In the study of Abnormal Psychology unusual patterns of behavior, emotions and thoughts may or may not be usually understood as mental disorders. Unusual patterns or behaviors, emotions and thoughts include abnormal eating behaviors that generally involve a person having compulsion to eat or not to eat, causing negative effect on his/her mental and physical health. The two most common types of eating disorders are Anorexia and Bulimia.
The Silent Hunger: Anorexia and Bulimia is a movie that explains in vivid details about these eating disorders that has been besetting societies like America, with about 6-7% of its women suffering from it. Albeit short, as it runs for only forty-six minutes as compared to the regular movies of 120 – 180 minutes or two to three hours, this movie delves deep into the issues surrounding anorexia and bulimia, conveys a powerful message that seeps through the audience’s nerves for the strength of the message as well as the alarming nature of the subject it contains.
This movie aroused my interest and curiosity primarily because it involves real lives that have been drastically changed by the top two eating disorders from which a good number of women suffer, interestingly in silent manner and worldwide. In the said movie, seven females of varied age ranges share their personal experiences and insights within the issues and emotions that are surrounding the disorders. Adding a real serious impact to the drama are the interviews with dramatic sequences woven into the whole movie, providing strongly emotional scenes.
Designed to encourage a greater understanding of the issues and even of the travails of the emotional journeys that are being experienced by sufferers of these eating disorders, The Silent Hunger: Anorexia and Bulimia also provides the audience with important information from the interviews of health professionals who share their insights and knowledge about the subject.
Having seen the movie, I cannot help but be sad and concerned, having realized that eating disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia are not easy to battle against. I believe that Anorexia and Bulimia are more than illnesses; they are addictions which are acquired from a society that dictates what is beautiful and what is not. I think that these eating disorders are purely cultural. For instance, according to one of the women featured in the movie, she just felt she had to stay thin so she had to lose weight by not eating because she believed that she would be more in control of her life, more motivated, more successful and be guilt-free if she stayed thin. In the interviews, the women were one in saying that being and staying thin became an obsession to them resulting from their constant exposures to the commercials for diet products that lead people to believe that thinness or being lean is being in control, motivated, successful and guilt-free. I cannot help but put the blame on a society whose culture equates thinness to success.
In my interest to know more about anorexia and bulimia, I have found out shocking truths about such disorders. According to psychologists, anorexia and bulimia are the obsessions with making one’s body become like that of a certain figure through whatever means it takes to achieve it – diet, drugs or exercise. Pratt continues to reveal that such an obsession has been found out to be starting at very young ages, citing reports that 55% of girls ages ten to thirteen who already perceive themselves as fat despite the fact that only 13% among them are relatively overweight. Another article I read is all about a 1984 poll by the Glamour Magazine among 33,000 women. It has an interesting result that the majority of these 33,000 women admitting to being ashamed and unhappy about their stomach, hips and thighs – mainly parts of the body that contribute to the female shape. The said article concluded that there is a really strong pressure to lose weight through diet among many girls even at a young age.
This is quite alarming because, as the movie emphasizes, such disorders are not known easily and may even remain undetected, until the sufferer dies, as what happened to so many already. One of the women sufferers in the movie shares vividly what is anorexia and how does it “eat” a patient out. According to her, Anorexia is from the inside out, really loathsome and ugly. It is more than ugly – it is terrifying, lonely and a torturous slow suicide. This, according to the other interviewees, can also be said of Bulimia. These disorders have common effects of damaging the patient’s psyche and making her sick. Every day ordeal includes throwing up or plain starvation coupled with throwing up resulting from the nausea of taking diet pills on empty stomach. After a while, the patient throws up bile because there is nothing else in the stomach to throw up. And then, the patient throws up blood. Some patients immediately die, while some linger and suffer from irregular heartbeat and blood pressure, unstable blood sugar, and falling hair. Permanent damage or irreversible damage is done to internal organs including brain, and one of the main problems that those diseases literally shrink brain.
As explained by the health experts in the movie, there are serious medical effects of starvation and purging leading towards serious health complications. Bulimia can often cause esophagitis, which is actually an injury to the esophagus because of repeated vomiting, aggravated by the bile and acid from the stomach that irritate and inflame the esophageal membranes. Esophagitis is sometimes severe and can cause scarring and narrowing making it difficult for food to pass through. In addition to this, the physical stress of vomiting often cause tears in the linings of the esophagus, which may bleed massively if not cause the esophagus to rupture. In this case, such a condition is life-threatening and would require immediate surgery. The compulsion to eat huge meal very rapidly and emptying the stomach slowly may cause stomach to rupture, leading to death from so-called peritonitis. Other cases have lung complications caused by self-induced vomiting that lead to aspiration of food particles, gastric acid and even bacteria from the stomach into the lungs, leading to pneumonia. Cyclical fasting, over-use of laxatives and vomiting could lead towards loss of fluid and critical body electrolytes, while chronic dehydration and low potassium levels may lead to kidney stones if not to kidney failure.
