Body image and eating disorders -the bane of rich countries - have become a serious problem in the Czech Republic in the last few years. More and more teenage girls starve themselves almost to death in the hope of acquiring the ultra-skinny look of fashion-models while young men take steroids to try and build up rippling, lean muscles. According to statistics five percent of the population now suffers from some kind of eating disorder, but experts believe the number could be much, much higher.
A recent poll among Czech women showed to what extent they are affected by the present day concept of beauty as dictated by the beauty and fashion empire. The vast majority of respondents said they did not feel beautiful and needed to loose weight. Out of 1,000 respondents only ten were perfectly happy with their body shape and weight. Dr. Hana Papezova, heads a newly reconstructed unit for eating disorders at the Medical School of Charles University:
"The pressure of society on young girls to be slim gets more and more intense, I would say. The role models imposed on these young people are so slim that you cannot hope to achieve this with normal eating behaviour. The majority of people would have to starve to get so slim."
Although problems such as anorexia and bulimia have received quite a lot of publicity, not many people are aware that men suffer from body image problems as well. Dr. Papezova says that 5 to 10 percent of her in-patients are men:
"That's a new phenomenon - young men are dissatisfied with their bodies because they feel they should have bigger muscles and in order to get them they take steroids and other things in order to cheat Nature. The effect is like anorexia in reverse. The bigger muscles they have, the more they strive for and the more dissatisfied they get with their bodies. They are so anxious to get more muscular that eventually their perception of their bodies is distorted. They get trapped in this vicious circle of anxiety and striving for more. They over-exercise, they lose their self-esteem, they loose their friends and they end up isolated and depressed - and that is an illness really."
So is there any chance of curbing this self-destructive trend? Dr. Papezova admits that pitting her small grant against the multi-billion dollar fashion and beauty industry is not easy, but she is not giving up without a fight:
"I do not think we can actually stop society being so foolish about the body, but we can try to fight this trend as best as we can. We can go to schools with preventive educational programmes, we can make sure there's more and better information about this problem on the Internet, CD ROMs, educational programmes for teachers. There's a lot of work ahead. A lot of things can be done - and we now know where we are heading, where we want to go."
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