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Home   /   The romanticization of eating disorders in secondary schools

“Equating it to a drug and alcohol addiction is helpful as people easily understand it – it’s very   comparable.” Amy Foss-Clark reports.

You’re not sure of who you are in secondary school. Year 7 and 8 are fun and somewhat care-free. You just look a bit silly with your massive backpack compared to your diddy body. But you don’t care how many inches wide your waist is yet.

“Would girls in your year openly speak about trying to teat less or starving themselves to be thinner?” I asked this question to one woman who attended an all-girls secondary school and a mixed gender secondary school, named Rosie, and another woman who attended a private mixed school, named Tilly.

“Quite a lot, especially from year 9 onwards when we were still having meals together sat in the school dining room.” Rosie said that “In year 7-8 people didn’t really care but I do think that as the years went on there were some comments thrown about at certain people kind of relating to fat phobia.”

Tilly said that in her school; “There would be jokes when we were children like ‘ugh I’m so fat I’m going on a diet’. But I only noticed it becoming more real once we were 15/16 and girls would be talking about going on a diet together and they’d follow through with it.”

My earliest memory of my eating disorder is when I was in year 9. There was going to be a party. I was gifted with two large bucked front teeth that rested damply on the top of my bottom lip. I had mousy blonde hair that hung limply from my scalp – I was not invited to the party. In the build up to it, the boys who had received a shiny invite via Instagram DM spoke blaringly of which girl they yearned to “get off with” at the party. A name in the tips of all their tongues was Jasmine. Jasmine had caramel skin that complimented her thick, glossy, dark brown hair that fell around her face effortlessly, shaping it into an oval that was largely made up of her spell bounding eyes. Everyone believed this girl to be perfect.

It was the day of the party, and I was sat next to Jasmine in French. Due to my mouse-like powers, I blended in nimbly to the wall and overheard a conversation that altered my teenage years. Jasmine turned to her friends and said, “Don’t worry, I haven’t eaten anything today and I won’t eat dinner. I want to look good tonight.” Her friends giggled. From then on really, I learned to enjoy the pains of hunger.

Rosie noted that when she was at the mixed school; “girls craved the male validation more. In secondary school it was very evident that people were craving male validation, but I think it was more so in the mixed school.”

Tilly says that being at a private school, they’re very sport oriented and girls would use this an excuse to starve themselves. She said “Male validation isn’t the only motivator for eating disorders in secondary school but it’s a large one. Being in a mixed school, boys can make mean and harsh comments on girls’ bodies. They would comment on the slightness of a girl by saying ‘she has no boobs or bum!’ but largely, the cruelty was aimed towards bigger girls.”

There is a profuse amount of pressure on young girls to be thin to fit in. With magazines and the internet being so accessible, how can young girls not get caught up in the trap that is starvation?

I asked Rosie, “Why do you think young girls feel the pressure to be thin?”

“I think a lot of it’s because of the models and thin women that you see online, and, in the magazines, you look at.”

“I think a lot of people’s mums have an influence because I think a lot of people’s mums are like ‘I’m going on a diet’ or ‘you can’t eat that that’ll make you fat’ and I think that has a massive influence on young girls.”

“Everything they’re consuming in the media as well is really bad, also their peers and I think a lot of girls grow up doing dance lessons and I know that has a massive impact of girls body image.”

Tilly agreed that mums play a big part in a young girl’s relationship with food; “Our parent’s generation, when they were younger, craved to be as thin as a stick. My mum used to make comments about other people’s weight and these comments stuck with me and affected what I ate.”

I reached out to a student wellbeing advisor, for confidentiality I shall falsely name her as Maggie.

“Equating it to a drug and alcohol addiction is helpful as people easily understand it – it’s very comparable.” Maggie.

She said to parents/carers and teachers; “You must be so wary of what you’re saying to students, even if they appear to be healthy. It can often take just one sentence to trigger the catalyst of someone’s eating disorder.”

Maggie stresses that “just because you have a title, you still must be careful of your language. Don’t be disparaging about anyone with an eating disorder or anyone with a different body shape. Even if a student is extremely stable and the teacher makes a comment on their looks and says they look nice – this can have so many implications and is just inappropriate.”

There’s a long way to go in the terms of eradicating eating disorders amongst young girls, and the more that we educate ourselves on the dangerous language used by some, and the toxic images regurgitated out by others, we can understand them more – thus expanding our resources to help stop eating disorders forming before they’ve even started.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder of know anyone who is, contact BEAT on;

0808 801 0677 – England.

0808 801 0432 – Scotland.

0808801 0433 – Wales.

0808 801 0434 – Northern Ireland.

Or visit their website; The UK’s Eating Disorder Charity – Beat (beateatingdisorders.org.uk)

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