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My view: Nearly a casualty of an impossible cultural ideal

By Melaine Webster

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Feb. 7 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

I fought an extremely long and difficult battle with an eating disorder. I was a victim of the impossible cultural ideal that is set for women in our society. Now, my own little sister is fighting that same battle.

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I fought an extremely long and difficult battle with an eating disorder.

I was a victim of the impossible cultural ideal that is set for women in our society. In fact, I was very nearly a casualty.

Now, my own little sister is fighting that same battle. Watching me on the verge of death was not enough to save her from society’s messages that she has received from the cradle until now: the commercials; the billboards; the friends seeking after the coveted "thigh gap" and shunning the horrific possibility of cellulite; the Pinterest photos "inspiring" her to shoot for her dreams of six-pack abs; the boys she has overheard saying they could never marry a girl who might "let herself go.”

No, it was not enough to watch my struggle. She would rather die than be fat.

And she is not alone. According to the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 25 percent of college-aged women engage in binging and purging as a weight-management technique and over one-half of teenage girls use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, vomiting and taking laxatives.

Despite the fact that her heart is failing, a doctor recently told my sister that her current weight is not totally unreasonable for a teenage girl desiring to be thin and that consuming 1000 calories per day should allow her to maintain her weight.

But 1000 calories a day is still starvation.

Perhaps his intentions were good. Perhaps his mentality was that certainly 1000 calories is at least better than nothing, right?

Except for one minor detail ... the simple fact that he prescribed to her the very poison that caused her eating disorder in the first place — the idea that extreme dieting is a valid option and that we have no choice but to accept our culture's ideal of beauty and thinness.

Or worse yet — when some realize they cannot be "perfect" in their dieting, they turn to more desperate measures.

After years of treatment and therapy at the Center for Change in Orem, I finally realized that I had only two options. I could live in the dark and dreary world of body and self-loathing forever or I could stand up and do something really brave.

I could choose to like myself and my imperfect body.

Lest you assume that I advocate a "free for all" and disregard for nutrition, let me make it clear that this is not the case.

I believe in consuming fruits, vegetables and whole grains in abundance, as well as those foods that simply taste good, in moderation. I believe in moving my body daily in ways that show appreciation for this gift of a body that lives and loves day after day.

What I don't believe in is sacrificing physical and mental health to satisfy our world’s misguided obsession with beauty. What I don’t believe in is stepping on a scale every day of my life to see if I have been good or bad.

What I don't believe is that thinness and beauty equals happiness and love. Because I’ve been there — and it doesn’t.

With National Eating Disorder Awareness Week on the horizon (February 23-March 1), opportunities will abound: learn how to both prevent eating disorders and help those who suffer with this pervasive illness. Visit the National Eating Disorder Association’s website.

Melaine Webster is a mother of four with a degree in Family Studies from BYU. She speaks and shares her recovery story regularly with inpatients and families, at the Center for Change, an eating disorder treatment center in Orem.

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