Anorexic patients, on the other hand, struggle to maintain certain body weight, causing them to restrict their food intake, thus their obsession of eating low-fat or low-carbohydrate foods in small intake coupled with too much exercise. Cited in the movie, Karen Carpenter, who died of anorexia, stopped having menstruation and struggled with hair loss, mood swings and malnutrition. The intentional deprivation of self towards total starvation may have seemed at first for the patients an easy solution, according to the health professional interviewed, that if they binged, they purged and if their bodies repulsed them, they exercise. However, those perceived solutions drove them deep into further despair, self-hate and eventually addiction.
The father in the movie shares that it took him a long time to realize that his daughter had eating disorder and it was already too late to help her. His daughter died because of improper, unhealthy and compulsive dieting. Like all other Anorexia and Bulimia patients, his daughter had a distorted body image with an irrational fear of becoming overweight, thus her deliberate attempts to lose weight, resorting to all forms of dieting and drugs were only to attain what she perceived to be ideal weight for her. Still suffering, the father shares that the illness was like a thief that stole his daughter from him. He remembers the agony of seeing her so thin and pale, against which he was helpless as he did not know what to do in the face of such a strong enemy that he calls evil.
I personally strongly agree that such a disorder is evil. In fact, I would consider it very evil, because it is eating up on the women of our society. It is an evil thing because what good is there in a society that feeds the people’s mind and whole being that not being thin as the models and actresses is not acceptable and will make one a total failure in life? What good is there in a society that makes women hating and loathing themselves so that they become anorexic and bulimic? Is a society that drives women insanely obsessed at dieting to the point of dying from it? It is evil to show on television purely glamorized thin and lean women enjoying life while the unsuccessful, insecure and unhappy fat and overweight ones suffer all the ridicule of the public. It is evil to turn women into mere objects of thin beauty to be enjoyed. It is ultimately evil to allow teen magazines to publish articles teaching young girls that, to be acceptable in the society, they should learn how to put on make-up, worry about their weight and buy the must-have fashion items regularly.
Indeed, our society gives out a clear message that thin is acceptable; overweight or fat is not. All around us are messages to this effect, all reinforcing each other so that it becomes a subliminal message permeating our sub-conscious minds and thus become our belief system. Worse, informed and educated articles about eating disorders and the issues relating to them are not well-published or even are not given importance in the media industry, leaving people unaware and ignorant about the subject. For instance, magazines like Seventeen or Cosmopolitan publish lengthy articles on how to eat low-fat, on how to do the best new exercises to flatten tummy, on how to lose weight instantly, but publish only very short snippets about eating disorders. Calvin Klein ads, from the early decades until today, seem to market not their products but starvation and obsession as tantamount to beauty. Health and fitness show and also convey the message that fat is automatically associated with poor health, while thin is always healthy. Television shows, commercials, print and broadcast media, billboards and especially fashion trends all tell us that thinness is the ideal, the beautiful, the sexy, the gorgeous and the only acceptable. The overarching message has always been: “you can never be too rich or too thin”.
I blame our capitalist society for all these, especially when I learned that the diet industry in the United States alone brings in $60 billion a year, based on a 2008 study. All this hype about dieting being good and healthy, on very expensive commercial ads, awakening the people’s consciousness about their weights – about how fat and so far from the ideal lean and trim they are – and creating a deep desire to lose those fats immediately. What people do not know or realize is that these diet companies intentionally “forget” to tell people that studies have consistently proven that 98% of the people who lose weight on diet not only gained it back, but gained more weight back with it. This may be easily understood in the business perspective, but can never be understood and must not be accepted by the consumers, for this is nothing but marketing hype, concealing crucial information for the sake of selling more and earning more.
Apparently, there are no easy and sure solutions to this problem than a total shift in the mindset of people and in shifting the cultural standards of beauty. There should be an active campaign among businesses and media outlets to stop patronizing only the thin and lean, to stop glorifying starvation as the best way and the only way towards a healthy and successful life. The government agencies regulating media should be strict with the parameters, and clear-cut policies should be in place to ensure a realistic and not distorted view of beauty amongst children.