Ally McMeal

Sandra Fu

Does this meal sound familiar to you? A low-carb, low-fat, high-protein salad sans dressing with lemon wedges on the side. Do you glare at it with undisguised contempt, cringing as you lift a forkful of garbanzo beans and arugula to your lips? If so, then, like many others -- primarily women -- you may have lost touch with the joy of food.

Women today are on a mission to drastically lose weight, one that may ultimately result in disappointment. They are constantly bombarded with images of an unrealistic body ideal -- from the anorexic-looking Calista Flockhart to the buxom but rail-thin Gisele Bundchen – and it’s an ideal that some of them desperately want to achieve.

“We are not comfortable with seeing a female body, a true female body. We like them to be flat with no moving flab, big-busted, and the breasts aren’t supposed to move,” Susan Shapiro, Ph.D., M.S., R.D. comments.

This fanatic quest to be thin and big-busted -- basically a Barbie doll -- is an epidemic that has been around for centuries. “It goes as far back as the era of Cleopatra,” Shapiro adds. “We’ve only had a few years where Rubenesque has even been acceptable. There has always been something about keeping women small.”

So why do women feel the need to give into such pressures and expectations? Shouldn’t they be proud of their womanly physiques, revel in the natural curve of their bellies and the softness of their upper arms?

It’s not that easy when many women still hold firm to the fantasy of thinness they find in the emaciated actresses and starved models gracing endless magazines. Clinical psychologist Christine Jaynes-Bell, Ph.D., who works with many young girls with body image problems, says that what is not stated in such pictures usually tells a more valuable story.

“Notice the Calvin Klein ads,” says Jaynes-Bell. “The models look very gaunt and unhealthy. You’ll find that a lot of these girls are on drugs, mainly speed, to keep their weight down. It’s a big problem in the modeling industry.”

Unfortunately, it is still not enough of a problem to convince all women that the bodies they see in the media are unrealistic and unhealthy. “It all looks so right,” many may think to themselves. But have you ever really taken a good look at them? That disinterested gaze, staring off into another dimension, unable to focus on the here and now. They barely look awake, and do you know why?

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