In 2006, the organizers of the annual Madrid Fashion Show shocked the industry by issuing a ban on overly thin models. The organizers used the international standard for body mass index (BMI) to measure and determine if a model is within the accepted weight range based on height. The recent death of a South American fashion model due to starvation is seen as the reason for the ban. According to the organizers, they turned away 30 percent of models and other applicants who were clearly underweight. The main reason for the said ban was to highlight the growing epidemic of anorexia among models. Anorexia is defined as a psychosis disorder characterized by body image distortion , excessively low body weight, and irrational fear of gaining weight. One famous case of anorexia is that of Karen Carpenter, the famous singer who died in 1983 after a long battle with her disorder. Her death brought the problem of anorexia to the attention of the public.
The flip side of this disorder is also getting much attention not only in the fashion industry but also in medical circles. The number of cases of bulimia, an eating disorder and psychological condition, have increased steadily over the years. This disorder is characterized by recurrent binge eating that is followed by depression, vomiting, guilt, and self-condemnation. Binge eaters “punish” themselves by throwing up everything they ate; by starving themselves; or through excessive physical exercise. On famous case of bulimia involved the late Princess Diana. In a 1995 BBC interview, she admitted to having been diagnosed with bulimia. In that interview, Princess Diana said:
“I had bulimia for a number of years. And that’s like a secret disease. You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable. You fill your stomach up four or five times a day – some do it more – and it gives you a feeling of comfort. It’s like having a pair of arms around you, but it’s temporarily, temporary. Then you’re disgusted at the bloatedness of your stomach, and then you bring it all up again. And it’s a repetitive pattern which is very destructive to yourself.”
Like Princess Diana, most bulimics become compulsive eaters and later experience weight fluctuations. Binge eating is cause not by intense hunger but by the depression, stress and anxiety, and other distresses experienced by the bulimic. Some of the more common symptoms of bulimia include:
Secrecy and self-denial regarding the problem of eating disorder;
Odd eating behavior or excessive consumption of certain food;
Excessive, rigid exercise;
Stomach pain and other intestinal ailments; and
Frequent vomiting after meals.
The treatment of eating disorders is now one of the major concerns of the U.S. Department of Health, as well as other health agencies around the world. In the United Kingdom, bulimia-related mortality accounts for 10% of deaths among mentally ill individuals. The records show that at least 18% of deaths among the mentally ill is due to anorexia.
If diagnosed early, these eating disorders can be successfully treated. Aside from psychotherapy, other treatments for anorexia and bulimia include behavior modification, cognitive therapy, and the use of anti-psychotic drugs.
It takes professional care and personal determination to end the struggle with anorexia and bulimia. More than what is fed to the stomach, more attention should be given to what is fed to the minds of patients. Winning the battle against eating disorders is about reclaiming one’s self-esteem, and not just about managing one’s weight or eating habits.