to consider about AN:
AN is characterised as having a nervous loss of appetite.
It occurs mainly in females.
It usually starts from the ages of 14-16.
Around 20% of AN cases are fatal (suicide).
Physical Symptoms include:
Low blood pressure.
Low body temperature.
Poor quality of sleep (insomnia).
Weak muscles and joints.
All of these are reasoned quite logically as a result of a very poor diet. Not having the proper nutrients, fibre and drink that the body needs in order to maintain a good health and well-being will cause many problems. Weak muscles and joints will be down to not taking in enough calcium. Not enough fibre causes digestion problems (constipation). Not enough intake of iron (found in foods such as red meat and fish) leads to anaemia - iron deficiency- which causes weakness, lack of energy and sleep problems (insomnia); it also interrupts proper growth and development. Normally, you will find that anorexic females will have very irregular periods or no periods at all. These are just a few of the physical problems that AN sufferers typically have, many of which you probably do not see...
Associated psychological problems:
Anorexic individuals will also suffer from bad concetration and memory loss as their body is not getting the correct intake of nutrients, fibre and drink for energy, so the brain cannot function properly. Additonally, AN will also impact on the individual's emotional well-being, causing mood swings (easily irritated), low self-esteem, denial of problem and may become isolated and secretive, avoiding social interactions.
One cannot simply pin all the blame for the AN trend on the Media, although I cannot deny that it plays a significant role (in my opinion anyway).
A study by Becker (1999) aimed to explore the relationship between cultural change and disordered eating habits. A natural experiment of 63 native Fijian girls were used as participants at a time when (Western) television was first introduced to Fiji Island. The girls were asked to complete a questionnaire on atttitudes toward eating and were also questioned about TV viewing habits. 3 years later, a futher sample of 65 girls aged 17years or over (also native Fijians), were re-questioned to assess the imapct of their TV viewing on their eating habits.
It was found that in 1993, 3% of girls reported that they vomit to control their weight. In 1995, after exposure to Western television, that figure rose to 15%. In 1995, 29% of the girls who scored high on their eating habits questionnaire indicated a risk of disordered eating compared to only 13% in 1993.
It was concluded that the findings indicate a strong link between exposure to Western ideals of thinness and the changed attitudes toward eating. The desire to be slim is one sign that the young Fijian girls were striving to conform to Western cultural standards and such changed attitudes are likely to lead to the development of eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa.
So sure, the media - or more specifically: Western media - distorts percpetions on beauty to not just its locals, but across the globe too. But I think people seem to forget that it is down to the individual too. I have watched Western media my whole life and I have never suffered nor plan to in the future, from AN or Bulimia Nervosa (BN). Is that down to common sense? Biology? Or is it social, i.e. peer pressure?
Biologically speaking, some psychologists believe that AN could be due to genetic inheritance. Some believe that the mental disorder OCD, Obsessive Compulsive disorder, can be passed down genetically and so therefore AN can be too. This explanation makes sense in that most AN sufferers are striving for perfection in their body appearence and are very obsessive and compulsive about it. Although it is worth noting that others believe it is the general nature of OCD that is genetically transferred rather than the specific obsessions and compulsions themselves i.e. just because the mother has OCD and AN, does not mean that the daughter/son will have AN also but may have other compulsions e.g. to check things or have an obsession with cleanliness.