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Unhealthy ideals lead to body issues


Recently, Keira Knightley posed topless in a magazine spread as a cheeky protest against excessive photo retouching. Her only request to the periodical, Interview Magazine, was that her breast size remain unedited. 

The fact that a Hollywood beauty such as Knightley could still be subject to retouching lays quite a bit of pressure on the average American woman. 

After all, if stars still are not perfect enough, it seems like most women do not have a chance. 

It is unsurprising, then, that the incidents of college women with eating disorders have increased from 10 to 20 percent, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Tragically, according to the American Psychological Association, one in five people afflicted with anorexia will not survive. 

That is the highest death rate of any mental illness. 

Obviously, the quest to be excessively thin is unhealthy and damaging. In addition to the high fatality rate, the NEDA also lists eating disorders as causing fatigue, heart complications, bone damage and gastrointestinal distress.  

All of these ill effects should inspire women – and men – who are not yet suffering from an eating disorder to take ownership of their bodies and promote health over appearance, despite media messages, family influence and even one’s own standards. 

However, health can also be a tricky goal because it is not immediately visible, despite what fitness magazines lead readers to think. Along with this, perhaps as a reaction to the now long-held unhealthy ideal, there is a new trend placing an emphasis on strong over skinny. 

Social media users are focusing more and more on posting gym and workout photos or videos. Pinterest, which, according to the company, is 83 percent female users, now has hundreds of boards dedicated to fitness. 

Unfortunately, there is as much danger in this as in eating disorders. 

Compulsive exercise can actually be a symptom of eating disorders like bulimia, which involve some form of purging to eliminate calories. As such, aspects of the fit ideal could lead to equally unrealistic expectations of women as the thin ideal, since not many women have the time or the need to work their bodies into gymnast- or athlete-level fitness.

Then the emphasis again turns out not to be on health, but on how good a woman’s muscles can look when she posts them on her Instagram, or on how flat her stomach is. Idolizing fitness is the same problem as idolizing thinness, albeit with a different spin. 

Regardless, any disease that results in such a high rate of fatality should be taken seriously, and the women and men who suffer from body issues need society’s help in order to recover. 

It is time that society as a whole resists the temptation to chase unattainable body image goals. That surely has to be a better reality than the fatigue, depression and other complications encouraged by unhealthy ideals for the body.