Let’s talk about the beauty industry

Interested in some basic statistics on how much money and business the beauty industry makes? Aw yea, you are.

Why exactly are we buying all this stuff?

  • The average US resident is exposed to almost 5,000 advertising messages each day.
  • A study in 1992 (so it’s outdated and very possibly much worse now, sorry I can’t find anything more recent) found that 1 out of every 3.8 television commercials sends some kind of “attractiveness message” commenting on what is/is not attractive
  • The purpose of beauty advertisements is only to convince you to buy a product. Because of this, advertisers will often play on your emotions. They’ll use phrases like this 

oh, that’s lovely

They’ll publish an ad that they know will only make you feel bad about your body. Something like this

another keeper

You might feel bad, but that will ensure that you buy their product. They’ll emphasize looks and beauty over everything else. They’ll photoshop  unrealistic images and tell you that anyone can look like that.

Oh don’t worry, it isn’t just advertisements. Companies are selling our kids crap like this, and this, and this, and this. What a terrible childhood. Also, messages about beauty are fucking everywhere. In advertisements, in movies, in television, in books. The beautiful princess marries the beautiful prince and they live happily ever after. The evil stepmother is ugly. The unpopular girl becomes popular when she gets a makeover. Even when they don’t outright say things like that, they subtly slip it in there. The successful, happy, popular people in media always seem to fit our standards of beauty. Next time you watch television or a movie, pay attention to how the villain/annoying character/outcast is portrayed. More often than not you’ll find that they’re the ones that don’t fit standards of beauty while the “popular people” always do. And we internalize all of this shit.

 

Some things that beauty product marketers often try to tell you that probs aren’t exactly 100% true.

  • Our product WILL fix this. Lots of companies that cite research backing up their product have either sponsored the researchers or they use their own researchers. Sound biased? It probably is. They also sometimes take the studies they have done on animals and extrapolate them to humans. Because that’s how science works. Human=sad bunny. Beauty companies spend only 2-3% of their sales on research and development of products, compared to the 20-25% that they spend on advertising. 
  • Anyone can do it. We see this ALL the time with weight loss advertisements. It’s also extremely common with things such as makeover shows. And this king of advertising is a problem. It results in shaming and blaming people that don’t fit societal standards of beauty. It creates this false idea that anyone can change anything about their body if they just have enough willpower. Advertisements tell us that everyone is perfectly capable of fitting into the mold of what is considered beautiful, why aren’t they doing it? Oh, obviously it’s because they’re lazy/are a slob/don’t care about themselves/don’t care about others/etc. We question why people aren’t taking the time to fit our idea of what beautiful is, because they should be. Anyone can do it.
  • It’s not about changing how you look; it’s about changing how you feel about yourself. It’s about gaining self confidence. This one is all the rage right now, especially since so many people are promoting self-confidence. Advertisers are just disguising their products under this veil of “it’s about confidence.” Sure, you can have confidence, as long as you still buy their product. I personally really think that our problems with body image are often just symptoms of bigger problems with ourselves. We aren’t confident and self-loving so we try to have the body/car/job/insert whatever you want here that we’re “supposed to have.” If you don’t have confidence in the body you have now, you aren’t going to have real confidence in a different, more socially acceptable body. Meeting their standards of beauty isn’t the same as having confidence. Sure, you’ll feel better because you’re fitting their narrow standards, but that isn’t the same as having confidence. That “confidence” is based entirely on outside sources, rather than coming from within. And when you’re letting other people determine how confident you can be, you’re letting them be in charge of when that confidence disappears. These ads create the idea that people “earn” confidence. That you can feel good about yourself because you’re doing what they want you to do, because you earned it. People that don’t meet the narrow standard of beauty are just as deserving of experiencing confidence and self-love. Those are not privileges that we have to “earn” by changing ourselves. You have the right to love yourself no matter what. Bottom line: you can’t trust the people selling you beauty products to tell you how to gain confidence. As a side note, this is kind of like the story about the girl that was bullied because of her ears and received free plastic surgery to “fix” her flaws. She didn’t need to “fix” herself. Someone needed to tell those bullies to stop being assholes.

