I say tend, because of course this is a gross generalisation. Eating disorders are increasingly a problem across the socio-economic spectrum and are certainly no longer confined to the white middle-class teenage girl, (if they ever were). But generalisations sometimes have a bit of truth. A 1989 review found that in developed countries women of a high social class were less likely to be obese, whilst in the developing world, women, men, and children from high social classes had greater rates of obesity. An update of this review carried out in 2007 found the same relationships, but they were weaker, due in part to the effects of globalisation. Fashion undoubtably favours the thin (and their personal trainers), whilst no amount of education can change the fact that unhealthy food is often the cheapest and easiest option – especially if you’ve got a roomful of screaming kids and limited time, energy and cooking space.
What’s also interesting are the value judgements associated with different sorts of eating disorders. Obesity is sometimes portrayed as a failure of control and of simple gluttony – but overeating is not always the cause and even when it is, this is a disorder that is as devastating and complicated as anorexia. Perhaps even more so, given the righteous anger it engenders and a tendency to dismiss it as either a source of humour or derision. Fat girls are funny, right? The obese teen who can’t shift her weight just needs to pull it together and do a bit of exercise. Thin girls however, are where it’s really at. Imagine having such self-control. Many’s the woman I’ve heard comment that she wishes she could have ‘a bit’ of anorexia, just enough to lose those saddle-bags, or whatever. After all, there’s nothing sexier than brittle bones, heart failure, bad breath and a delicate layer of body hair that would shame a coconut.
My thinking on this has been provoked by an article by Deborah Orr in the Guardian. She compares the media’s celebration of Chloe Memisevic, ( a supermodel with a BMI that falls well within the category of anorexic), to its condemnation of Georgia Davis who, at forty stone, is ‘Britain’s fattest teenager’.