By Dan J Broadley
There are people in this world who starve themselves. There are people who force themselves to vomit in an attempt to conform to our culture’s idea of ‘beauty’. Sadly, eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, remain a serious and often misunderstood issue within society.
Wednesday 28th January, however, saw Haleh Moravej – Senior Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), and former Nutritional Clinician – deliver a series of talks at the university as part of the Time to Change Society’s event, The Mirror Keeps Lying.
The first part of the day saw Haleh give a talk on the way we perceive our bodies and our attitudes towards them. This incorporated family and cultural traditions, globalisation and stress. Haleh explained how each of these can be significant factors which contribute to people not eating well enough, over eating or even developing an eating disorder. She described dieting as unnecessary punishment to our bodies, arguing that healthy and nutritious eating does not need to come under the strict regime of a ‘diet’.
“The world is not there to judge us” said Haleh, “it is there for opportunities.”
Haleh revealed that one study showed 55% of college women thought they were overweight, when in fact only 6% were. This highlights the distorted and unrealistic image that many women have of their own bodies, which can drive people to disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Men are not excluded from this issue, as an estimated 10% of men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. Counselling and holistic therapy are what Haleh described as the best treatments.
Between the two talks, participants were treated to a workshop in which everyone had to create an ‘ideal image’ out of a play-dough material. This exercise is often a useful therapy for people coping with eating disorders.
As the event continued, interactive stalls opened up with positively themed t-shirts, the unrealistic nature of Barbie dolls and a list of celebrities who had suffered from eating disorders; which included Victoria Beckham, Sharon Osborne, Russell Brand and Elton John.
The final part of the day saw Haleh round off with a final talk Beauty & the Beast, which asked: What is beauty? And what does it mean? Whatever it is, we know that it is subjective.
The primary message that came out of the event was that the idea of standardised ‘beauty’, often circulated in today’s mass media culture is a load of crap.
The media subtly screams notions of unrealistic and unnatural beauty at us, reinforced by the advertising industry’s tendency to airbrush and Photoshop people beyond recognition.
Our bodies are a medium for our consciousness to have a world to live in, why would we abuse them and change them? We have become a culture of superficial narcissists, staring into a pool of dissatisfaction. Beauty, according to Haleh, is the freedom to be whatever you want.
Humanity Hallows caught up with Haleh after the event and asked for her opinion on the media’s responsibility and eating disorders:
“We can’t blame them entirely, everybody watches it! But, they have a massive responsibility, they must be careful with young, impressionable children.”
“Eating disorders are massively overlooked, they are serious mental illnesses which manifest themselves in physical lack of, or excesses of, food.”
In summary, this was an inspiring day from Time to Change at MMU with Haleh Moravej. Look out for further events in the coming weeks from Time to Change which will include a Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) collaborative event, with involvement from LGBTQ, Humanities in Public (HiP) and Mental Health groups.
For more information on the MMU Time to Change Society visit their Union page.
Dan is an English and Creative Writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include music, festivals, bass guitar, writing poetry, having ideas for novels and meditation. Follow him on Twitter @DanJBroadley. Dan’s personal blog is odd dan.wordpress.com.