The year is 1998. A five year old girl is playing with a Barbie Doll. The doll is a model of the stereotypical American girl– long blonde hair, dazzling blue eyes, tan skin, thin perfect figure. This girl is mesmerized by the beauty of the plastic factory-made toy.
Fast forwars 10 years. A 15-year-old girl stands in front of a mirror. She stares and is disgusted; her image distorted in something seemingly made for a carnival funhouse. The Barbie from so long ago sits abandoned on a dusty shelf. By peering into the looking glass reflecting her surroundings, her eyes land on the doll; the Barbie she once called a companion. She can no longer take it, and to decieve her eyes with the image of her body would be a crime. Silence as she closes the bathroom door of a room used for items wasted away. She purges. The numb and disgraceful feelings vanish, leaving her with a bitter taste on her lips. Perfect.
Today in the United States of America nearly 24 million people of all ages suffer from eating disorders. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), recent studies have shown that 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. ANAD has also concluded that almost 50% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression, of those individuals merely 1 in 10 recieve treatments, and only 35% of those who obtain treatment for eating disorders get treatment at a specialized facility. When stated that eating disorders are among the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, and that most runway models meet the Body Index physical criteria for Anorexia, input on the subject of Body Image was given by 24-year-old Ashley Strohmier, Miss Missouri 2010, co-host of Fox 22 KQFX, and Criminal Justice Major at the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg.
“It starts with the magazine and the company. The world is all about perfection and editing. We have magazines altering images. We’re striving to be perfect when it’s not possible,” said Strohmier, “No one is ever going to be perfect. You’re always going to have your flaws, but you should be able to embrace them. Change the term ‘flaw’ into ‘originality’.” With 50% of women wearing size 14 or larger, plus-sized modeling has skyrocketed into the media.
“Plus-sized is a pretty broad category. Everyone’s body type is different, and everyone has the capability to be a model, regardless of their size,” Strohmier exclaimed, “I think they should change the word, because ‘plus-sized’ is one of those words that you don’t want to say, but there is no other way to say it. I don’t think they should be judged at all, especially when the majority of people can relate to them more than they could a Victoria’s Secret model.” With a laugh she added, “I don’t think I know anybody who can relate to a Victoria’s Secret model, except for a Barbie Doll maybe.”
Relaying to her own experiences, Strohmier posed another view on the subject. “I had an eating disorder for six years. I am a victim. I’ve struggled tremendously with body image. I can’t sit here and say that I’m 100% satisfied. Mine in particular was the least common one, Anorexia. I was able to come out of it. It took time, dedication, and mind control. The smallest thing can trigger an eating disorder, and it can take years to fix. Your mind is going to play tricks on you.”
Strohmier continued with advice to those fighting to accept themselves, “Don’t try to mimic or mirror someone that you “idol”, because it’s not the real you, and eventually that is going to shine through. There is no sense in faking it. Try not to focus on the negative aspect of your body because everyone is beautiful, it’s just a matter of finding your uniqueness.” Inquired about the role of runway models to girls ages 12 to 18 and the prototype they display for the public, Strohmier indicated the veiled threat, “I think that runway models are at a huge health risk honestly. When people think of model, they think of beautiful, and people look up to them. But when people who are supposed to be “model” starve themselves to death, it’s just not. I do not condone Obesity or Anorexia at all. But unfortunately, sometimes the media gets involved and you can’t help it. You have to really watch what you look at and what you listen to.”
In a survey proposed by ANAD, 69% of girls in 5th through 12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape. 47% of girls in that same survey reported wanting to lose weight because of pictures found in magazines.
In finishing the interview, Strohmier identified the polar opposites stepping on the scale, “Obesity and Anorexia… It’s like comparing a Liberal and a Conservative. You’re on total opposite ends of the spectrum, none of which I think are good. Anorexia is a health problem. Obesity is a health problem. Health is one thing that everyone needs. It’s something you can control. Life is about balance, you need to find a happy medium.”
Stereotypical Barbie no longer sways the understanding of the girl, she knows what is real, and as she opens the door she smiles. The looking glass is changing.
The Crusader Raid, Vol. 6, Num. 2
The Christmas Wrapping Paper Issue