National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, February 22-28, 2015
February 24, 2015
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But an image is not always a true representation of reality. From Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr to fashion magazines and reality shows, we are bombarded with images that have been created, filtered, manipulated, and staged. And it’s often very difficult to sift through what’s real and what’s not.

This is precisely why Dove began its Campaign for Real Beauty—to start a global discussion surrounding the definition of real beauty. It first conducted a study titled “The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report,” which revealed that less than 2% of women worldwide considered themselves beautiful. In a Dove Real Sketches video, participants were asked to describe themselves to an artist, who drew them behind a curtain, using only their descriptions of themselves as a guide. Then the same women returned to describe fellow participants. The difference between the two drawings was astonishing, and it revealed how hard we are on ourselves versus how others see us.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 30 million people will be affected by an eating disorder during their lifetime. A full 69% of American school-age girls who read magazines say that the pictures they see influence how their concept of an ideal body shape. Boys are also affected, and largely because of cultural bias and stereotypes, they are much less likely to seek treatment. In addition, teen athletes are more at risk of developing an eating disorder or having a negative body image.

It is daunting to compete with society and media, so the NEDA has developed an Educator’s Toolkit to help those in schools reach out to students suffering from an eating disorder. It covers everything from myths surrounding these disorders (e.g., that eating disorders are a choice; p. 6) to school strategies for assisting these students (p. 11). NEDA also has a Feeding Hope Fund, which grants funding to researchers who are seeking out new ways to combat this illness.

Some of the most groundbreaking work has been done related to connecting genetics to eating disorders, according to Amy Novotny in an article published in the American Psychological Association publication the Monitor. One study by Kelly Klump in Psychological Medicine demonstrates that heritability influences disordered eating most when estrogen levels are highest, and another suggests that in some females, bulimia may be hard-wired.

Organizations like Project Heal are contributing to the healing process in a different way: the organization, started by two women who suffered from eating disorders, provides scholarship funding for those who can’t afford treatment. And still others are trying innovative interventions, including art therapy and yoga, which could encourage participants to view their bodies in a more compassionate way.

The NEDA Web site offers a plethora of resources, including a resource page with contact information and a helpline (1-800-931-2237) for those who may know someone who suffers from an eating disorder. Visit NEDA’s Get Involved page to learn more about how to raise awareness.