Girl Talk: Dieting and Eating Disorders

Through various forms of media Latinas are seen to be either “short, fat, ugly, poor, uneducated, or gangster,” or “sexy, exotic, naughty, and beautiful.” Apparently, in the eyes of the media, we are either maids or accessory girlfriends- a portrayal of less than 1% of the actual Latina population. Such a phenomena is known as underrepresented bias.

Underrepresented bias, however, can be misleading and dangerous. For example, if a doctor has an underrepresented bias of cancer test results, that means the doctor probably took a sample of benign cells only, even though cancerous cells were present. He or she then concluded that the patient didn’t have cancer. Without a second opinion, this patient might never get the treatment he or she needs to recover.

For young Latinas, the media’s underrepresented bias towards Latinas unconsciously implants lies into their brain, which can lead to skewed self-identity. They might feel that as a Latina they can only succeed if they play the role of a sexy, accessory girlfriend, or incorrectly assume that they are destined to be “low-lives.” Worse, they might begin to associate “good looks” to success, and “ugliness” to failure.

More and more adolescents resort to dieting, and eventually disordered eating, to attain their idealized figure. A diet can be healthy, but not always. A person (or animal’s) diet needs to specifically fulfill their needs. Some people need to stay away from gluten, due to Celiac Disease. Others might need more protein in order to build muscle. Most of the time, the media tries to tell us that certain diets can help one “lose weight fast” by cutting calories, carbohydrates, or fats. While their claims may be true, it doesn’t mean that this kind of diet is healthy for everyone. Calories, carbohydrates, and fats are required at different quantities for different people, and are essential to life. Nonetheless, the way the media portrays these diets can influence people to believe that they’re”good, healthy diets” for everyone, justifying what can become anorexia or orthorexia.

Of course, the media isn’t the sole cause of eating disorders. Eating disorders might emerge from past experiences with bullying. They might be triggered by a highly stressful point in life, when one feels their only sense of control is in what they eat. Often times, they start off as an attempt to eat healthier, but become addiction later on. Other forms of eating disorders, like bulimia and binge eating disorder, stem from emotional eating. Lastly, there is EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified).

Among Latinas, food culture conflicts with American standards. Food can be a big part family and social life in Latin countries, but not so much in America.

“In my experience, the eating disorder started as anorexia but it was was hard to maintain because food is such an important part of my culture and it’s always being presented or pushed,” explains Anahi Ortega.

If a Latina has a bad relationship with food, her traditional family might not understand its mental and emotional value, treating it as a physical problem. The food culture also makes binge eating and bulimia easier to hide. As a result, many Latinas go undiagnosed. 10% of Americans were found to experience an eating disorder sometime in their life, while at least yearlong present anorexia was found to be 0.02%, bulimia at 0.92%, and binge eating disorder at 1.19% in Latinas.

The low percentages are evidence that eating disorders need to be made more aware of and become less of a taboo to Hispanic culture.

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