I have news for you. Changing whatever part of your body that doesn’t meet society’s standards doesn’t fix the problem for several reasons (I love bulleted lists!)

  • Self-acceptance doesn’t sell anything. If you love yourself just the way that you are, and don’t try to change everything, these big companies aren’t making any money off of you. And they can’t have that, can they? Companies are just going to keep making up things that are wrong with our bodies in order to get us to spend money. You could change everything about your body to meet the expectations that are given to us, and someone would just come up with something new that was wrong. And the moment you think you’re getting close to finishing up that checklist of beauty standards, the tables will turn. Pale skin will be back in right after you get that tan, curves will be in just after you lose those last few pounds. It will never end. This is about money.
  • YOU’RE just going to keep making up things that are wrong with your body. As soon as you “fix” one thing, you’ll find something else that you don’t like. There is no possible way to be satisfied in this quest for perfection because it is not realistic and it will not happen. This isn’t about not liking one part of your body, this is about a bigger issue with self confidence and self-love. Also, 33% of potential nose job patients have moderate to severe symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. I mean obviously I can’t speak for them, but I’m fairly confident that a nose job did not make their mental illness go away overnight.
  • It perpetuates the idea that there is an ideal standard of beauty and it is ok to expect everyone to meet that standard. When we mold ourselves to fit what other people want us to be, we are giving them permission to mold others into what they want them to be. We are supporting the culture of telling people what to be and how to look and how to act. We are supporting ostracizing certain people. We are supporting telling people to change themselves. And if this culture keeps on going, they’re just going to throw more and more ideals for us to meet and we’re never going to be happy with ourselves.

The bottom line is that it is not your job to change your body so that people will respect you. People should be respecting you regardless of what you look like. They should be respecting you simply because you are a being and a soul and that is enough to make you completely deserving of love and respect, just like every other being out there.

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Eating Disorder Lobbying

It’s been a really long time since I’ve written anything. Everything at school got so hectic with finals and moving out. But I did take the time to do something that was really awesome and empowering.

Last month I participated in the Eating Disorders Coalition Lobbying Day. I went with a friend up to Washington D.C. and we spent a Tuesday morning being trained on how to effectively lobby. We then spent the afternoon talking to the assistants of various House and Senate members, trying to get them to cosponsor the FREED Act and to sign on to a letter to Michelle Obama encouraging her to include eating disorders in her obesity intervention program.

Basically, the FREED Act pushes to increase research for eating disorders regarding prevalence, death rates, economic burden, etiology, treatments, etc. It also pushes to increase education, awareness, and prevention of eating disorders, particularly through schools. It also wants to make treatment accessible to everyone struggling with an eating disorder.

I haven’t heard back from anyone that my group spoke with regarding whether the would cosponsor the act, but several other groups did speak with people that agreed. I’m not sure what the people we spoke with will decide to do, but it felt amazing to actually be out supporting the cause, doing something, and using my voice.

I would totally recommend that you write your United States House of Representatives or Senate members and encourage them to cosponsor this act. One of the speakers at the briefing told this absolutely devastating story of how her daughter died of an eating disorder while waiting for their insurance company to allow her to receive treatment. Stories like these shouldn’t have to exist. We need more awareness and activism when it comes to eating disorders since they are so misunderstood.Image

A Few Incredibly False Things About Eating Disorders

1. You can tell that someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.

This is so false. Just no. Eating disorders come in ALL shapes and sizes. It is SO helpful to get rid of this idea that someone needs to be either completely emaciated or morbidly obese to have an eating disorder. When we take away this stigma we can help people before they get to either of these points. And the earlier an eating disorder is treated, the more likely the person is to fully recover from it. It also really makes people feel like they are not “good enough” at their eating disorder because their body doesn’t show it. I know that I have seriously struggled with this because no one knew that I had an eating disorder by looking at me. I always blamed myself  and only ended up making myself sicker by thinking that I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough.

