Patricia Pitts, PhD  
Los Angeles, CA

Interests: anorexia, bulimia, Eating disorders
The Bella Vita - Los Angeles
CEO and Founder
818.585.1775 Intake Line
Los Angeles, CA
All Journal Entries Journals
Sort By:  

The Ugly Side of Beauty        by Dr Patricia Pitts, PhD

Oct 08, 2012 - 8 comments

Whether or not we like to admit it, the images of beauty generated by the media have a profound impact on our own self-image, and go a long way toward bolstering – or depleting – our self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem.    
   Only a few decades ago, the standards of beauty to which millions of American women struggled to conform were set almost exclusively by the über-thin, airbrushed models depicted in fashion magazines (incidentally, the average American model is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds; the average American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140 pounds).  Similarly unrealistic images of beauty still exist today, but now in addition to magazines, we are inundated with them in movies, on TV, and on the Internet, which streams into our consciousness not just through our home computers but through iPads and smart phones that accompany us wherever we go.
   We are now living in an era when, according to a 2010 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the majority of 8- to 18-year olds spend upwards of ten hours a day gobbling up media-driven content, and in the process consume as many as 5,000 advertisements each day. There is no denying that our culture has reaped countless benefits from the digital age, but these advancements also have a dark side:  The 24/7 deluge of advertising sends a powerful and often deeply destructive message to women in particular.  There are, of course, many variations on this theme, but the message goes something like this:  Thinness equals beauty, and you must be beautiful to be loveable.
   Media-driven messages affect us all to some degree, influencing the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and the brand of breakfast cereal we eat. But young women – whose identities are still so malleable and who succumb so easily to insecurities about their appearance – are especially vulnerable.  The constant reinforcing of the message that thinness equals beauty, acceptance, and success compels a frightening number of young women to strive for this ideal at any cost.  
   As an eating disorder specialist with 30 years’ experience treating anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and related disorders – and as someone who overcame my own battle with anorexia in my early 20s – I understand well the relationship between media pressures and the onset of eating disorders.  In the United States alone, an estimated 24 million people are fighting a life-threatening battle with an eating disorder, and a shocking 40% of newly identified cases of anorexia occur in girls 15 to 19 years old.  While these statistics are disturbing, they are not surprising.  Merchandisers actively seek out this demographic of women, often using sales tactics that prey upon insecurities about the size, shape, and overall appearance of their bodies.  
   When actor and activist Ashley Judd came forward with her bold and articulate essay [hyperlink to http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/12/ashley-judd-share-your-puffy-face-moments.html ] that railed against our culture’s “pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic" expectations of beauty which, according to Judd, “affect each and every one of us in multiple and nefarious ways”, I forwarded a copy to everyone I know.  We may not have the power to stop the messages that permeate our airwaves, but we do have the power to stop listening to them.  We can judge ourselves against the image of beauty so often depicted in the media, or we can appreciate the distinctive features that make us uniquely ourselves: our curly red locks, lanky torso, crooked smile...  When we look for our particular brand of beauty, we find it – and the lens through which we view ourselves is cleansed.      

Just Do It        by Dr Patricia Pitts, PhD

Oct 08, 2012 - 0 comments

Elite athletes are the epitome of determination and passion; encapsulating everything we love about sport and competition. These athletes work for most of their lives to reach the pinnacle of their careers, an Olympic medal. What does it take to get the gold? Nike has become famous for their slogan “Just Do It” that embodies everything an elite athlete is. But just doing it can have serious consequences if you don’t listen to your bodies needs.

With the 2012 Olympics coming up, these athletes are kicking their work out and lifestyle routines into high gear to prepare for the competitive peak of their career that defines these games. Pressures to perform a certain way and receive high marks have always been at the heart of preparation for the Olympics, however with the increase in media attention and celebrity status of the games comes an added pressure to look and act certain ways. Not only is the competition about outperforming others, it is a contest of character, personality, and even appearance.

Pressure to look a certain way has reached an all time high.  In a recent interview with Marie Clare, Jessica Ennis, a British heptathlon world champion discussed the mental struggle she dealt with while her muscular body allowed her to excel in her sport, she felt her body was not feminine.  In a Norwegian study of 522 elite athletes, 92% met criteria for an eating disorder.  In aesthetic sports that focus on lines and body movement, i.e. gymnastics, diving, ice skating, and track, the emphasis on being thin and maintaining a petite build is at the forefront. In sports like lifting, tennis, volleyball, and skiing, having a solid and muscular physique is emphasized. Wrestling, where weight categories determine your competitor, an enormous amount of pressure if put on the athlete to maintain, lose, or gain weight to match their competitor.

Not so surprisingly, the characteristics necessary to be an elite athlete, are also the building blocks for eating disorders. Many Olympians have gotten through with the Games and opened up about their eating disorder. Others, have tragically died on their quest to become gold medalists. One notable American gymnast, Christy Henrich, died of multiple organ failure just before her 22nd birthday. She struggled with anorexia after a coach told her to lose weight. Her death brought about a lot of reform on media attention to gymnasts weights and sizes. Previously, commentators would constantly talk about size and appearance, and weights were even listed next to their names!

So it’s a tough ~ elite athletes have a strict regime, and a lot of pressure put on them to “look like” an athlete. Who defines what that looks like though? A large part of it is media. How can our elite athletes be spared of losing themselves in their sport and to an eating disorder?  Balance is key. Athletes will get self worth from their sport and their coaches; they need to learn self worth from within, and coaches and families need to support some sense of normalcy in a very abnormal situation. Build sense of self from the inside out.  Valuing and being valued for feelings, thoughts, needs and behaviors help increase self-esteem.  Having safe, supportive family and friends to have one’s back ~ no matter what, through the ups and downs.  Learn biology!  No really, by focusing on the miraculous feats the body does every waking hour/night, they learn to understand the wonder of their body.  Eating actually helps performance and protects from unnecessary injuries.  And no matter what they need to learn to believe in themselves, for being the amazing, strong, and accomplished person (not athlete) they are!