Sally Singer Horwatt, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist 

1800 Town Center Drive

Suite 216

Reston VA 20190-3238

Anorexia

Tuesday, October 12, 1999

This article is one of a series of radio spots 
prepared by Sally Singer Horwatt, Ph.D. for 
WAGE 1200 AM RADIO

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One day this week while at the checkout counter at my supermarket, I glanced at the banner headline on a popular magazine which asked, "How Thin Is Too Thin?" Beneath the headline were photographs of some popular young movie and television stars, While their faces were beautiful, I was appalled by the level of emaciation that is now considered beautiful! The photographs inside the magazine were, if anything, worse. 

The bony, protruding shoulder-blades and flat chests on these otherwise beautiful young women were the least of it. The facial expressions exhibited by these young stars just lacked energy. While talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell has no body-build that I would want, her face is alive.

Reviewing the psychological literature, I found something unusual. Most all schools of thought are in agreement on the personality characteristics most likely to lead one to engage in the profoundly maladaptive behavior known as anorexia nervosa….or self-starvation. The young woman afflicted with anorexia nervousa is usually a tense, hyperactive, alert and rigid person. She is inordinately
ambitious, drives herself hard, is markedly sensitive and obviously feels insecure. Additionally, there is a mulish stubborness not amenable to reason. She’s introverted, willful and lacking warmth and spontaneity.

Holding a strong sense of a deficit in personal competence, these young woman use a ritualistic control of food and weight as a focal point for a sense of purpose and accomplishment. In a study reported in the 1994 issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the authors noted that no matter how questions are posed or by what school of thought, food restricters replies were consistent. They
were reticent, constricted, conforming perfectionistic children who, under the strains that adolescence put on their limited social repertoires, developed a psychopathology fully consonant with their temperamental style. 

The problem with self-starvation is the profound effects on the psychological state of normal humans. Depression, anxiety, rigidity, obsessiveness, irritability, concrete thinking and social withdrawal appear in previously well-adjusted individuals within weeks of restricted food intake and progress as starvation continues. I think you can see this in the mask-like smiles on most of their faces.

Skinny is not pretty!

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