Posts Tagged ‘bulimia’

Consumer or Consumed? See it, Want it, Need it, Have it.

June 10, 2012

Disclaimer to my dad: Do not read this.

Last week at work, I got a large ink stain on my beautiful $250 Tory Burch burnt orange wallet. Devastated, I almost cried, but then I would have smudged my $35 Christian Dior mascara. Still feeling downtrodden after work I walked outside and of course it was raining, not unusual for Vancouver. Still, my $200 denim Filson tote bag does not zip up and I did not want it’s contents to get wet, and I was sporting my $300 open-toed Jeffery Campbell clogs. I couldn’t possibly walk to the bus stop in this state, so I opted to take a cab. At home, I did some research into the removal of ink stains from leather and was able to clean my wallet with the first aid staple isopropyl alcohol. I was so giddy at my resourcefulness that I felt I should reward myself. Essentially I had saved the price of a new wallet. Since I needed to return something at the nearest Winners I decided to go shopping. While there I was ecstatic to find that they had Hudson jeans in stock for half of the regular $200 retail price. What a great deal! I have been doing “The Brazilian Butt Workout” (purchased from an infomercial for $69.99) religiously. It has guaranteed to bring my bottom from flat to fab, and while I have noticed no change as of yet, nothing makes your ass look better than designer jeans! I have a chest of drawers full of them to prove it. And because they were half price, I opted to buy 2 instead of 1. It only makes financial sense.

I tell you all of this not to brag about my possessions or to give you mundane details of my life. I want to illustrate that I am the penultimate consumer of goods. Ads in fashion magazines? I am their target customer. Billboards? They scream to me. Why are there ads in buses, on the backs of toilet stalls, before previews in movies or on the backs of seats in cabs? For people like me. As much as I try to resist the evil influence of media, I am bewitched by the sparkling jewels, the perfectly pulled together models, the picture of the happy life that one pair of patent stilettos will bring me. Rationally, I know it is all fake. The models are photoshopped. The scenery is just a set. The smiles are forced. But when I see the ads, or the beautiful merchandise carefully and captivatingly displayed in the store, I am no less seduced. My pulse quickens, my breathing shallows. The commercial equivalent of the bad boy who’s no good for you, but who you just can’t get enough of.

It may seem I covet only designer brands. Not so. I am not exclusive. I want everything. It’s true that as I have gotten older I have begun to appreciate quality more, but I don’t search out brand names and actually prefer not to wear anything with a flashy label. (I might be a sucker for billboards, but I don’t want to BE one). Make something appealing in some clever and manipulative way, and I will be enticed to buy it. Half price? SOLD! Sample sale? I will push a physically disabled child out of the way to buy a fur coat in July. If it is limited edition, I’ll take 2. I don’t understand the concept of choosing between 2 items. Why make a decision you might second guess when you could just buy both and be twice as happy? Internet shopping is a skill. I am an expert. I believe you can never, ever have too many shoes. Shoes are like diamonds. They are forever. Your ass might get too fat for your jeans. Your feet will never get too fat for your shoes. If they do, you can still put them on display in a cabinet because they are works of art.

I fell in love with Tom Ford’s Santal Blush perfume. It is the most expensive perfume I have ever bought but I can’t get enough of it. It is my favorite of the 11 perfumes I currently have. Of course it is limited edition. Almost as soon as I bought the first bottle I started to worry. What will I do when this runs out?  When the worry became panic I bought a second bottle. My fear abated. Now I am almost halfway done the first bottle and I am becoming uneasy again. It is sold out but I could probably get a bottle on Ebay for a somewhat reasonable price. In London, I spotted a girl wearing a pair of wedge sneakers on the Subway. I needed to have them. All I knew was they were black and white and they had the word limited on them. As I am a self-proclaimed expert at internet shopping I was able to find out that they were the limited edition Ash Bowie high-top trainer. I found them at Selfridge’s and bought them for a steal at 150 pounds. I chose to ignore the 1.6 exchange rate. It was exhilarating. If I couldn’t have found them there, I could have ordered them online. I have both US and UK mailing addresses in case websites won’t mail to Canada. I can have packages forwarded to me from these mailboxes. This is necessary for all of the internet shopping I do. I recently wrote an exam through work. As a reward to myself, I decided I should buy myself something. I bought a $400 rose gold Tiffany key. I deserved it. Of course the results don’t come for 6-8 weeks, but I feel good about it. When I get the results, I’ll really celebrate. A pair of earrings caught my eye in the window of a Tibetan shop the other day. I stopped in and ended up talking to the owner for some length about Buddhism. He was so kind, I felt compelled to buy something. After all, he is an independent business owner and likely struggling in this economy. I bought a handcrafted steel wool scarf and a book in addition to the earrings. The book is on my bookshelf along with the 20 or so others I have not yet read. I buy books at a greater speed than I can read them. I could go on, but I think you get the drift.

