What’s Killing Us: How Body Image Affects Young People

Zoputa Difini, Staff Writer

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In 2011, fourteen-year-old Fiona Geraghty hung herself in her bathroom. Four years later, eighteen-year-old Hannah Carpenter was found dead in the woods. The link between the two young women is suicide.  Unfortunately, this desperate act is an all-too-familiar one in today’s society.

When one looks at cases such as those of  Geraghty and Carpenter, one can’t help but wonder why these young girls felt it necessary to take their own lives.  What could have been so horrible in their lives that suicide was their only resort? Unfortunately, in both cases, the girls were driven to the edge by two simple words: body image.

As humans, we often are critical and judgmental towards others, and even ourselves. One area of greatest criticism that people thrust upon others and themselves is judgments about their bodies. This issue, body image, is a major problem that has caused  the youth of today to develop a variety of issues, including eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.

So, what is body image? When we think of someone who has a poor body image, the first thought that often comes to mind is someone who is overweight. However, that’s not always the case. Anyone, any size, can have a poor perception of their physical appearance.  There are people out there who believe an underweight figure is what healthy looks like, so they develop eating disorders in order to gain and maintain a skinny figure.

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are all  emotional disorders. Anorexia forces those it affects to lose their appetite, and want to lose weight. Bulimia causes extreme overeating, followed by depression and self-induced vomiting. Binge eating is the consumption of large amounts of food in a short period of time. These disorders, according to Adolescent Growth and the Body Image Therapy Center, are found 95% of the time in individuals between the ages of 12 and 25. They affect up to 10 million men, and kill about 1,000 women each year. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness, and it continues to grow till this day.

Daniel Clay, Vivian L. Vignoles, and Helga Dittmar of the University of Sussex in London, studied body image and self-esteem in adolescent girls, and found a strong link between a young girl’s perception of her body and her self-esteem. They write that “body image is central to adolescent girls’ self-definition, because they have been socialized to believe that

appearance is an important basis for self evaluation and for evaluation by others.” This report is important because it clearly identifies a critical issue that young girls face it expresses the challenges that adolescent girls deal with because they have been socialized to  believe that the way they look determines their worth to themselves and others.

When a young person has negative feelings connected to body image, it leads to a series of other complications including depression. Eleonora Gullone from the School of Psychology at Menash University in Melbourne, Australia in “The impact of Teasing on Children’s Body Image,”  reports that most male and female adolescents with high levels of body dissatisfaction often, if not always, suffer from depression.

The connection between body dissatisfaction and depression is important because, as journalist Leonard Holmes wrote in his November, 2018 piece on suicide, “Depression and suicide are linked, with an estimate that up to 60 percent of people who commit suicide have major depression.”

Those who are judged for their body are impacted severely, especially teens and even younger children of elementary school age. In the United States, 5.4% of children between the ages of 13 and 18 will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, reports Adolescent Growth, a health and wellness organization. That might seem like a low percentage to some, but 5.4% amounts to roughly 2.2 million young people who will be affected.

While all of this paints a pretty serious and dangerous picture, there are steps that can be taken. According to the National Eating Disorders Foundation, 70% of people with an eating disorder do not seek treatment. Those who are affected often stay hidden and don’t seek help. However, there is help available. The National Eating Disorders Foundation is just a call away at (800) 931-2237, as are other organizations, including The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (ANAD) at (630) 577-1330.

As a society it is time to stop judging others and embrace those who need help. Self-esteem and confidence are a challenge for many, and if we take the time to step up and help those who need it, we can prevent tragic endings like those suffered by Fiona Geraghty and Hannah Carpenter.

 

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What’s Killing Us: How Body Image Affects Young People