Of the many stories Courtney Martin told about eating disorders at the Dodd Center Wednesday, perhaps none was more striking than that of a freshman college student who was so determined to make the lacrosse team that she weighed 70 pounds by her second semester and had been hospitalized eight times.

Martin, the author of “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body,” spoke to a mostly female audience about the pressures faced by contemporary girls and the outlet provided by eating disorders.

“Over half of 18-to-25 year-old-girls would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat,” said Martin, a fact that elicited a collective gasp from the audience.

“[I’m] interested to learn how the mind relates to body image,” said Xinyi Li, a 1st-semester finance major, who attended the seminar for a class.

Martin emphasized the two personalities constantly waging war inside today’s girls: the perfect girl and the starving daughter.

According to Martin, the perfect girl thinks: “We could always lose five more pounds,” or, “We take ourselves very seriously, we aspire for effortless perfection.”

The starving daughter, in contrast, is squelched beneath perfection but “seeks comfort in cookies in warm bread,” and eventually, “makes herself known like an explosion.”

“Young women struggle with this duality,” Martin said. “It is a power struggle between two forces and at the center is an innocent body.”

“Her analogies are great,” said Amanda Kuzminski, a 5th-semester molecular cell biology major. “I can’t wait to read the book.”

Martin said some girls do not have “textbook” eating disorders, so she refers to them as the “No… but” girls. These girls would say, “No I don’t have an eating disorder, but… I threw up food for a couple of days.” Martin said these girls are not included in the statistics of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, but their condition should not be ignored.

She offered several suggestions for these “no… but” girls including, “say it out loud.” Expressing personal thoughts to someone confirms their validity and the confidante can help the person to hatch out exactly what they are feeling. Also, Martin encouraged girls to “move in ways that make you happy.” When exercise is enjoyable, the person will willingly want to partake.

Martin cited two “M’s” associated with eating disorders – mothers and media. Mothers, she said, have always meant well, but after praising their daughter’s beauty and perfection, they turn to a mirror and ask, “Why am I such a fat pig?” The actions of mothers have a great impact than their words, Martin said.

Martin said that since she grew up with airbrushing and stick figure models, she said she was more immune to media pressure than previous generations. However, she said being constantly bombarded with onslaughts of tiny women who have unattainable figures does become difficult.

Throughout her presentation, Martin stressed the definition of success. The “perfect” girl strives for all types of success in every venue, which is exhausting and impossible.

“We need to redefine our notion of what success is – it’s not just achievement,” Martin said. “Until women are well, mentally, I don’t think success is possible.”

Martin closed the seminar by repeating an interview she conducted with several eight-year-old girls. She asked one girl what beauty would be like in the future and the girl stood up on a bench, flung out her arms, and replied, “In the future there will be flying cars! In the future we will all be beautiful!”


October 18, 2007