The notoriety of Barbie’s unrealistic body type is not a new phenomenon. Barbie’s body shape of a tiny waist, wide hips, large chest and tall height is found merely in “one of every 2.4 billion women,” as Hannah Rosenfield stated in her 11/30 column.
For a woman to achieve this body type, she would have to be severely underweight and malnourished. Barbie is not merely a toy in this sense, but rather a proponent of poor body image for young children.
According to DoSomething.org, 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies and as a result, turn to dieting or disordered eating. This could take on many forms, like eating less than what one’s body needs to sustain vital functions, cutting out gluten from one’s diet, going on a juice cleanse, overexercising, not consuming foods with added sugar or binging and purging.
Twenty percent of college students, according to the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association, state that they have an eating disorder currently or have in the past. Yet, what seems to be even more startling is the fact that this number spikes in college athletes.
As a college athlete, it seems as though students who run the highest risk of developing eating disorders are those whose sports have a heavy focus on weight, appearance or individual performance. Such sports include rowing, gymnastics, swimming and diving, dancing, running and wrestling.
These sports are unique as they separate athletes by weight, promote an ideal body type that is often underweight and therefore not able to sustain the necessary muscle for the sport or hold an ideology that the smaller the body is, the faster, stronger and more competitive the athlete will be.
It is not uncommon for rowers and wrestlers to go days without eating, causing their bodies to conserve fat and tear down muscle in what is known as starvation mode. They also drink gallons of water to gain water weight, which carries the risk of flushing out vital electrolytes such as sodium, calcium and potassium from the body.
It is key to note here that Barbie dolls and their emphasis on an ideal body is not completely culpable for the development of disordered eating and eating disorders. However, many geneticists in eating disorder treatment centers state, “Genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.”
So, while Barbie is a negative proponent of eating disorders among a population that is seemingly the most vulnerable to the development of eating disorders, it is not the sole cause for an illness.
With eating disorders on the rise and anorexia nervosa carrying the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, it is more crucial than ever to build a strong community that promotes the antithesis — body acceptance and gratitude.
There is a highly systematic approach to eating — intuitive eating — that is the exact opposite of an eating disorder. Intuitive eating focuses on listening to one’s body’s needs rather than zoning out or ignoring them, like in many cases of disordered eating.
To an athlete, for example, this could look like eating a meal heavy in protein and carbohydrates the day before a competition to sustain the most energy and muscle, rather than turning to more extreme measures.
We have movements such as Circles of Change from Ophelia’s Place, located in Syracuse, New York and Gilbert, Arizona. Their mission is “to redefine beauty and health by empowering individuals, families, and communities impacted by eating disorders, disordered eating, and body dissatisfaction.”
Here at Binghamton University, the first National Eating Disorders Association walk is being organized by students. Barbie’s “perfect body” has no place here.
Kara Bilello is a junior double-majoring in English and Spanish.