Monday, 17 November 2014

Anti-Bullying Week: Anorexia

by Sophie Whitehead

Everyone knows what bullying is. Everyone knows it is wrong. Everyone knows it must be stopped. Yet fewer know the detrimental effects bullying can have on a person for the rest of their life. It stays with you: the feeling youre not good enough, the lack of self worth and the constant attempt to fit a stereotypical idea of perfection where perfection itself can never even be achieved.

The excruciating psychological pain one feels to starve themselves to the point of almost death to conform to a reality which in itself is false is something an increasing number feel. This is what bullying does. This is what anorexia is. To look at a magazine and see an airbrushed portrait of a Size 0 model and to wish you could be the same is something many are tormented by.

1 in 10 students drop out of school because of bullying and over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. Yet, whilst physical bullying may end once you grow up and no longer have to be confronted with the threat of being physically abused on a walk back from school or the corner of a school playground, verbal abuse remains and continues to haunt for many years after you have grown up; in the office, at home or even in the press. There is no escaping the cruel reality of verbal exploits.

Many people do not think about the after-effects of bullying for trying to stop it happening in the first place can be preoccupying. Yet I believe working out what causes bullying and how it can be prevented is merely one stepping stone to eradicating it forever. One must think about the consequences of bullying too.

Out of a survey of six hundred 16 to 25 year olds suffering from eating disorders (especially that of Anorexia Nervosa (the inability to eat food because of the worry of gaining weight)) 91% said that they have been bullied, either physically or verbally, over their weight and a further 46% said that they believed the bullying accounted in part for their eating disorder. This is my main focus for this article.

BEAT; an organisation which has dedicated itself to overcoming eating disorders, have found the link between bullying and eating disorders to be rapidly increasing, in fact 67% higher than two years ago when a similar survey was conducted. Individuals who are bullied turn to eating disorders commonly in an effort to try and regain back some part of their lives, to present an image of being in control and together which is so important in today's society.  Yet the idea of perfection is such a common misconception in growing up. In an effort for these young people to not look like they need help, to present a perfect image of themselves, they actually do the most harm to themselves, commonly starving themselves upon the brink of destruction to fit an ideal which is almost unachievable. 

Anorexia may even present itself as a friend to them, when no one else is, helping to provide an organised, controlled normality to a life which does not always run smooth. This is why so many people can be affected by the disease like no other, as it does not enter, on outset, into your life as a problem - in fact, as found commonly, many people at the start of an eating disorder may even receive compliments noting their new found weight loss and congratulating them for it, which thereby only spurs the victim on to try harder, and eat even less, to knock off pounds that do not need to be lost.

Another misconception is that Anorexia, through bullying, only affects girls, who by nature stereotypically feel an aspiration to be perfect; this is not the case. Guys can feel it too. Celebrities battle with it.

Bullying effects everyone.

This is certainly the case of Karen Carpenter, part of the world famous 70s American group; The Carpenters and one of the first publicly-known people to suffer from the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa due to social bullying.

Born on March 2nd 1950, Karen Carpenter was part of the first and only group in the history of American acts to get ten top hits that went on to be multi-million sellers all around the world. Karen was voted Playboys best instrumental drummer and acted as an image of youthful radiance to all, yet this icon of the American Dream proved to be just for show when, in February 1983, Karen, was found dead, at the age of 32, in her hotel room from a heart attack - a side effect of the mental disease she had struggled with all her life.

In those days, eating disorders like anorexia were little heard of and even less understood so society scrutinised Karens curvy shape throughout her life and the naive public, unaware of what social criticisms could cause, hounded Karen on her weight wherever she went. The first diet she took was called The Stillman Diet, in 1967. It consisted of eight glasses of water being drunk daily and she dropped 25 lbs (roughly two stone) in weeks. She was applauded for her new-found weight, yet the social criticisms did not stop here which only spurred Karen on to be even thinner or, as she referred to it, a normal weight.

Throughout the 1970s, body shapes were changing and the diet which had ceased to exist publicly before became more and more fashionable.

Nobody can be completely certain when her anorexic habits took place and, since she was seen as one of the healthiest women around (for example, when photographed for the cover of Rolling Stone on May 22nd 1974 - left),  her facade was not seen through and her weight and morale continued to drop. So much so that in September 1975 her weight  had dropped to only 91 lbs (6.5 stone) and then further in 1979 to an even lower 80lbs, or roughly 5 and a half stone; on average the weight of a 9 to 11 year old

Although Carpenter's tale is undoubtedly a sad one, the harsh reality is that without Karen Carpenter the world would not know about Anorexia and the problem constant scrutiny and bullying can cause to someone's ego and self-confidence would not be known.

No one would know that 6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, of which around 11% are male. No one would know that Anorexia accounts for the highest amount of deaths in all mental illnesses. No one would know it can be solved. No one would know it is not just the immediate effects of bullying that can be fatal; it is the long standing battle with your self-confidence and self-worth that needs to be healed too. To starve yourself because otherwise you dont feel good enough is what Anorexia is. It's what Bullying causes. Let's stop it. 

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