New Survey Reveals That 75% of Women Don’t Know Anyone in Long-Term Eating Disorder Recovery
Last week, I saw an NBC “Today” show piece about how moms’ poor body image issues have had a major impact on how their daughters feel about the “selfies” they take with their cell phones. Although it’s not new news, it’s always eye-opening to see how many adult women are uncomfortable with their bodies, looks and weight, and how it impacts their daughters’ negative perceptions of themselves.
A new survey this week is even more startling about this problem. One hundred women between 18 and 30 were asked about what they’d learned from their mothers and other adult women when it comes to being confident, or even hopeful, about what the future holds for them around food, body image and weight concerns. The findings are troubling, to say the least.
First, 60% of the women reported that their mothers are unhappy with their bodies, acknowledging that a full 40% of these same respondents are now struggling with the same problems they’d observed their mother grapple with during their lifetimes.
As if that isn’t disturbing enough, a full 75% of them said that they knew zero women who’d overcome an eating disorder and stayed in recovery for twenty or more years – a clear problem because it precludes anyone from feeling hopeful that they can ever really recover from an eating disorder. Finally, when asked if they thought it was possible to live a life without a constant struggle around weight and body image, 55% said ‘no” – a life of freedom from food obsession seemed completely improbable to them (particularly if almost no one ever seems to overcome an eating disorder!).
If 55% of young women said that they thought they were fated to struggle with prescription drug abuse or alcoholism for the rest of their lives, and that 75% of them didn’t even know people who’d successfully overcome these problems throughout adulthood, it would be national news and a task force would be in place immediately about how to combat such a terrible trend so that the next generation could be more hopeful that the same fate wouldn’t befall them. That certainly won’t happen if the issue is about women, weight and food,though!
But why is this such a “ho hum” issue? Is it taken for granted that women will always be unhappy about their bodies? That food will always be the enemy? That simple satisfaction with how we present ourselves is unlikely? As an applied Positive Psychologist with a master’s degree in this subject from the University of Pennsylvania, this is a chilling thought. When we thrive emotionally, we are more likely to succeed in our goals, and if these and other surveys are to be believed, women will usually start with reduced well-being every day because of how they feel about how they look, thus putting them behind the figurative eight ball before ever even getting out of bed in the morning.
Does it help this discussion to note that the current cover of People Magazine is the stunningly youthful-looking and svelte Christie Brinkley at 60? Is this the newest standard that we are supposed to aspire to? It was bad enough when 50 became the new 30, and Viagra meant that women suddenly had to try to keep up with their husbands’ preternatural sexual abilities. Now even aging through menopause and grandparent duties without lines, sagging and a few extra pounds is going to make us feel like we aren’t measuring up to the Big Mirror in the Sky.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is approaching and it would be nice to see some fresh coverage about the problem of too few adult role models demonstrating that freedom from food obsessions and eating disorders is possible. Without that, we’ll be looking at the same coverage of college women going on diets for spring break, or talking about how a blown-up Barbie doll has bizarrely impossible body features that will require plastic surgery and starvation to attain. Instead of looking to that generation to change their ways, we should first be looking at what happened to the adult women in their lives that prevents them from thinking that they’ll ever catch a break when it comes to their own bodies.