Focusing on the body’s wisdom


A caption on a flyer in my mailbox reads: “It’s a girl thing.” This ad for a local fitness club also has a photo of a very thin, muscular young woman on the cover. ‘You too can look like this’ is the implicit message. The pressure on young women these days to be thin and muscular is extreme. A deluge of images from all media (television, Internet, print, etc.) indirectly and at times directly, tell young women that femininity is about appearance and that there is one standard for how you look —muscular and thin.

The content of this website is derived from a study entitled “Dishonouring Radiance.” The goal of the study is two-fold. First, to understand more about young women’s experience of their bodies in this toxic climate; and, secondly to suggest strategies both individual and collective which will help young women cope with this extreme pressure to be thin.

A comprehensive literature review of prevention programs was undertaken which indicated that they are largely unsuccessful. Experts in the field identified the need for qualitative research in order to explore the meaning of young women’s experience with their bodies and with food. Approximately one in ten young women are at risk of developing a full-blown eating disorder for which the strongest indicators are dissatisfaction with their bodies and unhealthy eating practices. Both of these are common among adolescents—skipping breakfast, using laxatives, vomiting, diet pills, fasting and excessive exercise are all used to attempt to control their weight.

Psychologically, dieters score lower on measures of self-esteem and feelings of self-control. The medical consequences of chronic dieting include an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and death. Losing weight then gaining it back (weight cycling) has been associated with increased psychopathology, lower life satisfaction, disturbed eating, increased risk of binge eating and obesity. Dieting is not good for your health.

The focus of this research is the excessive preoccupation among young women of the food that they eat, their body weight and their body shape (FSW). Given the overall failure of prevention programs which in some cases have even increased disordered eating we need to ask how might the structure and the content of prevention programs be made more effective?

Investigation of eating disorder treatment outcomes is so poor that the disease is considered chronic, partially because of high relapse rates.