ED patients jump all over the demographic landscape, from children as young as six to women in their eighties, to men and boys. Ten million women and one million men have eating disorders, and twenty-five million people struggle with binge eating, the latest wrinkle in the obesity epidemic.
In times of famine, only the rich were fat. Now that anyone can look like Henry VIII—and too many people do—he's gone out of fashion. The most self-accepting among us still despair of our own spare tires.
This scourge hits our children at their most vulnerable. When I was a miserable teenager, my main focus of personal failure was having curly brown hair in a blond surfer-girl culture. But I could look forward to college, where a single standard of beauty wouldn't snuff out all the rest, brains would matter, and the population would be more diverse. We had Barbie, but compared with what came before and after, we lucked out in the sixties and seventies, when there were lots of really bad ways to look. My mother's generation and Lisa's generation have a tougher time with the One-Look-Fits-All dictators.
The Eating Disorder Referral and Information website gets over 3,200 visits a day—and that's only one of dozens of such websites. Anorexia and bulimia are so virulent that even with professional care, forty percent of patients never recover.
Then there are the rest of us, who occasionally diet but are always aware of our weight, and it's always too high. Psychology Today found that eighty-nine percent of women want to lose weight. But this statistic is even more stunning: Twenty-four percent of women would sacrifice three years of life to lose weight. Refusing food is a time-honored form of protest, whether you're a child objecting to broccoli or Mahatma Gandhi fighting British colonial rule of India. What's new is the relentless beat that skinny is best (ever more so with big breasts, like the classic Barbie figure) and the common acceptance of that inhuman ideal. We worship deprivation and disdain gluttony as sinful and repellant. Better by far to be hungry. Girls earn bragging rights based on how little they eat, as do women who are old enough to know better. They share tips for reaching the promised land of Size Zero and even better, Size Double Zero.