From what you have read above you probably imagine me to be completely shallow and vain, not to mention imprudent and lacking in intelligence. This is not true in general. I am quite clever. I put myself through university mainly with scholarships and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. I have a good job, a pretty healthy amount of money in savings and am not in debt. I make an effort to be well rounded, enjoying several pastimes apart from shopping. I like reading, I dabble in photography, I jog, spend time with friends and my fiancee, take a dance class, am learning the guitar and of course write this blog. So if I have half a brain, and I recognize I have a problem, why don’t I just stop buying things I don’t need? Simple enough. Except that it’s not. Drug addicts can, for the most part, stay away from drugs, if they avoid the people and places associated with their drug addiction. Alcoholics can avoid alcohol. I can avoid the mall, buying magazines, or internet shopping. But I can’t avoid ads entirely. They are everywhere. I also can’t avoid seeing ‘things’ everywhere that I will want. I can’t avoid stores for the rest of my life. Eventually I will need to buy something necessary for life, whether it be food or drink, or even clothing, which is a necessity, although admittedly not in the excess that I indulge in it. Furthermore, as a woman who has a history of an eating disorder, I am at increased risk of addiction. Up to 50% of eating disorder patients abuse alcohol or drugs compared to just 9% of the general population. Bulimia has an obsessive compulsive component, so it is no surprise that I would substitute this type of behaviour with compulsive shopping. Impulsivity is a personality trait linked to bulimia. It is also a characteristic of shopping addiction.

Is my behavior out of my control? Of course not. It may take some work, but I have overcome worse. I have a wedding coming up, and I would rather serve Bollinger than Budweiser so I have a strict budget to adhere to. It’s time to tighten the purse strings, starting now. Or maybe tomorrow. Today I think I will see if I can find a book illustrating the concept of saving. And perhaps a new purse, with strings.


March 14, 2012

On February 27th the Washington Post published the results of a study showing that although black women were on average heavier than white women, they had significantly higher levels of self-esteem. 41% of average or thin white women reported having high self-esteem. However 66% of overweight or obese (according to government standards) black women reported having high self esteem. The study also reports that 28% of black women think that being physically attractive is “very important” vs 11% of white women. This would seem to indicate that black women don’t believe that being thin is as strongly linked to attractiveness as white women do. The article cites one reason for the study’s findings as being the mainstream media’s traditional exclusion of African-American women from it’s demographic, leaving them less affected by the images of extreme thinness surrounding them. It is true that historically fashion and advertising has been geared mainly towards a white audience. In a February 22 2011 article in the Guardian UK edition titled ‘Fashion probably is a bit racist’,  Premier Modeling Agency founder Carole White is quoted as saying about the fashion industry “It’s driven by what sells, and, in general, white blonde girls sell, that’s the mindset. In actual fact, black girls do sell but they’re not given as many openings. It is safer to go with a white girl, and in a recession people are very conservative.” The media role models that black women tend to look up to and admire are women who embrace their curves, musical icons and voluptuous actresses, and African-American culture encourages a curvy, healthy shape. Therefore black women tend to embrace a larger frame than many white women strive for. The results from the Washington Post survey are consistent with similar earlier studies. A study published November 1992 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders also concluded that blacks had better body image attitudes and had body size ideals that were less thin and more congruent with their own current perceived size. They also had less strict criteria for perceiving body fatness. In another study published March 2010 in the Journal of Black Studies, 2 sets of photos were shown to 31 white and 30 African-American undergraduate students. One set of photos showed slender white female models representing the “media ideal” and the other set showed white female models representing an “average” build. Caucasian models were used as they represented the majority of images in magazines and catalogs. When white women viewed the set of slides showing the “ideal” photos they reported more body dissatisfaction than before viewing them. They felt better about their bodies after seeing the “average” photos. African-American students reported no change in body satisfaction after viewing either set of photos. Because the study didn’t look at how black women felt after looking at unrealistic images of other black women, the study could not conclude that African-American women were immune to all media influences,however they did not seem to have the same body standards for themselves as white women which seemed to be strongly influence by mainstream media.

