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Anorexia is about mind over body

(China Daily)

09:11, September 06, 2012

When Web-surfer "Lachesis" found there were no anorexia support websites in China, she decided to set up an online group on Douban.com, a well-known social website in China. In March this year, her website was launched, and now Anorexia Nervosa Is Lifestyle Choice has attracted more than 80 members.

Members share experiences on how to lose weight healthily, how to cope with families who are not supportive, and of course, case studies of famous people with anorexia nervosa.

Another online group that many of its members also log on to is a site named Trapped in Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa, which has almost 2,400 members.

"I think I'm a freak, now I have found an organization," says netizen "Mogu Bu Kaihua" in a post. She says her body weight increased from 45 kg to 55 kg, but now she weighs 44 kg, and she hopes to keep it there.

Women have been concerned about their weight throughout history.

For thousands of years, Chinese were not peculiarly concerned with being slim. In fact, in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), they actually considered it charming to be slightly overweight.

"The definition of beauty is decided by politics, economy, and those who have the power," says Feng Yuan, a sociologist on gender equality. "Often, people are not aware that they are being manipulated by these factors."

Feng adds that in her youth in the 1970s, no one seemed concerned about dieting.

"China is going through what Western countries went through in the 1960s and 1970s," says Zhang Darong, a psychologist with Peking University No 6 Hospital, adding that it was only after the 1980s that the incidence rate of anorexia nervosa in China escalated.

It's also about the perceptions of beauty and the body shapes of those who represent beauty in popular media.

A modeling agent, who only wanted to be known as Xu, says all the models he meets are underweight and often anorexic. Many are super models. They weigh from only 45 to 50 kg and they are often taller than average.

"You look slim in photos only when you are very thin," he says. "Models seldom eat. They are too afraid of gaining weight. It's unwise to follow their examples, it's unhealthy."

Zhao Xiaoxue, an editor with a prominent fashion magazine in China, admits that style magazines play an influence in how readers perceive beauty.

Her magazine is distributed to most cities in China, and the models it uses on the covers are usually very slim. But once, when the magazine used a girl who was more filled out, and showed its readers how to look slimmer with the correct choice of clothes and accessories, it received a lots of good feedback from readers.

"If a woman cannot be slim, at least she will want to look slim," Zhao says.

"Anorexia is bad, and fashion magazines are partly responsible for pushing the trend, but it is unfair to blame the fashion industry and get it to shoulder the responsibility. We don't have the power to decide how a woman should look.

"It's up to men. Women want to please men, and we just want to please our readers."

And when the issue is stripped naked, it's all about self-esteem, and a matter of mind over body.

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