Updated 07 August 2014

Destructive images of beauty

This week the contrast between a sexy female form and the emaciated image dished up as beauty on TV got me thinking about the effect this can have on women and their body image.


I am always fascinated by modern concepts of beauty. This week the sharp contrast between a beautiful, sexy female form and the emaciated image which is dished up as beauty on TV got me thinking about how vulnerable we are to suggestion and what a devastating effect this can have on women and their body image.

Juliette vs Calista

The two images of modern beauty I’m talking about are Juliette Binoche in her latest film ‘Chocolat’ and Calista Flockhart in Ally McBeal. The one image is that of a beautiful, vibrant woman who is totally in charge of her life, while the other is of a haunted, starving waif who is totally out of control. I know which one of these images I’d like to look like! Give me Juliette any day. Some of the shots of this stunning woman in ‘Chocolat’ are unforgettable.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I really like Calista and enjoy watching the wacky antics on Ally McBeal, but I think that she’s not only ruining her own life, but that of countless other young women. The papers are full of snippets describing Ally’s fainting spells, her lack of sleep and most distressing of all, that she has bulimia.

This is a sad indictment of modern values. But what upsets me most, is that there are so many other young girls and women out there who are copying her example. They will do anything to lose weight until they are reduced to skin and bone - starve, vomit, exercise to exhaustion, swallow any magic potion or pill that promises them unrealistic weight-loss - the list is endless.

Are you bulimic or anorexic?

I get many questions from readers who are caught in the destructive trap of eating disorders and all of them are desperately unhappy. But how do you know if you are a victim?

Here are a few pointers:
If you answer "Yes" to 2 or more of these questions, then you are probably anorexic or bulimic.

  • Are you obsessed with losing weight?
  • Are you very thin, but think you are still gross and fat?
  • Do you diet all the time?
  • Do you induce vomiting after eating to lose weight?
  • Do you hate yourself?
  • Do you feel out of control?
  • Do you feel suicidal?
  • Do you starve yourself and then gorge until you want to throw up?
  • Do you exercise every day until you feel totally exhausted?
  • When you look into the mirror do you see a fat, ugly person?
  • How many times did YOU answer "Yes?"

Get Help Fast!
If you suspect that you are either anorexic or bulimic, you need to get help fast. You need to contact a clinical psychologist and/or a dietitian to help you get out of the eating disorder trap immediately. Eating disorders can be fatal and I lost 2 friends at university to these cruel illnesses.

People with anorexia and/or bulimia generally suffer from underlying psychological problems. They often actually hate themselves and their image. Anorexics have a distorted body image and cannot see that they are fading away. All they see when they look into a mirror is a gross, overweight slob, even if their ribs are sticking out.

There is also usually a drive to self-destruct. Anorexics are often aware of the fact that they are harming their health and causing permanent damage to their bodies by starving themselves mercilessly, but they are unable to stop inflicting this self-punishment. These people need help from a psychologist so that they can identify the underlying psychological problem and learn to cope with it. If you like or love yourself a little more, you won’t want to destroy yourself.

Persons suffering from eating disorders need to be taught how to eat normally again and this is where they need the help of a clinical dietitian. If you contact a dietitian she will assist you to start eating a balanced diet, help you adjust your food intake and eliminate the deficiencies you have probably developed.

When one considers how much damage is caused in young people’s lives by impossible and destructive images of beauty, then I think you will agree with me that Ally McBeal has much to answer for. Please don’t destroy your lives by trying to look like Calista, rather emulate Juliette Binoche and you will be beautiful and healthy and sexy and happy. And that’s what life is all about!

Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Read more of her articles.


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