Jericho’s Obsession with Skinny Takes a Toll

By CHLOE SHAKIN and AMANDA RITTER

image004[1]Originally published June 2013

*Some names have been changed to maintain subjects’ privacy.

Day by day, Natalie* would eat less and less.

Day one: She removed the bread and cheese from her usual turkey sandwich for lunch.

Day two: She went without dinner to prevent any bloating for the pool party the following morning.

Day three: She consumed about 300 calories for the entire day.

She grew increasingly neurotic, counting calories and restraining herself from eating during her lunch period. It got to the point two months later that Natalie was literally starving herself.

Like so many girls, Natalie’s story is not uncommon. In fact, in Jericho, 32% of students polled in a survey admitted to starving themselves for various reasons.

Senior Cora said her school life affects how she eats more so than anything. She feels intimidated and demeaned by the girls who seem to have it all. “One’s skinnier than the next, prettier, it’s like you can’t win. Then you starve yourself because you feel pressured by your peers to be that way, and then when you feel pressured by your school work, tests, the works, the pressure makes you eat. It’s an unhealthy cycle that all too many girls follow.”

“You can only be popular if you’re skinny,” JHS junior Dana* said.

Unfortunately, this same notion has been reinforced through the omnipotent world of technology. In a society dictated by social media, television, and magazines, the unrealistic, airbrushed and doctored body type prevalently portrayed has conjured up this false concept of what an ideal body should look like.

“I think society really says to women, ‘the thinner, the better,’” social worker Todd Benjamin said.  “If you look at ads or models, most of the models are painfully thin. And I think it puts pressure on people to see that that’s healthy. I think we all know that’s not the case.”

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However, in 2006, the Italian fashion brand Nolita plastered images of the extremely emaciated Italian model Isabelle Caro (shot by controversial Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani) throughout major cities like Milan in attempts to make passersby realize the acute consequences of advanced anorexia.

Barely over 60 lbs when the jarring photographs were taken, Caro’s limbs were stick-like; her was face haggard; her sharp cheekbones looked as if they could cut through her translucent skin at any given moment; her teeth looked too large for her emaciated face. After struggling with an enduring eating disorder that first reared its ugly head when she was a mere 13 years old, Caro, then 27, wanted to prevent other girls from ending up in a state similar to hers—just a step away from death.

“I’ve hidden myself and covered myself for too long,” Caro said after the images were first circulated. “Now I want to show myself fearlessly, even though I know my body arouses repugnance. I want to recover because I love life and the riches of the universe. I want to show young people how dangerous this illness is.”

The controversial photographs were soon taken down due to Fabiola De Clercq, the president of Italy’s Association for the Study of Anorexia. He insisted that, instead of helping anorexics, the images could make such women feel envious of Caro and determined to become even thinner than her.

Caro sadly passed on and permanently succumbed to the illness shortly thereafter, but her warnings against falling victim to destructive eating patterns have not reached the minds of some JHS students.

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“I have girls that come in and tell me they have ‘300 days,’ which means they only eat 300 calories that day,” Benjamin said. “They set their calories before they even walk into school.”

When asked about her observations in the cafeteria, senior Carly Krauser said, “People really don’t eat.” Junior Jessica Fuchs said that she mainly sees her girlfriends eat small snacks “like fruit.”

Prior to major events like prom or the annual fashion show, many girls often put anti-eating messages as their phone backgrounds. Senior girls have sported pictures on their lock screens that boast messages like, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” or “You’re not hungry—you’re bored. Drink water. Learn the difference.”

It doesn’t take a nutritionist to understand that subsiding on sugar-free granola bars, sushi sans rice, and the occasional apple or handful of berries is unhealthy. However, there are some JHS girls who have found a healthier alternative to lose weight. Instead of crash dieting, girls such as Kay* turn to portion control and an appropriate amount of exercise.

Since freshman year, Kay* has tried vegetarianism, a vegan lifestyle, and other fad diets in a healthy way. Now, she believes she has struck a happy balance .