Also, our view of what is “healthy” in this society is completely fucked up. We judge “healthy” as one body type that is still probably not a very realistic body type. Nonetheless, there are people that fall outside of this body type that are healthy, and there are people that fall within this body type that are unhealthy. We’ve been pretty desensitized to thinness/muscularity and only   assume that there is a problem when an absolute extreme is reached. And that needs to stop.

2. Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice.

So wrong. If I had chosen to have an eating disorder, by now I would have chosen to not have an eating disorder. People don’t choose to have OCD or strep throat, and this is the exact same    thing. I hate that eating disorders get this stigma as being chosen. Often, the beginnings of an eating disorder can be “choices” such as going on a diet or trying to lose a little bit of weight. But    if you explicitly asked someone if they wanted to have an eating disorder, no sane person would    say yes. Anyone that has experienced an eating disorder knows the struggles that come with it. They unfortunately get this stigma that they are just kind of like diets, and that is just not true.

3. Eating disorders only affect white, middle/upper class, teenage females.

No. Eating disorders do not discriminate. They affect men, and children, and older people, and people of color, and all socioeconomic statuses. ANYONE can have an eating disorder.

4.  People with eating disorders need to just “get over it.”

If it was something that we could just “get over,” many of us would. Unfortunately, recovery is something that takes a lot of work. You literally have to retrain your brain to think in a different way. You have to undo everything that your eating disorder, and a lot of society, has taught you. The average time of recovery is about 7 years. Give it some time.

5. Eating disorders are the result of a controlling mother.

This is like a seriously archaic concept of eating disorders and it really isn’t that relevant anymore. Sure, there are some people whose eating disorders are a result of a controlling mother, but everyone’s journey is completely different and started because of completely different reasons. You can’t extrapolate this reason to everyone.

6. People with eating disorders should “know better.”

Developing an eating disorder isn’t something that people do when they just don’t know how to  lose weight in a healthy way. That’s not how it works. Saying that someone should have “known better” than to develop an eating disorder is like saying someone should have “known better”  than to develop depression or a cold.  Also, there’s a genetic component to eating disorders. Many people were predisposed to be that way from birth, regardless of how smart they turned out to be.

7. ED-NOS just means that you aren’t “sick enough” to have a “real eating disorder.”

This one kills me. All eating disorders suck ass. An eating disorder is an eating disorder and they are all miserable. It’s not only about your habits/weight, but it’s really about the THOUGHTS that you have. This “hierarchy” of eating disorders that exists needs to go away. Unfortunately there is a serious level of competition within eating disordered people. Often there’s this need to “prove” that you are truly sick by being sicker than those around you. And this competition is getting us nowhere good.

8. Eating disorders are only about having bad body image.

This is kind of a weird subject because obviously eating disorders are about weight and food and how you look, right?

This is my personal view of it. Eating disorders have been around for a long, long time. Way before this “thin ideal” was ever a problem. I think that for those people, body image wasn’t really part of the issue. They happened to stumble upon the method of using food as a coping mechanism for whatever internal struggles they were having. Nowadays, I think that all of the body image problems that we have going on create like a little petri dish for eating disorders to develop. They’re still actually about something deeper, but the way that society is set up  introduces way more people to the concept of using food as a coping mechanism. The more people that we’re teaching to diet and abuse food, the more people we’re exposing to patterns of disordered eating and potentially eating disorders. Also, the more we are teaching people to dislike themselves and have those cognitive beliefs that go along with eating disorders. On the surface, eating disorders are about body image. That’s what people always assume eating disorders are about. But they’re really about something deeper than that, even if it’s really really really deep and you have to dig for a very long time. For me it was about this constant fear of not being good enough, in a nutshell. The way that society is now just provides an excellent cover of “bad body image” to mask what’s really going on.