While this all seems like great news for black women, no race/ethnicity or class of people is immune to eating disorders. In the US an estimated 10 million females are battling eating disorders. In Canada 1.5% of women aged 15-24 have an eating disorder. While there is no clear data on the prevalence of eating disorders among the various races, a study published in the Archives in Family Medicine in 2000 found that black women were just as likely as white women to report recurrent binge eating and vomiting, and were actually more likely to abuse laxatives or diuretics. And there is evidence that the rate of eating disorders in minority women is increasing, according to a 2005 NY Times article entitled ‘Blacks Join the Eating-Disorder Mainstream’. In the article a Dr. Brooks states “We’re noticing a trend of more severe eating disorders among African-American girls”.However data is often skewed as minority women are less likely to seek treatment. Dr. Ruth Striegel-Moore published a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2003 showing young black women were as likely as white women to report binge eating. During her research she also found that compared to 28% of white women, only 5% of black women reported having received treatment. There has also been a push within the last decade for companies to diversify their media campaigns to include a wider range of models more representative of consumer culture. Unfortunately, the models used to epitomize ethnic beauty are nothing like the buxom, curvy, proud women so revered in African-American culture, but instead the same skeletal remains of women that have been walking runways and gracing magazine covers for years, only a different color. So, in effect, the more black women become integrated into the mainstream, the more pressure they may feel to fit a beauty standard that seems to narrow every day.

On the complete other end of the spectrum, the article in the Washington Post alludes to another issue affecting black (and in fact all North American) women today. The article describes how by black women being happier and more accepting of fuller figures, they have put themselves on a “slippery slope toward higher rates of obesity”. According to current statistics, 36.2% of US women and 23.9% of Canadian women are considered obese (BMI 30 or greater). In the US, African-American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese than any group, with 4/5 black women being overweight or obese. Black women have a 60% higher chance of being obese than white women. From 2005-2008 78% of black women and 59.6% of white women were overweight (BMI 25 or greater), with 51 of the black women and 33.1% of the white women being considered obese. Both genetic predisposition and high obesity rates put African-American women at high risk for many serious medical conditions. 13% of African-American’s over 20 have diabetes. There appears to be a genetic link in this population, however with lifestyle interventions, one of them being weight loss, many people can delay of even halt the progression of diabetes. 40% of African-Americans also have hypertension or high blood pressure, and it tends to appear earlier in life and be more severe than in caucasians. High blood pressure increases the risk of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), blindness, kidney failure, congestive heart failure, heart attack and stroke. PAD is a result of fatty deposits that limit blood flow to the limbs and is more common in African-Americans than any other ethnic group. Risk factors are increased blood pressure and diabetes, and PAD can result in limb amputation. Obesity greatly increases the risk of all of these conditions and can significantly shorten a woman’s life.

So clearly there is a dilemma. The study in the Washington Post tells us that though on average heavier, African-American women seem to be more content with their bodies than white women, and this is something to be proud of. On the flip side, statistics show that the majority of African-American women in the United States are overweight or obese, potentially putting their health at serious risk, which is something that needs to change. Adjuvantly, eating disorders are prevalent among North American women, affecting women of all ages and races, and are also life-threatening, with the prevalence in black women increasing. In the Washington Post study 90% of black women thought it was ‘very important’ to live a healthy lifestyle, so clearly these women need to strike a balance. I think that the women who can celebrate themselves no matter what their size and resist the media influences that tell us that all women should fit into one mold should be applauded, and in fact envy these women at times. However I think it is also important not to forget that part of loving and respecting your body is keeping it healthy and working well so you can continue to live and enjoy life and flaunt the body you love. The media would like women to believe that a healthy weight range fluctuates within only about 5 pounds (between skinny and thin) but in reality there is a relatively large range of sizes that are considered healthy. So take note: no need to lose those curves!!