Standing in line at the pharmacy the other day, I was struck by the headlines I saw on several magazines on display near the register. The headlines screamed, and I paraphrase: "Young Starlets Reveal How They Lose Weight Fast!" and "Tired of Winter Fat? Lose 20 Pounds in One Week!"
Living in a college town, I wondered how many young impressionable female college, high school, junior high (and elementary!) students stood in line at this and other stores, reading those headlines, fervently ruing the few pounds they may have gained over the holidays. How do they compare themselves to those starlets and models? What messages are sinking in, especially into the brains of those school-age girls? What are we doing to girls and women in this culture?
As the media proclaim the dangers of obesity (some calling it an epidemic), we also run the risk of running too far in the other direction, sending our young girls (and some boys) into crazed tailspins of body image dysmorphia. As someone who was a chubby youngster, I myself was frequently on the receiving end of jokes and innuendos about my weight from relatives, family, and strangers alike. The resultant misguided self-talk about my body still reverberates in my mind to this day, and I still suffer the psychic consequences of the frequently cruel statements which so often came my way.
In this media-saturated world where there simply seems to be no escape---especially for the young---it is the responsibility of the society at large to monitor its language and the messages which it feeds to its most vulnerable members. From my point of view, we are failing miserably, and the resulting eating disorders and unrealistic body image suffered by young women across this country are the natural result of our stark collective failure. How can we right this wrong?
Our collective failure is, of course, our collective responsibility to rectify. But how can we do so when the powers of the media---and the very culture itself---thwart us at every turn? God help young women as they face this constant onslaught to which they can never measure up, and if we can't stem the tide, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.