Feature Archive

Pretty Thin?

Researches delve into beauty's role in eating disorders.

By Tula Karras
WebMD Feature

Feb. 21, 2000 (San Francisco) -- Thirty-one-year-old Michelle Gil, of San Antonio, Texas, is an actress and former beauty pageant participant. Her Sophia Loren lips, mocha-colored skin, and to-die-for cheekbones turn heads, as does her lithe 5-foot-6, 130-pound frame. Gil works hard at keeping trim by running every day and eating well-balanced meals. But her healthy habits have not come easily -- they are the result of years of therapy, medication, and daily mental adjustments. Gil is a recovering bulemic.

"I began to deprive myself of food when I was 16," Gil says. "And I was purging daily by the time I was 19." Luckily, Gil?s family discovered her dangerous illness when she was nearly 20 and family intervened, placing her in a hospital treatment program for two months -- a decision she says saved her life.

Looking at Gil, you?d never peg her as someone who harbors insecurities about her body. But a new study from York University in Toronto, Canada, suggests that it is precisely the women who meet our society?s standards of beauty who are the most likely to express body dissatisfaction, a precursor to developing an eating disorder.

The High Cost of Beauty

The study, published in the January 2000 issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders, looked at 203 women with an average age of 21. Researchers found that those rated as having the most attractive faces (on a 10-point scale specifically ignoring body weight or shape) had the greatest dissatisfaction with their bodies. The women did not know they were being rated for attractiveness.