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Dieting Without a DietDangers of starving to attain beauty
Hwang Ji-hyea  |
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승인 2009.05.26  16:44:44
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THE MALLS are filled with 23, 24 inch skinny jeans, and walking mannequins eagerly trying them on. The standard minimum of 26 inch pants has now turned into the standard maximum, and extra large sizes no longer seem to be “large”, let alone “extra”. Have homo sapiens evolved into “homo skinnicus”? It seems that the modern-day trend is all about being skinny. Methods of losing weight range from healthy exercise programs to placebos such as diet coke and diet sugars. Yet it has almost become a common opinion that the quickest way to lose weight is to not eat anything. Thus, with the ugly act of keeping the body from outside sources of nutrients, people try to gain beauty.

Two main diet disorders from Webster’s Medical Dictionary

An eating disorder is characterized by either a markedly reduced appetite or a total aversion to food. Anorexia is a serious psychological disorder. It is a condition that goes well beyond out-of-control dieting. The person with anorexia, most often a girl or young woman, initially begins dieting to lose weight. Over time, the weight loss becomes a sign of mastery and control. The drive to become thinner is thought to be secondary to concerns about control and fears relating to one's body. The individual continues the endless cycle of restrictive eating, often to a point close to starvation. This becomes an obsession and is similar to an addiction to a drug. Anorexia can be life-threatening.

An eating disorder characterized by episodes of secretive excessive eating (binge-eating) followed by inappropriate methods of weight control, such as self-induced vomiting (purging), […] or excessive exercise. Bulimia is often interrupted by periods of anorexia.

Today’s concept of diet
   One of the definitions of diet according to is “a selection or a limitation on the amount of food a person eats for reducing weight.” This definition seems to have been taken to its extreme, and now the diet equation is known to be “skip meals equals lose weight.” However, the equation is perfect only in the literal sense. In reality, refusing to eat produces many hazardous imperfections, since it runs counter to one of the natural instincts of humans. Nonetheless, products that decrease appetite are now easy to find.  There is even an appetite-control lip balm from the cosmetics company, Skin Food. And there are many different ways of suppressing the appetite, including using the visual arts. The Dale Chihuly Glass Ceiling at Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas is rumored to be helpful in repressing hunger and appetite. Thus one can easily find pictures of it on people’s personal websites, being downloaded by all those who wish to suppress their appetite. Sequences of pictures such as these are made into video clips and can be found in many beauty-related internet cafes and blogs. It seems that people striving to lose weight are desperate to find ways to get rid of their appetite, for if they can lose their appetite, they can lose weight.
   Concrete evidence that people do indeed starve is provided by the Korea National Statistical Office’s survey results from 2007. According to this, an average Korean skips about 1.6 meals a month. Yet females in their 20s proved to be an exceptional case, for they skip about 4.4 meals on average. Analysts suggest that this is due to the fact that many females in this age group have a tendency to skip meals for weight-loss reasons, since they are going through a phase in their life when they are most attentive to their beauty and appearance.
Perhaps we have finally come to the point where the wealthy, living in abundance, admire the physical shape of the poor and starving. Mariah Carey, for instance, is reported to have said in an interview about ten years ago: “I wish I could be an Ethiopian so I could be skinny. I just wouldn’t want all that death and flies and stuff.” People are willing to give up their happiness and basic wants in order to achieve a state which they consider beautiful, and this madness is getting out of hand. This may lead to the skinny bodies. But what people do not realize is just about how dangerous the side effects, including eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, can be.

Broca Index
(Ideal weight) 
Male: (height / 100) X 0.9
Female: (height / 100) X 0.85

