COLUMN: Drunkorexia?

(U-WIRE) Last Sunday’s New York Times ran a feature on distorted body image entitled “Starving Themselves, Cocktail in Hand.” It discusses the evolution of “drunkorexia,” the growing trend, largely among college-aged women, of eating disorders in conjunction with alcohol abuse.

This piece was run in the “Fashion ‘ Style” section.

Now, in fairness, the Times is not telling us to run out and start starving. But this does fit a larger trend of mixed messages from the media regarding eating disorders, however unintentional.

And the problem hits home right here on college campuses. Thirty seconds in, say, the gym can confirm that – take a look next time you’re there at how many people, girls and guys both, scrutinize their bodies the entire time they’re visible in one of the many mirrors there.

While these people get slammed as vain, typical gym-goers, the problem goes deeper than that. Sure, some of them are just cocky – but why this obsession with body image in the first place? Why can’t these people tear their eyes from the mirror every time they pass by one in the gym?

The usage of posh-sounding terms like “drunkorexia” has a definite tinge of approval to it – it evokes an image of someone that, regardless of the means he or she used (in this case, boozing for a good body), has accomplished something, achieved something the rest of us haven’t. It conjures up notions of skinny girls in stilettos screaming along to Journey lyrics with a drink in hand, rather than extremely sick young people battling a rather nasty internal struggle.

And this is not OK. An estimated 5 to 7 percent of undergraduates are afflicted with some kind of eating disorder – officially. But that doesn’t take into account how many are exhibiting at least some these of the behaviors sans diagnosis – then, the number jumps to 61 percent. And this isn’t just dieting – this includes severely stunted caloric intake, induced vomiting, compulsive exercise, diet pills and substance abuse.

This mixed message has resulted in a new wave of convoluted rationale among college-aged women. Chances are many women at IU reading this column are all too familiar with things that seem shocking in a medical journal but that we see and hear about every day: usage of appetite-suppressing substances, such as Adderall, Ritalin or even something as commonplace as cigarettes in a conscious effort to cut calories; incessant fretting about spring break, doing short-lived, extreme “power diets” in order to be able to wear that swimsuit within a week; and girls such as the one I saw drunkenly stumbling out of Kilroy’s at 2 a.m., expounding loudly about how she couldn’t wait to go home and “puke these vodka calories up.”

Eating disorders are a serious thing to a shocking number of people around us – especially in the party-oriented, good-looking state-school environment in which we live. The last thing we need are mixed messages on how to go about starving ourselves in a “stylish” manner.

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