I think at one point or another, most of us have been referred to as narcissistic. Whether it is because we take “too many selfies” or are so caught up with ourselves and our own happiness, many young people have been called out on loving themselves too much. While I can understand why the term is thrown around, I didn’t realize that some people viewed those who are anorexic as narcissistic. That’s right, according to Baroness Joan Bakewell, a noted British journalist and television presenter, anorexia is a sign of narcissism. Now, if you’re having as hard a time as I was comprehending that sentence, let me break it down for you. A grown woman in a high and influential position has degraded this dangerous eating disorder to nothing more than another example to show that teenagers in today’s society are full of themselves.
This is simply outrageous. Anorexia, according to the Center for Eating Disorders, is “a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation, excessive weight loss, and negative body image … and is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents in the United States.” It stems from many complex causes, but someone with a negative body image does not mean that they are narcissistic. There can be pressures from outside sources, such as the media and society that can influence one to view him or herself negatively. Eating disorders, such as anorexia, represent a self-hate relationship, not a forged love for one’s self. Bakewell had said that “no one has anorexia in societies where there is not enough food …[it’s] a sign of the overindulgence of society, over-introspection, narcissism.” In societies where there is not enough food, the people aren’t labeled anorexic — they’re starving and emaciated.
However, there is a correlation between societies like ours that place an emphasis on the idea of a “perfect” body image that is small-waisted and thin, and being anorexic: the societal pressure that both men and women face to look a certain way in accordance with this image. In countries where, as Bakewell puts it, “there is not enough food,” the primary concern for people there is survival, not body image.
However, in the countries that “overindulge” teenagers, specific body images — skinny but curvy for girls and athletic and muscular for boys — are being forced upon adolescents throughout the media, causing mental disorders like this to spread. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, the body image that women are encouraged to attain “is only possessed naturally by 5 percent of American females.” Here in the U.S., we have been pressured by society to try and conform to these images that we see plastered all over social media. It was only a recent initiative by Aerie — American Eagle’s lingerie line — that made headlines when they claimed they would no longer retouch their models’ photos in advertisements. And people still don’t acknowledge the correlation?
Anorexia is on the rise and affecting people at a younger age in what Bakewell described as “well-developed” countries such as the U.S., Great Britain, Japan, Russia, Brazil and India. Unlike Bakewell, I believe that it is the pressures of society that affect the rise in eating disorders, not only anorexia, but others such as bulimia and binge-eating. In a society such as the one that we live in, there is pressure on young women and men to look a certain way. In the U.S., it is estimated that over 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder, compared to Great Britain’s 1.6 million according to the ANAD. Both numbers are massive, but in the U.S. that comes out to about 1 in 11 people who will suffer from some type of eating disorder. I think this says a lot about the mental and physical health of America’s youth. It’s not because of “overindulgence” that we admit more and more young people to the hospital with an eating disorder each year, nor is it “over-introspection” on the part of the person that results in them having this disorder. It is thinking that one doesn’t look the way they should in order to be respected or accepted in society.
The mental and physical health of young people needs to be more accepted and understood by society, particularly by those of an older generation. For anyone to write off something this serious as just another reason why kids these days are so self-absorbed, there is a lack of education and understanding. I cannot convince an older generation of the severity of this situation, for they have not experienced this unconscious and growing dependency on body image that social media has worsened. This education will fall short when it comes to those older than us, but it can save those who are younger than us. If we can teach those around us and those who are willing to change their views, perhaps we can reverse the upward trend of eating disorders. At the very least, it will prevent another person in 20 years from dismissing this disease as simply another sign of teenage narcissism.