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In Search of Ballerina Bodies: The Distortions and Disorders of Self-Image

Eating disorders are made comparably worse because of the social stigma surrounding it [Maureen Guirguis]

By: Malak Saad

In today’s social media-powered world where one is overwhelmed with certain expectations that dictate the ‘perfect’ body, many seek extreme measures to achieve extreme results.

Among said extreme measures are eating disorders, which are defined as psychological disorders where one’s eating habits are disrupted, causing an individual to devote their days to a constant battle with food and weight.

A study published in Current Psychiatry in 2010 compared the occurrence of eating disorders, particularly bulimia nervosa, in Egypt and other Western countries. It also looked at eating disorders in rural and urban areas within the country.

From a pool of 1200 school girls, the study revealed that, broadly speaking, eating disorders are at a comparable level to the West.

However, they appear to be more prevalent in Cairo and other urban areas than they are in rural areas.

“Until recently, these disorders have been often regarded as ‘Western culture-bound syndromes’, arising in societies with excessive emphasis on weight, shape and appearance,” the study reads.

Aya, a 22-year-old student and Cairo resident, suffered from an eating disorder when she was younger as a result of the “high beauty standards set by society”.

“When I was 16, I used to take so many laxatives to empty my body from all the food and lose weight as fast as possible. It was the only way [I felt] good about myself,” she said.

A year later, Aya got a wake up call after she started bleeding and was rushed to a hospital.

“At that moment, I realized that I was damaging both my health and my mind. I had to stop immediately. I threw away all the laxatives and gained all my weight and mental health back.”

The pressure to meet certain beauty standards inflicted by society does not only affect the certain demographic of young girls as people of all ages and genders can fall victims.

Heba, a 38-year-old sales manager living in Cairo, confessed that she started taking medication prescribed for diabetic patients to help control her appetite.

She claimed that there are many women her age who follow that technique, regardless of its side effects.

Such behaviors can have more dramatic consequences on people’s health, which is the case of a 25-year-old Master’s student who has asked to remain anonymous.

She told The Caravan she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa after being rushed to the hospital with very low blood pressure and risk of a heart attack.

“Eating disorders are far more complicated than just trying to fit in. A multitude of factors cause them. When someone becomes anorexic or bulimic they start becoming more and more isolated and they don’t like to socialize or do any activities that have to do with food,” Georgette Savvides, a counseling psychologist at AUC, said.

According to Savvides, among the reasons behind eating disorders are overcritical families, overprotective families with high expectations of proper behaviors and high achievers who strive for perfection in every aspect of their lives.

Eating disorders can also serve as mechnisms by which an individual deals with stressful and overwhelming life situations.

Hussein, a 24-year-old Master’s student, used to suffer from binge eating disorder as a result of resorting to fast food to deal with stressful events.

However, he was able to take matters into his own hand.

“One day I woke up and I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror anymore. Then I remembered a quote I read somewhere: ‘Nothing happens unless the pain of remaining the same outweighs the pain of change.’ That’s when I decided that it was much more painful to stay obese than to change my lifestyle and become healthier,” he recalled.

However, not everyone has the capability of overcoming an eating disorder, which is why Savvides urges those who suffer to seek professional help.

Although the mortality rate for eating disorders are at their lowest since 1998, they are nevertheless usually accompanied by other serious medical complications and can at times still prove fatal.

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