By Estephanie Aquino for South Kern Sol
As August began, students across the nation, filled with anticipation for the start of a brand new school year, and eagerly went shopping for a new binder, new clothes, a new hairstyle -a new look. While teens panicked to obtain the latest fashions, an innumerable amount of teens, particularly females, were also reintroduced to the harsh self-image criticism, which is often provoked by media. Advertisements displaying tall, extremely thin, models displaying how the clothing should gently drape off of their fragile bodies draw an unrealistic representation of what the “ideal” girl should resemble.
The Health Care Cost and Utilization Project reports a 1.8 percent growth in eating disorders in the ten-year period from 1999 to 2009. While the phenomena that has triggered a twenty-four percent growth of reported hospitalization cases of anorexia related illnesses (29,533 cases in 2008-2009 versus the 23,946 in 1999-2000) as reported by the Health Care Cost and Utilization Project, is claimed to be unknown.
Sophia*, currently a high school senior in Bakersfield, affiliates the beginning of her struggle against anorexia with the immense exposure of its advocates through media. Popular forms of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr now allow for exposure to anorexia to be a daily occurrence. The bombarding of these images is fairly disturbing to the social media users, and alarming to former anorexics.
“I was only eleven when I first took notice of my body. I remember watching television constantly seeing images of thin celebrities in commercials for hair products, toothpaste, you know name it! And they always seemed to be having a party at the end of the commercial with a lot of friends! Honestly that was all I wanted – friends. I was quiet. I had always been shy, and I thought….’well maybe if I was as pretty and thin, people would magically love me.”
Sophia claimed that as a child she had no problems with herself and no one in her family ever criticized her for her appearance. In fact her family was extremely religious and provided a loving environment for her and her siblings.
She even recalled the time when she first learned about the illness and said, “That’s something that will never happen to me!”
Sophia said she never pictured herself as the type to starve herself or obsess about food and weight.
Sophia says, “I didn’t know that I was anorexic, I just knew that what I was doing was wrong and that it couldn’t be healthy to be limiting myself to one small meal a day and hardly any snacking. Food was the enemy and I was determined to stay away from it.”
Over the course of three months (summer vacation) Sophia dropped from a healthy 82 pounds to a frightening 68 pounds. When she returned to school her classmates didn’t approach her about her depleting health condition, but her educator soon took notice and attempted to address the situation directly.
But Sophia maintained that nothing was wrong, she was not sick, and she was rather pleased with herself.
“I was in denial. I did not want to admit that I weighed myself every morning and night, that dreaded dinner time with my family because I would be forced to eat in order to display this facade that everything was good, and I didn’t want to admit that I needed help. I didn’t know how to stop anymore,” said Sophia.
Sophia’s eating disorder continued for the remainder of the school year until she became very frail and was sent to the doctor’s office by her mother.
“She [the doctor] asked me if I had been trying to lose weight after they took my height and weight. I immediately felt embarrassed and replied with a lie. I said no! No I had not,” said Sophia.
After several blood work samples the doctor concluded that Sophia had a blood infection-perhaps caused by the lack of nutrients.
So how does a healthy girl like Sophia fall into the malicious cycle of eating disorders?
Well, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are psychiatric disorders in which the patient becomes obsessed with food, weight, and body image.
“It started with a simple vanity to look prettier, be cooler, become more popular, but it ended with me taking medicine for the sickness triggered by a lack of nutrients,” said Sophia.
Although recovery from Anorexia is not easy it is possible.
“I realized that I was hurting myself. I never really talked about it to anyone, but slowly began recovering. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me or feeling nervous around me. It was embarrassing! But the thoughts were always in the back of my mind; it took me two years to open up about my eating disorder, to this day only a handful of people know about it, but when I did talk I felt a huge load lifted off of my shoulders.”
Most patients who have once had an eating disorder continue to display relapses throughout their lifetime.
“Sometimes I still obsess over what I eat, how much I eat, but I try my hardest to not let it affect my health. I try to get the appropriate nutrition by eating healthy foods living an active lifestyle, and avoiding those freaky accounts on Twitter and other places on the internet that encourage anorexia,” said Sophia.
Sadly while outlets for help are widely available for individuals trying to recuperate, there are still websites and media that seem to promote an unhealthy obsession with weight loss.
“The most important thing to remember” states Sophia, “is that you are not alone. And remember we all aren’t made to be a size 0. Find help. Talk to a friend, a relative, a help hotline. It doesn’t matter just talk! It’s the first step to recovery.”
*Sophia’s name has been changed for privacy reasons.