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The traditional notion of feminine beauty in India is that of well built, healthy looking women with curves but for the younger generation, this perception of beauty is gradually changing in response to westernization, urbanization and the influence of western media and advertising. This has placed greater peer pressure on urban Indian girls to be slimmer even though their rural neighbors may not have enough to eat. Unrealistic body ideals can lead to the development of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
Anorexia – This is a mental health disorder driven by a desire to be thin or unhappiness with body shape. A person can become preoccupied with their image and worried about the number of calories in food so they will skip meals or force themselves to vomit after a meal in an effort to keep their body weight low. They might falsely imagine that they are too fat when in actual fact they are well underweight. Some will use laxatives to make themselves lose water and eliminate food from the body faster. Anorexia can cause many health problems as the body struggles to function on less fuel than it needs. Food deprivation can result in anaemia and headaches, dizziness, fragile bones, nerve damage, seizures and heart failure. Girls may find their periods stop and women may become infertile. In severe cases, anorexia can cause death.
Bulimia – Bulimia is a similar mental health disorder also driven by a desire to be thin and a distain for their own body image. People with Bulimia will skip meals but the hunger will cause them to crave food and binge eat large quantities of it. After binging they will make themselves vomit to prevent themselves from gaining weight and because they fill guilty about binging. Inducing vomiting is usually done in secret. Sometimes it is done in response to stress or depression. Health problems that can ensue after bulimic purges are similar to those of anorexia. Bulimic vomiting can also cause tooth decay due to stomach acid damaging the tooth enamel. The saliva glands may become swollen as a side-effect of repeated vomiting.
Eating Disorders are a Universal Problem
Until recently, eating disorders were thought to affect western girls only but widespread media influence has brought these crippling psychological illnesses to India and in a reversal on thinking about feminine beauty, slim is now equated with being attractive and successful. Eating disorders were vanishingly rare for Indian youth but a sudden rise in cases has left doctors concerned. Although there is no prevalence information on eating disorders in India, Bulimia has been observed in 5% of college going teenage girls and the number of reported cases has increased tenfold in the last decade. Dr Rajesh Sagar, from the Department of Psychiatry, AIIMS, said.
“Television and internet have come to rule our world and with both full of super slim models, young girls end up idolising them. There is immense emphasis on being thin by the society as well.”
The age at which young girls develop eating disorders is also reducing. Anorexia and Bulimia are often viewed as teenage disorders as they typically begin in the mid-to-late teens but now, girls as young as ten are suffering the disorders or having negative views about their body image.
How Can Parents Empower Their Children?
One of the key ways to counter this modern tragedy is for parents to encourage positive self-image in their children. This starts from babyhood with weaning.
During the Early Years – Parents should not give ‘junk’ foods as a treat or insist a child eat healthy foods as a punishment, as this sets the child up for thinking unhealthy foods are desirable, possible excessive weight gain and problems with self-esteem.
Pre-Teens and Teens – Mothers are role models for their daughters so they shouldn’t diet excessively or constantly weigh themselves as this behaviour can be emulated by their daughters. If a mother is a more realistic weight and she’s happy with her appearance, it may give her daughter the confidence to feel good about herself too.
Looks aren’t everything – Parents can help their children – particularly daughters – by focusing on their academic talents and achievements. This will take the spotlight off their appearance and help them to appreciate all of their positive attributes.
Ration the TV and Internet – Research has shown that teenagers who watch more television and spend more time on the internet show more dissatisfaction with their bodies than other teenagers who are exposed to less. Set time limits on the amount of viewing your child is allowed and monitor what content they are viewing. If they read teen magazines, make it clear that it takes hours of makeup, lighting and computer editing to get the models looking like that and that they don’t represent what real people look like.
YRA Club, August 9, 2014, https://yraclub.org/
Anorexia Nervosa, August 9, 2014, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Anorexia-nervosa/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Bulimia, August 9, 2014, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bulimia/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Are eating disorders a significant clinical issue in urban India? A survey among psychiatrists in Bangalore, accessed August 9, 2014, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22095676
Prevalence of Eating Disorders and Psychiatric Co-morbidity among Children and Adolescents, accessed August 9, 2014, http://indianpediatrics.net/may2007/may-357-359.htm
Finding the Best Eating Disorder or Dual Diagnosis Treatment Centers, August 9, 2014, http://www.bulimia.com/topics/recovery/
The Bulimia Nervosa Syndrome! August 9, 2014, http://femina.in/fitness/health/the-bulimia-nervosa-syndrome-1286.html
“Contributed by Susan Myerson”