Sixty-five percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45 report having disordered eating behaviors, according to the results of a new survey by SELF Magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An additional 10 percent of women report symptoms consistent with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, meaning that a total of 75 percent of all American women endorse some unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies.
The online survey garnered responses from 4,023 women who answered detailed questions about their eating habits. Results and analysis appear in the magazine’s May 2008 issue on newsstands through May 19. Click here to read the article online.
While I don’t doubt the high levels of unhealthy relationships with food amongst a national cross-section of women, I do have to point out that Self isn’t exactly a paragon of body size acceptance. Every edition touts some kind of diet and weight loss plan, along with some half-naked airbrushed woman on its glossy cover.
Consider a sampling of recent headlines: “New fixes for stubborn fat!,” “A Diet to Shed Pounds Fast!,” “The 10-Calorie Secret,” “Drop Weight, Look Great and Never Go to the Gym,” “Shortcut to your Best Body,” “A Super Simple Slim-Down!,” “The One-Month Total Body Makeover,” “Peel off the Pounds!,” “Lose Weight Every Day!,” “The Beauty Diet,” and so on.
The magazine even boasts an online section dedicated solely to dieting, with “healthy eating” thrown in almost as an afterthought. Members here can join the Self Diet Club complete with “powerful tools can track your progress, analyze your diet and even tell you exactly what to eat (and what to skip) to slim down.” Because eating according to software dictates is much better than intuitive eating, right? Readers can also read about how to jump start their diet to drop a size in 30 days, take the Self challenge to achieve a “dream body,” learn fitness moves designed to burn more calories, and get such helpful reminders like how calorie-laden beverages can make you fat.
In the article “Scale Stuck?” Self urges women to consider 10 reasons why they’re not losing weight and genetics isn’t one of them. Such sage recommendations include recommendations to grocery shop online, count calories and don’t celebrate workouts with M & Ms. Other stellar recommendations are to deliver messages in person instead of email so you can lose nearly a pound a month!, as well as the same kinds of advice distributed on pro-ana boards, like encouraging women to wear tight jeans on weekends so you don’t overeat and to give away clothes the moment you drop a size to “ensure you won’t drift into them again.”
While Self does include constructive articles on how to beat stress, healthy recipes and basic nutrition, health issues like breast cancer, and green fashion and living trends, its overall emphasis is that women need to change. Specifically, that women need become thinner and more beautiful and ergo better people. I have to wonder if there exists an audience of women who don’t accept themselves as they are and Self simply fills that need, or does magazines like Self help to create and perpetuate such audiences?
With its predominant emphasis on dieting, weight loss and unrealistic beauty standards, it comes as no wonder so many of Self’s readers have unhealthy relationships with food, weight and body image. Perhaps the magazine ought to see its study more as an indictment of itself and less as a reflection of a national trend.
EDIT: Claire of 5 Resolutions advised me the survey was a national survey, and not solely of Self readers. My comments about the magazine still stand.