Panel addresses disordered eating

As a part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Eating Concerns Hotline and Outreach (ECHO) sponsored a panel Tuesday evening to attempt to answer the question, “Does the Yale Environment Foster Disordered Eating?”

The panel included History of Science, History of Medicine professor Susan Lederer, who teaches “Fat and Thin: A History of American Bodies,” and History of Science, History of Medicine professor Naomi Rogers, who teaches “Women’s Health.”

“Insofar as Yale partakes of the general culture, certain bodies are seen as more valuable than others,” Lederer said.

Lederer said while there have been numerous studies about anorexia nervosa occurring in girls, the disorder is present in boys as well. Similar to the “Barbie ideal” for women, Lederer says there has “been a comparable steroidization of male bodies”.

“If you look at the original Star Wars action figures, Luke Skywalker is slight,” Lederer said, “But the new Luke Skywalker — he is ripped.”

Lederer pointed to what experts are now calling the Adonis complex and body dysmorphic disorder. Many of the causes of such disorders can be found in popular media as well as new health and diet trends. But she also pointed out that women’s expectations contribute to the problem.

“The pressure is coming not only from men themselves but from women who expect men to look like Brad Pitt,” she said.

Lederer characterized a current mainstream attitude toward health as a “Survivor Island.” She said a better alternative is to encourage everyone to be healthy.

“We don’t want to be the last man or woman standing,” Lederer said. “We want lots of healthy people standing.”

Rogers explained how the word “epidemic” also characterizes views toward eating disorders. Such a comparison promotes a different attitude toward eating disorders, Rogers said. Using the word “medicalizes” the issue.

“When you use the word ‘epidemic,’ what you are identifying is, you’re turning a problem into a disease,” Rogers said.

She said the notion of epidemic puts particular emphasis upon groups of people and environments rather than individuals.

“[An epidemic] is something that you map out in particular environments,” Rogers said. “We don’t say New Haven, we say Yale.”

The word also implies that the condition is contagious, something Rogers said has not been sufficiently studied. Rogers points to examples of groups of girls who simultaneously all begin to lose a lot of weight.

“When we talk about anorexia, we usually don’t talk about how does it spread,” Rogers said. “It is not solely an individual response, it is part of being part of a group.”

Members of the audience said they were glad to see that eating disorders could be viewed from different standpoints.

“The talk went well, and the amount of discussion was great,” Deidre Cerminaro ’06, co-coordinator of ECHO said. “They went on many different approaches and perspectives.”

After their speeches, Lederer and Rogers engaged in a discussion with the audience that touched upon many issues including possible solutions and other ways of increasing awareness.

“They addressed a lot of important issues with eating and health that are ignored,” Miranda Jones ’06 said. “I was impressed by the ideas expressed by the students.”

History of Science, History of Medicine professor Naomi Rogers speaks on Tuesday night’s eating disorders panel sponsored by ECHO.
Zoe Pershing-Foley
History of Science, History of Medicine professor Naomi Rogers speaks on Tuesday night’s eating disorders panel sponsored by ECHO.

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