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Dear Amy,

I would like to take you up on a point you made in reply to a student asking about the idealization of thin women. You said that poor cultures value big women. I live in the developing country of mainland China and have done for the past three years. I would like to comment that the amount of anorexia here is just as rife or even more so than most developed countries I have visited. This is because, I believe, for thousands of years and even now, families sold their daughters to the highest bidder or traded them to other families to develop better relationships. Women were not and, in the countryside, are still not educated. Their parents believe it is a waste of money to educate a daughter who will eventually marry and take on a different family. Now, with the one child policy, there are approximately 30,000,000 more men than there are women. Girls are seen as next to useless.

This is because Chinese people do not traditionally provide for their own retirement, they depend on their children i.e. sons. Girls are conditioned to look for a rich male who will provide stability. They are not encouraged to develop as individuals or rise above girlhood. Indeed, in Mandarin, women are called girls until they are married, further conditioning them to view themselves as immature until they are taken under control by a man. Beauty is fundamental to the majority of Chinese women. Apart from the Tang Dynasty, all traditional Chinese beauties are paper thin. Fat is ugly. Thin is beauty. I have seen young women starved to the point of non existence. A typical greeting in Chinese is: You're fatter than I last saw you. Therefore, women are under enormous societal pressure to remain in perpetual adolescence.


Regards,

Kyla

 

 

Dear Kyla,

Reading your email, I was reminded of a study done on girls in Fiji -- before TV there were no noticeable eating disorders, but with the introduction of TV came a tremendous increase. This study was done by the Harvard University Center for the Study of Eating Disorders, so I suggest that you might reference that. Also, since I received you email, I have been using it as an example in some of my talks and afterwards, someone told me about the Korean Quarterly, which just did a story on this subject for their newsletter.

You are right that skinny women haven't always been the ideal--nor are they the ideal everywhere. Earlier in this century in the U.S., larger women were more common. As Gloria Steinem has pointed out--rich cultures value thin women, poor cultures value big women--but all cultures value weakness in women. It's a simplistic answer, but I think that it has mostly to do with the media and them presenting this as the ideal and as the norm. The answer isn't to do away with the thin alternative, but to present other options. We can't place all the blame on the media because after all we buy the media. And what the media puts out there is confirmed by what we see in our own lives. To find more specific information, I think that you should read Suzy Orbach's Fat Is A Feminist Issue as well as Joan Brumberg's The Body Project.

- Amy