If we get rid of all this body-shaming, bad body image creating crap will we still have problems with eating disorders? Absolutely. There are DEFINITELY still people for whom body image played no role in the development of their eating disorder. But I personally feel like promoting healthier coping mechanisms, rather than using food, will cause the levels of eating disorders, disordered eating, and bad body image in general, to decrease.

9. Anorexics never eat and bulimics throw up everything that they eat.

You don’t have to never eat to be anorexic; you just have to not eat enough. And you don’t even have to throw up at all to be bulimic. I wish people would realize this. You can purge calories by using laxatives/diuretics/diet pills, exercising, restricting, etc. Not JUST throwing up. And the main thing about bulimia is the binge/purge cycle. Just because you purge your binges doesn’t         mean you have to be purging everything else as well. You don’t have to be at this extreme spectrum of never eating/always exercising/puking up everything to still be really struggling.

10. Anorexics don’t eat anything except vegetables.

Everyone is different. They all have different “safe foods.” I have been in treatment with people that had no problem eating eggs or nuts, huge fear foods for me. I, on the other hand, relied on oatmeal as a particularly safe food, a food that scared a lot of people that I know. I’ve known people that hardly ever ate vegetables and I’ve known people that only ate candy. Just because someone has an eating disorder doesn’t mean you automatically know what they will/won’t eat.

11. When someone’s weight is back to “normal” weight they are “cured.”

I have had way too many people tell me that I must be doing better because I don’t look like I   have an eating disorder. I mean, I AM doing better, but I’m not completely done and it is SO frustrating to hear people say that. I want to shake them and yell at them that I’m still having trouble, I’m still sad, and I still need support. Just because I LOOK fine doesn’t mean that I AM fine. Just because my eating habits are becoming more normal doesn’t mean that my thoughts have caught up yet. This is a process.

12. You wish you had the “willpower” to have anorexia.

Seriously. I will kill the next person that I hear say this. No, you DON’T wish you had my willpower, and quite frankly, it pisses me off when you tell me that you do.  Please, take my eating disorder off of my hands. What started off as “willpower” just ended up controlling me and the rest of my life.

True Self

Lately I’ve been working a lot with my individual therapist on expressing my “true self” rather than my “fake self.”

 

My fake self is who I *want* to be (or I guess who I think I want to be?). She’s perfect. Everyone loves Fake Savannah. She’s gorgeous and thin, she makes excellent grades without having to try too hard. She’s successful at so many things. She’s probably going to be a doctor or a researcher or something, but she’s also incredible at art. She’s outgoing and social, polite, likes to party, but still knows how to behave herself. She’s a particularly nice person and is always looking out for others. She puts everyone before herself and is always willing to help out people in need. The most important thing is that everyone loves her. No one has anything bad to say about her. Ever.

My therapist and I have come to the conclusion that at some point in my life I became convinced that I’m not good enough. And since I didn’t think that I was enough, I started looking to other people to tell me if I was good enough. And if I got even a hint of any sign that I wasn’t enough, I took it and ran with it. My eating disorder really plays a big part in this. It’s like a voice in the back of my head, constantly reminding me that I’m NOT good enough, and that no one likes me. If I’m thinner, prettier, smarter, work harder, then I might stand a chance. So that’s what I do. Unfortunately, I’ve found that when I start to put all of my effort into keeping this appearance I crumble. When I let my self-critical thoughts get out of control, I spend all of my time counting calories, doing homework, and throwing up the food that my malnourished body can’t help but devour. I rarely talk to anyone. Even though I WANT to be social and outgoing, that critical voice always tells me that if I do or say even the slightest thing incorrectly, that people will hate me. They will think that I am awkward and weird. That I am not good enough. So the eating disorder thoughts just take over. If I’m too weird and shy and unlovable for people to like me, I need to be sicker. I need to punish myself. I need to suffer because of how unlovable I am. Then, if I’m sick, people will at least have to stay with me, right? No one would leave if they knew I was hurting. I just don’t want to end up alone. Afraid and empty. I just want the outside of me to reflect how empty and hurting I am on the inside. Then people will know how fragile I really feel.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Any time I think about this I always feel like a “fake.” Like I’m doing this just to get the attention and I’m just being narcissistic and I should get over myself. But my therapist says that isn’t how it is, and right now, I just have to trust her on that. And I wouldn’t say that about any one else with an eating disorder, so I’m trying not to think it about myself.

