Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's not just white girls

Of the 10 million women and 1 million men who do cope with anorexia and bulimia in this country, it is true that the majority of those documented are white. But in some cases, minorities have been excluded from samples because of this assumption—and experts say the "white girl" stereotype discourages men and minorities from coming forward. One study, by Wesleyan psychologist Ruth Striegel-Moore, found that black girls who do suffer from eating disorders are less likely to seek treatment. "I know stories of African-American women who've gone in to see a physician, with all the symptoms of an eating disorder, and the doctor says, 'That's a white girl's disease'," says Cynthia Bulik, an eating-disorder specialist at the University of North Carolina. "That persisting stigma can make people uncomfortable."

Anorexia was formalized as a diagnosis in the late 19th century, though it didn't become a household word until the 1970s, when feminists protested the rise of Twiggy as the body ideal. Media attention peaked in the '90s, with Naomi Wolf's "The Beauty Myth," but has waned in recent years, perhaps overshadowed by obesity. But the number diagnosed continues to increase. In a 2003 review of the literature, researchers found that since 1930, the rate of anorexic women ages 15 to 19 has gone up incrementally each decade. And between 1988 and 1993, bulimia in 10- to 39-year-olds tripled. Some blame skinny models and magazines that tout an often unattainable esthetic. But for the majority of sufferers, the problem has historically been far more complicated, regardless of anorexia's popularity as a political cause.

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