The Desperate Housewives Effect

An increasing number of women in their 30s, 40s and even 50s are succumbing to eating disorders, even full-blown anorexia, in an attempt to maintain their youthful figures. Dubbed the Desperate Housewives Effect, the condition takes its name from the series Desperate Housewives but also reflects the array of Hollywood stars whose fortunes are inversely related to the size of their waistlines.

While it might appear that the battle of the bulge being fought daily in the gyms and kitchens of Hollywood affects only the actresses themselves, research has shown this is not the case. Psychologists at eating orders clinics around the world have reported an upward increase in middle-aged women displaying dysfunctional eating habits which were once the sole domain of teens and young women.

Since 2001, there has been a reported increase of 33% in women over 30 seeking help for out-of-control eating habits. These near-starvation diets have left these women with potential heart and kidney disorders, and other ailments associated with a restricted diet and excessive exercise.

In the not-so-distant past, women in their 30s and 40s were more at ease with their bodies and able to concentrate their energies on more important aspects of their lives, such as career and family. But today, women in this age bracket and older are faced with a dilemma that their recent forebears did not have to deal with. There now exists an increasing pressure to stay younger-looking longer, and that means staying slim at all costs. Often that cost exacts a high physical and emotional price.

The not-so-subtle messages portrayed in Desperate Housewives and shows of that ilk—that you must be skinny and gorgeous at every age, and that skinny and gorgeous equals happiness, success, and a rampant love life— have had an effect on how women of a certain age live their lives.

The catch is that as a woman ages, her metabolism naturally slows down, and often Herculean efforts are required by a 42-year-old to maintain the bodily appearance of a 22-year-old. Bombarded daily by the sight of super-skinny celebs, ordinary women place themselves on high-fitness regimens and near-starvation rations in order to achieve “happiness”. Hence, many of these older women have fallen prey to full-blown anorexia or binge-and-purge practices in an attempt to “have it all”.

The message to all women, and increasingly to those in middle age, is to eat sensibly, exercise appropriately, but most importantly, take stock of what is important and what is unimportant in the bigger picture. The root cause of eating disorders is non-acceptance of the self. It is this area that needs addressing rather than literally running away from ourselves on the Stairmaster.

While Hollywood plays an undeniable role in influencing the life habits of susceptible women, it is ultimately our responsibility as to whether we take these not-so-healthy messages on board. Building healthy self-esteem is the cornerstone of personal happiness.

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