The image was familiar: a magazine photo of an impossibly thin, obviously digitally altered model.
“She’s been stretched to inhuman proportions,” said Laura Choate, LSU associate professor and counselor educator, at a recent panel discussion of eating disorders.
In today’s culture, women may hold this impossible figure as the ideal, then start to internalize it, Choate said.
“Unless they measure up, then they’re not good enough,” she said.
For many women, such thoughts can slip into “Not only am I not thin enough, but I’m not enough,” Choate said. “Advertisers know this, they prey on our anxieties.”
Choate was one of four panelists speaking at the Feb. 28 “Smash Talk” discussion, an activity of the nonprofit Southern Smash organization, founded by McCall Dempsey, who is a survivor of eating disorders.
Addressing the women who had gathered to talk and learn about eating disorders, Dempsey said she never expected to become an advocate for others.
“I struggled with an eating disorder for 15 years and was able to keep it hidden,” said Dempsey, 31.
After going through residential treatment, Dempsey’s been in recovery for two years and has become an activist for others.
“My life is balanced, it has good days and bad days and in-between days,” said Dempsey, who has a 1-year-old son, Manning, with her husband, Jordan.
Before, she said, “I was either out-the-door happy or a hermit at home.”
“Never in a million years did I think I would be up here sharing my story,” Dempsey said.
The “Smash Talk” panel discussion was hosted with the LSU Counselor Education Program and at LSU’s Peabody Hall.
It takes its name from the Southern Smash signature event, which premiered last year and invites women to go to Baton Rouge Beach on Stanford Avenue for a chance to take a sledgehammer to scales.
This year’s event was held Friday.
The event “is designed to literally and spiritually help free you from those burdens that weigh you down,” according to the Southern Smash website, http://southernsmashings.com.
Dempsey has a blog at http://lovingimperfection.wordpress.com.
With the success of the recent panel discussion, Dempsey said that she’ll next be arranging for monthly get-togethers in local coffee shops, where women struggling with eating disorders can meet with and support each other.
University groups elsewhere in Louisiana and out of state have also talked with her about having their own scale-smashing Southern Smash events, she said.
In Baton Rouge, the first Southern Smash was presented with the help of the LSU organization, SoleSisters.
The Southern Smash organization is a nonprofit under the umbrella of the RocketKidz Foundation, which promotes active, fit and healthy lifestyles.
Speaking on Thursday evening, along with Choate, were Dr. Renee Bruno, medical director of psychiatric services for Woman’s Hospital and clinical professor of psychiatry at Tulane School of Medicine.
Also on the panel were Mary Munger, a local, licensed clinical social worker, who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, and Christy Rogers, the clinical director of the Carolina House in Raleigh, N.C., a residential eating disorders treatment program.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, affect millions of people in the U.S. every year, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
“Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health,” it said at its website, http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Among the statistics provided by Southern Smash:
- 69 percent of girls say that magazines influence their “perfect body” idea.
- 80 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
- More than 50 percent of teen girls use unhealthy ways to control their weight.
- Eight out of 10 women dislike their appearance.
Munger spoke on that latter issue — body image.
With a healthy body image, a woman “accepts her flaws and imperfections” and such body image “correlates with higher self-esteem, better socialization and better mental health,” Munger said.
But poor body image has become so rampant in the U.S. that a phrase has been coined to describe it, “normative discontent” with one’s body, she said.
“Poor body image diminishes the quality of life. It’s a theme we see in our culture — form is valued over substance; image is valued over substance,” Munger said.
Carrying a negative body image can be an unconscious way of masking other, internal conflicts, she said.
Munger recommended that women:
- Abandon negative comparisons.
- Get to know their body and be willing to accept the person they encounter.
- Find activities that help them connect with their body, such as dance, yoga or meditation.
- Be willing to be vulnerable and courageous and deal with feelings head-on.
- “ ‘I’m enough as I am,’ ” Choate said.
Rogers, with the Carolina House, spoke about perfectionism.
Women should be “patient and compassionate with ourselves,” instead of seeking a perfect — and impossible — image or lifestyle, Rogers said.
Too often, women bond with each other “over tearing our bodies apart” with harsh self- If a woman needs help in dealing with negative feelings or body image, ask for it.
Another panelist, Choate, told of research studies with college women, in which both groups looked at fashion magazines for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Numbers on body image inventories dipped after the short magazine reading for one group.
But for another group that had also been given positive and realistic messages — “This isn’t real;” “This doesn’t represent what real women look like.” — there was a protective effect, Choate said.
Women should protect themselves in the face of unrealistic images that benefit manufacturers, she said.
The diet industry is a $62 billion industry, and the anti-aging industry is a $96 billion one, she said.
A woman should realize,critiques, Rogers said.
“I tell my patients a lot, ‘Life is not black and white ... life is somewhere in the gray,” she said.
She recommended living a life of moderation, one “without that black and white lens. Give yourself a break; we’re all human,” Rogers said.
Bruno said that women can learn to listen to and stop the negative “self-talk” that runs through their minds.
“Insulting yourself in ways you would never speak to someone else is something to take note of,” Bruno said.
She asked women to shift to an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude for their bodies.
Paraphrasing a quote by author Tom Barrett, Bruno said, “Be diligent with your mind ... consider it to be like training a puppy.”