My true self? I’m still not really sure who that is yet. Five years ago, I dropped absolutely everything except my schoolwork and my eating disorder. I quit having hobbies and dedicated my time to exercising and bingeing/purging. I stopped thinking about things that didn’t involve counting calories or coming up with ways to get out of meals. I’m at least now at a point where I’m mentally fighting the eating disorder, rather than just giving in to it. This means that I can actually try out different ideas of who I think I might actually be. I’m getting there. It’s a slow and scary process, but at least I’m fighting it.

Please Just Be Politically Correct

What do you do when people say things that are really really offensive to you but they don’t know it? One really big thing that came along with my eating disorder was my passivity. I’m entirely too concerned with whether or not people like me, and my eating disorder is a way for me to express that preoccupation. For an extremely long time I have been determined that I can’t “say the wrong thing” or else people won’t like me. They’ll think I’m crazy. They’ll think I’m a bitch. I don’t want to offend anyone else. So I tend to keep quiet and not share my personal opinions. As a result, I often am pretty antisocial and shy. I’ve been working really hard lately on breaking outside of my little eating disorder shell.

Cut to tonight. I agreed to get dinner with several of the girls on my hall. This is a really big deal for me because

1. I haven’t really talked to them a whole lot and I’m still not completely comfortable being around unfamiliar people.

2. I’m still not comfortable eating in front of people, especially people I don’t know. I’m still not able to successfully eat my meal plan exchanges in front of people because I’m convinced that they’ll think I’m eating “too much.”

But I went. I’m always scared to eat with other people because they somehow, ALWAYS seem to make comments like “oh, this food is so unhealthy” or “I’m going to be bad and eat a cookie today” or “oh my gosh. I’m going to be so fat. I promise, I usually don’t eat like this.” Seriously, if you’re making comments about your worth based on what you’re eating, how is that supposed to make everyone else feel? These kinds of comments are always super triggering for me. But I went. And sure enough, within less than five minutes of sitting down not only had all of these things been said, but several other comments that were even worse.

Suddenly my eating disorder thoughts are spiraling out of control and I’m convinced that everyone at the table thinks I’m enormous. That they’re watching what I’m eating, silently judging my personality based on the food in front of me. That they won’t like me if I eat too much. That they won’t like me if I say the wrong thing or laugh at the wrong thing. Unfortunately, thinking these things and giving in to my eating disorder always causes me to become completely passive. I stopped eating, stopped talking, stopped paying attention to the conversation and started only becoming anxious about what everyone else thought about me. Then suddenly I’m kicking myself because if I was emaciated, OBVIOUSLY everyone at the table would realize that I’d become quiet and stopped eating once she said that, and they’re realize that the conversation offended me, and they’d apologize and never do it again. Even though I KNOW that isn’t true. So I didn’t say anything. I didn’t bring up the fact that

A.A lot of the information that was said was just entirely wrong.

B. The whole discussion was a little unnecessary.

Now I’m worried that because I was upset and didn’t talk for most of dinner that my hall mates think I hate them. That I’m weird and antisocial and awkward. That I’m crazy. I want so badly to walk across the hall, knock their doors and just say “Hey. I’m recovering from an eating disorder. I just wanted to let you know that you said this and it really upset me. This is why.” I would tell anyone else in the same position to do that. But because it’s me, they’re automatically going to hate me. They’re going to think I’m crazy and overemotional and they’re going to tell everyone on the hall that I’m crazy and overemotional and they’re never going to invite me anywhere again or talk to me ever again. But they have the right to say whatever they want, right? If I corrected people every time they were politically incorrect, I would piss everyone off. What do normal people do? How do normal people respond when they’re upset or offended? I’m so used to just keeping everything inside and taking it out on myself.