Mental Health

You Must Be Hungry

A food critic grapples with her daughter’s eating disorders.
by Sheila Himmel

What teenagers know about beauty

Teens separate reality from fiction
Published on March 3, 2011


“What is beautiful about you?”
Hard to say, right?
No body parts (“I have great kneecaps!”). No broad personality claims (“I’m nice!”) that could apply to anyone. Be honest and specific. It’s hard enough for adults, but let’s check in with teenagers, who fight for identity every day.
For Eating Disorders Awareness Week, the Eating Disorders Resource Center of Silicon Valley offered cash prizes to high school girls and boys who did the best at answering this question. I got to judge the five finalists (all girls, surprise!) and was astonished at the depth of their answers.

A food critic grapples with her daughter’s eating disorders.
by Sheila Himmel

What teenagers know about beauty

Teens separate reality from fiction
Published on March 3, 2011

“What is beautiful about you?”
Hard to say, right?
No body parts (“I have great kneecaps!”). No broad personality claims (“I’m nice!”) that could apply to anyone. Be honest and specific. It’s hard enough for adults, but let’s check in with teenagers, who fight for identity every day.
For Eating Disorders Awareness Week, the Eating Disorders Resource Center of Silicon Valley offered cash prizes to high school girls and boys who did the best at answering this question. I got to judge the five finalists (all girls, surprise!) and was astonished at the depth of their answers.
In 500 words or less, entrants write what they love about themselves, why others should love and accept themselves, and how the media affect their body image.
Following are some excerpts. Whose hopes, dreams and fears do you relate to most?
One girl always wanted to be an actress. She decided in eighth grade that meant she had to be thin:
“I was only thirteen, I should have been eating right and let my body develop naturally, yet I searched through magazines and became obsessive over how thin each celebrity or model was. I stopped eating regular meals and before I knew it I started to use my fingers by forcing them down my throat to vomit.”
Another girl loves ballet:
“As a ballerina who spends hours dancing in front of a full-length mirror in a leotard, I am even more intimately acquainted with the constant pressure to be thinner, lighter, and supposedly more beautiful. How much of this can I take before I start to see my 5’6, 130 pound frame as below standard?”
For many, the mirror, media and marketing are a toxic stew:
“When I look into the mirror, I can’t help but frown. With pimples in clear view,
strands of hair out of place, and a smile far from perfect, it has been made apparent that the only thing I can do is dream of matching the women I see in commercials and fashion shows. Maybe, if I use make-up, anti-acne cream, and facial wash, if I wear dresses and skirts, if I eat less, I’ll become beautiful and confident. Who am I kidding?”
“I am a girl with heavy-lidded eyes, a round face, and a fair complexion. The media
surround me with pictures of supposed perfection, with people who are deemed gorgeous and
desirable – and who look nothing like me. I am not chiseled muscle, I am not miles of leg, and I am not so thin that I could disappear by turning sideways. Unless by some stroke of magic, I will never grow another five inches, have my teeth replaced by squares of brilliantly white chewing gum, or suddenly develop a dangerously low BMI.”

Yet they all found a way to value their own beauty:
“My smile was what I valued most about myself. It was the only thing that I
thought was pretty about me. People loved my smile and complimented me on how white
my teeth were or how straight they were, and I was flattered since I didn’t have braces. I
was afraid and in my mind I felt alone and isolated. In a few years if I were to continue
binging and purging, I would lose my smile.”
The ballerina broadened her focus:
“What I have discovered is that beauty is not about forcing your body into society’s mold; anyone who can accept their natural body and wear it with pride has an inherent beauty all on their own. I learned this personally through ballet as well: the most well-loved dancers of all time, such as Margot Fonteyn, were not the ones with
the thinnest physique or best skill – they were the ones with individual style, whose self-
assurance and personal flair charmed audiences far more than any amount of dieting and starving could do. Knowing this has allowed me to be comfortable in my skin and dance as only I can, regardless of how I compare to other tiny, slim ballerinas. Even in ballet, such a prestigious struggle for physical perfection, inner beauty of confidence and pride manifests itself more than society’s flawed standard for aesthetic appeal.”
Another separated reality from fantasy, by contrasting her friends with actresses
on TV and in movies “who in addition to being cute, quirky, and down-to-earth, are also pin-thin.”
“When I am with my friends, I am sometimes overwhelmed by their personalities-how, by some strange alchemy, their component traits and features meld into something radiant, scintillating, and unique to them alone. They can be inconsistent, and they may be lacking in some areas, but this does not diminish who they are-it adds to it. Slowly, I have learned that the recognition I have of the beauty-the real beauty-of others can also be applied to myself. I too possess the beauty of imperfection.
I am not a size zero. Sometimes my skin flares up. I do not look like a cover-girl on a
magazine. And I’m okay with that. I’m also smart, funny, creative, and persistent. I have
convictions. I have goals for my future. I know that sometimes I’ll hit roadblocks, but I trust myself to get back on the right path. So what if I don’t look like a picture in a magazine? What are those, anyway? They’re flat, two-dimensional, and bland. They lack the third dimension that makes a real person, the one that creates true beauty-the flaws.”
As a mother, I particularly love this one:
“I glance toward my mom. Though short, simple, and maybe even a bit
demanding, she is, to me, the epitome of beauty. She isn’t a super model, a celebrity, or anyone famous. She doesn’t even know how to speak English and yet, she is the most kindhearted, caring person I know. When she cooks, cleans, and shops, she practically glows.”
Reading these essays made me very glad to be long done with high school, but also very hopeful about the strengths of this generation.

 

 

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