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Many Jericho parents are extremely upset when they see their daughters and their friends partake in yo-yo dieting and are very disenchanted about the body image views perpetuated on their children.

“I think it’s obscene and incredibly sad that mothers and daughters in this area feel the pressure to fit into a size zero,” Jericho parent Meredith Ritter said.

Because Jericho stimulates such an overachieving and high-pressured environment, it’s no surprise that, despite being a nationally ranked school, students have fostered this unattainable goal of perfection. Body image is a focal point most girls feel they can control, but this can lead to anxiety and neurosis.

“I cut carbs for a while and became really neurotic about what I was eating, and now as a consequence I get mad at myself,” senior Carly Sandler said. “I used to have a protein bar and apple in school and only eat at dinner, but then I’d binge. Every day I think about what I eat. I used to not, and now it’s sort of unhealthy for me.”

Sandler argues that the school day is actually counterproductive to a healthy lifestyle because it convinces your body to eat more. Fellow senior Jessica Sklar said the health-conscious students who eat before school convince themselves to eat during their frees or lunch periods (which could be at 10:30 a.m.) Then they go home and have two more meals.

In addition to the constant academic pressure many JHS students are burdened with, students also face the struggle of fitting in from the very first day they step into the high school during their freshman year. Many girls, desperate to make friends and fit in with a group of their peers, conform in order to be included. Such conforming often takes place through altering their appearances; since weight is such a touchy subject among teenagers, it tends to be one of the first things to be considered.

“My friends, for senior year, wanted to have this outer body transformation so they were all conscious about what they were eating, which then made me conscious of what I was eating,” Sandler said. Potentially dangerous dieting can spread like wildfire through the halls of JHS, and when one is faced with the choice of partaking in a possibly destructive behavior or being ostracized by her friends, many girls will often choose the former.

“There’s definitely a cause and effect between behaviors and the friend groups we choose,” Benjamin said of the phenomenon, which he often encounters during his interactions with students.

“Being ‘skinny’ has become something of a phenomenon at Jericho,” JHS senior Cora* said. “It seems the only thing girls can talk about is, ‘What can I eat tonight?’ ‘What cant I eat?’ ‘Is this too many calories?’ ‘I feel fat.’”

“Now I’m trying to maintain my weight in a healthy way and not be so obsessed with ‘skinny’,” Sandler said. “Now I’m on a meal plan where I eat unlimited proteins and vegetables.”

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Sandler’s battle with her weight throughout high school also stemmed from influence from her family, as is common with many students in Jericho.

“My mom and sister started to pick on me and insinuate that there was something wrong with the way I was eating,” Sandler said.

And yet, among the dieting hysteria, others have found solace in exercising as an alternative or an additive to what can sometimes be diagnosed as Body Dysmorphia.

From a clinical standpoint, school psychologist Danielle Largotta-Smith has found that teens can endure a relentless battle with finding solace in their weight, which can sometimes lead to Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, Body Dysmorphia is characterized as a “pathological preoccupation with an imagined or slight physical defect of one’s body to the point of causing significant stress or behavioral impairment.”

“Body Dysmorphia may start at age 13, and during high school it shifts,” Largotta-Smith said. “The child may get treatment and get through it, but they go to college and it comes back. This doesn’t go away, but if they get the appropriate treatment, I’ve seen a complete 180 in these kids’ thinking and a decrease in their levels of stress.”

In a JerEcho survey of 123 students, 30% said they think about their bodies more than five times a day. Some 59% reported that Jericho High School influences the way they view their bodies.

One girl said in her survey, “Everyone’s so skinny, and I’m not. It makes me feel self-conscious and bad about my body.”

To feel as though girls in the Jericho community are hurting like this is a call to action. By learning facts about anorexia and other eating disorders, the community can be aware of the pressures afflicting students and treat this epidemic of ‘skinny’ more effectively.

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