Body Mass Index (BMI) 
(weight/average weight) X 100

Signs and causes of eating disorders
   There are certain behavioral signs of eating disorders that are easy to detect. The most obvious of these is an obsession with weight. The signs of such an obsession include being particular about the number of calories and the nature of the food that one consumes, habitually consuming food in little pieces, and putting limits on the amount of food that one eats. And frequently taking wight-loss pills may also be an indication of an emerging eating disorder.
   Although concerns about weight and body shape play an important role in eating disorders, there are many different underlying causes, according to The Medical Center of the Univ. of Maryland. Cultural and family pressure cause individuals to force themselves to conform to social ideals of beauty. Peer pressure, for example, can be quite effective in changing the beliefs of individuals. The notion of “the skinnier, the prettier” imposes a sense of stress and obligation on individuals. Emotional and personality disorders also are strong factors. These include suffering from an inferiority complex, perfectionism, and other personality flaws. Genetic and biologic factors may also play a role. Nevertheless, it is true that among the many causes of eating disorder, the society’s delusional characterization of beauty outweighs all others in most cases.
The society’s misconception of beauty
   The impression of beauty that pervades our society dominates individuals, and forces them to forego eating. The world of beauty is simply too narrow for people of larger sizes. Stars with skeletal body shapes fill up the television screens, establishing a standard of beauty to which everyone must conform. And now this is also the case with beauty contests and on-stage pageants. Last April, the Australian representative of Miss Universe 2009, Stephanie Naumoska, caused a controversy when she because a finalist in the competition. She is 180cm and 49kg, with a Body Mass Index of 15.1. This means that, according to World Health Authority standards, she is malnourished.  This might have given people the wrong impression that the representative beauty standard is skinniness.
   Moreover, in this year’s Britain’s Next Top Model, 21-year-old Jade McSorly claimed to have been anorexic since she was eight years old. Having a height of approximately 175cm and weighing 41kg, she too provoked a heated debate. That top model could suffer from anorexia would definitely send out the wrong message.
   With skinny body frames having become the norm in judging beauty despite the dangerous health deficiencies involved, ordinary people seem to have been led to take this for granted without a second thought. In a survey, 100 Yonseians (56 females and 44 males), were asked what the ideal weight of a female whose height is 160~163cm would be. According to the Broca Index, a female in the early 160cms should weigh from 51 to 53.55kg. However, Yonseians answered on average that the ideal weight would be 48kg. Out of the 100 recipients, 84 people had given a number below 51, and out of these people, 25 answered 45kg or below. This shows that people today have a false ideal of beauty, disregarding the danger that this ideal poses to their health.
“Slim look” extended to males
   The female tendency to desire slim bodies is beginning to effect males as well. This trend has caused many males to start losing their muscles and reshaping their bodies. A pivotal moment in the emergence of this trend was Hedi Slimane’s fashion show a few years ago. The Dior Homme Creative Fashion Designer Hedi Slimane had used skinny male models, and this was a hit. From then on, many of the fashion shows have adopted the skinny male model theme. Likewise, this change in trend can be seen with Korean celebrities. In the last decade, the popular trend of men’s style was to look manly and robust. Now, however, the trend is tall, slim boys who seem to need the protection of women. Even the famous singer Rain had switched his concept from a rough body with large muscles to a smooth body with moderate muscles.
   The male slim look has reached non-celebrities as well. “These days, young male customers come in order to style their bodies in accordance to the modern trend,” says Jun Sung-hoon (Trainer, Eagle Fitness Center). “The big, muscled body shapes are no longer desired, and there has definitely been a shift in the trend of men’s body shape,” he explains. As such, fitting the new trend of skinny bodies seems to be what appeals to the public nowadays. Fortunately, there seem to not be many cases of ordinary males starving themselves or suffering from eating disorders in order to lose weight.

Ideal ways of maintaining a healthy body

Interview with Lee Chul-won (Prof, Dept. of Physical Edu.)
Annals: What are some of the ideal ways of controlling weight in order to maintain a healthy body?
There are several things that you should keep in mind. First, it is better to consume a personalized diet apt for each individual’s physical constitution rather than to skip meals. Also, a decrease in meal sizes should always go along with some exercise, and the intensity of the exercise should gradually increase as time goes by. You should be careful not to quit in the middle, and carry out your plans to achieve your goals. I personally would recommend keeping a diet diary. Make sure that you not only train your body, but also train your mind as well in order to maintain good health.

Interview with Lee Hye-jin (Exercise Planner, Haedrin Oriental Medicine Clinic)
Annals: What are some methods of maintaining a healthy diet and preventing eating disorders?
It is highly important to consume small amounts of carbohydrate and plenty of protein. Moreover, if a person is trying to lose unnecessary weight, instead of skipping meals one should try to consume a low Glucemic Index (GI) diet. Foods with low GI have a slow rate of digestion, and therefore prevent overeating. Some examples of low GI foods are whole rice and barely, which could replace the white rice in our daily diet.

Beauty redefined
   Since the most important cause of eating disorders is the distorted standard of judging others, this standard should be changed to a healthier one. One of the things that needs to be revised is the view that the slimness of body represents the level of self-control. We live in an age where there is plenty to eat.  Plump bodies no longer serve as signs of wealth or prosperity. Because slim bodies signal that the individual has taken good care of their self and exerted strict self-control, slim bodies have become a hit. Moreover, a slim body seems to imply that the individual is capable of acting with consistency and persistency.
   Indeed, it is possible that one might control one’s weight in order to keep in shape, but one should not go beyond the point where one’s health begins to deteriorate. Even though a slim body might imply self-control, an overly skinny body proves the opposite - that the person is unable to keep from starving themselves. Starving brings illnesses to the body, and will finally lead to disorders affecting the brain. It should be made clear that eating disorders are mental illnesses, and an excess of dieting will produce serious results.
   It is also important to consider that the current standard of beauty contradicts the virtues that we should follow. “According to People’s World Peace Project (PWPP), the six core virtues are wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence,” explains Danny Wedding (Fullbright-Yonsei Distinguished Scholar, Dept. of Psych.). It may be important for us to think about these virtues, for the act of starving would mean: 1. being ignorant of the dangerous side effects it brings, 2. not having enough emotional strength to feel proud of your beauty, 3. foregoing interpersonal strengths by suffering a mental disease, 4. not doing justice to your body, which deserves a healthy diet, 5. not being strong enough to protect your body against excessive acts, and 6. failing to own the spiritual strengths of meaning. Moreover, Wedding mentions that according to a U.S. General Social Survey, one of the seven things that make people happy is health. The subjective sense of good health plays a significant role in determining a person’s state of mind and body. Thus, in order to be happy, it is vital for people to maintain their physical well-being and achieve healthful beauty. Only beauty attained by keeping to the virtues is true beauty; going against the virtues would merely lead to a vicious cycle.
*       *       *
   “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,” said Shakespeare. There is not, and should not be an “absolute beauty” that people strive to attain. Thus, there is simply no need for people to admire or try to copy Barbie dolls or celebrities. Each person is entirely capable of establishing his or her sense of what is beautiful, and should not succumb to the ideas produced by the society. To do so, each individual should have the responsibility to respect oneself and attach a high priority to personal well being.
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