The other day I had the pleasure of finding out what an insensitive person I am. I was following my typical afternoon routine of waiting an extra 10 minutes at the East Campus bus stop for a C-3 that saves me a five-minute walk to my dorm. Once the bus arrived, I settled into my seat, expecting an uneventful trip. That was when I discovered that for the past 20 years, I have been encouraging disordered eating through my inappropriate ways of thinking.
One of the advertisements along the top of the bus asked, “Do I contribute to another’s eating disorder?” It listed several things we think and say that should be avoided if we want to stop encouraging disorders. Among the culprits were the following:
Allowing the media to dictate what body type is “in;” thinking or talking about foods as “good” or “bad;” assuming that a large person wants or needs to lose weight; discussing measurements, weight or clothing sizes; expecting perfection; saying someone is “healthy” or “well” because they are thin; complimenting someone when they lose weight or diet.
Good thing that the Health Center informed me about these no-nos. Otherwise, I might have continued to think that it’s good not to be overweight. I might have accidentally mentioned that I think Chai’s food is “good,” and Marketplace food is “bad.” Worst of all, I may have praised someone when they succeeded in losing weight.
It’s interesting that at a moment when obesity is one of the most threatening health problems in the country, there are some who want to rid our culture of any factors that encourage people to avoid it.
But there are no surprises here.
The Student Health Center’s bulletin is simply another instance of the total abandonment of all standards of personal responsibility—especially regarding weight. McDonald’s is accused of making people fat, while our insensitive culture is blamed for their development of eating disorders.
The billboard indicts the media for determining “what body type is ‘in,’” suggesting that it follows arbitrary standards of beauty and imposes them on an impressionable populace. But the order of causation is just the opposite. We don’t like thin, healthy-looking bodies because the media says we should. Instead, the media celebrates these body types because viewers respond to them—and for good reason.
Our culture embraces fit people based on objective criteria of beauty and healthiness. These criteria can change over time, but our glorification of attractiveness does not. Those who wish to have us forget our tastes and preferences are fighting a losing battle.
Certainly we must be sympathetic to people who, for whatever reason, feel so much pressure to be thin that they resort to eating disorders. But gutting the English language and our cultural aesthetic of any references to the superiority of a healthy body type is not the solution. Eating disorders are individual, psychological problems that require personalized therapy. They are not the fault of society’s predilection for good looks.
McDonald’s is not to blame for the fact that many people cannot regulate their eating habits. Likewise, we aren’t liable for the fact that some individuals resort to drastic methods of staying thin.
There is a social component to the development of eating disorders—I’m not suggesting otherwise. But it appears that in the backlash against “effortless perfection,” we are abandoning any emphasis on reasonable self-improvement. The billboard in the Science Drive bus doesn’t simply encourage us to lower our standards. It wants us to do away with them altogether.
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Blaming people’s eating disorders on innocuous behavior (and thought!) like “discussing measurements” is outrageous. And it’s even more ridiculous to suggest that our celebration of beauty and healthiness should be abandoned to accommodate the few who develop pathological eating habits.
The Health Center should be commended for being there to help people with their eating disorders. But it should stop trying to lay a guilt trip on the rest of the community for its devotion to beauty and attractiveness.
David Kleban is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears every other Tuesday