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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Is the American Dream Dying or Just Transforming?



     Thought for today: Life in this day & age is not without challenges. Much of the news we hear is depressing. The economy is struggling. Unemployment is high. College grads are returning home & living with their parents out of necessity. Teenage girls are posting on YouTube asking if they are ugly. Children were murdered in an attack by a classmate wielding a gun in Ohio. Under the circumstances, staying optimistic is challenging. If it is a prerequisite for making the future better, how can we hold on to our optimism? In light of all the negative news, is the American Dream dying or just transforming? More positive news exists, however, the media seems to focus on the negative, since it sells. We have the power to change that fact. Today, I will tell you about some of the organizations whose activities are helping to keep the American Dream alive & well. Like America, it is transforming with the times. Please share these stories that include the negative occurences but also report some promising solutions & progress in their messages. Show magazines & the media that you are interested in the positive news which will help keep the American Dream thriving.

I was thinking about this topic before I read an article (http://www.forbes.com/sites/deniserestauri/2012/02/27/teen-girl-in-the-mirror-a-picture-shows-her-truth/) by one of my new friends Denise Restauri. Then I viewed a clip about a new documentary, America the Beautiful ABC LA News www.youtube.com. YA day later, I saw another powerful documentary, Someday Melissa, about a young woman's battle with an eating disorder. After the screening, I listened to & spoke with members of a panel of experts, the film makers & the audience including women & men recovering from eating disorders, talk about their experiences & the progress being made in the field.

All three of the above were in conjunction with National Eating Disorder Awareness week, but somehow I see these as testaments to the changing face of the American Dream. The rise in violence, unemployment, & eating disorders, are symptoms of the times we are living in. When the going gets tough you must get tougher. When the dream is challenged, you must get more creative to dream it forward. Women & girls are fighting for their American Dreams of life liberty & the pursuit of happiness & are making progress. 

The American Dream is going through what seems like a coming of age right of passage. With each technological advance, democracy & freedom need to reassess how to insure those rights to all it's citizens. Facebook, twitter, & YouTube have given a worldwide platform which can be used for amazingly good causes or for evil ones. America & Americans are just beginning to learn how to use these new tools responsibly. As with all new things, it takes time to learn how to use them respectfully & responsibly. 

Denise's series of articles for Eating Disorder's Awareness week speak about the new trend among young girls to post videos on YouTube asking if they are ugly. It is heartbreaking to see such lovely young girls questioning their beauty & to learn that they are being taunted by cruel kids online. It raises huge concerns for parents, educators & therapists. Helping girls (& boys for that matter) to accept their unique bodies & appearances is challenging in an environment where magazines, TV & social media portray beauty as airbrushed thin models who often suffer from eating disorders to maintain dangerously unhealthy body weight. She also reports about a program called "Project HEAL, founded by two teenage girls who helped each other recover from anorexia nervosa, a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation & excessive weight loss." Programs like Project Heal are a sign of hope. Survivors are taking control of their eating, while helping other teens take control & fighting for their right to live the American Dream.

Given the explosion of new technologies, parents need to "friend" their children & their children's friends on Facebook & YouTube. They must pay attention to their children's & their children's friends posts & talk to them if anything seems worrisome.  Are they or a friend depressed, angry, threatening, self-deprecating, questioning whether they want to live? In the same way that you would want to meet the children they are associating with at school, you need to try to have some idea of who they are connecting with online. Start "friending" them on facebook when they are young, before they will be self-conscious about including you. Don't try to "be" their friend, just keep a watchful eye & speak with them personally, if you have concerns. If they want to take you off their "friend" list, remember, you are paying for internet access & can take it away. Make it a requirement for internet access. Remember you are the parent.




In addition, as parents there are things you can do to impact on the media. Television advertises food & alcohol ways to attain happiness, popularity & success. It took years for society to realize that advertizing of cigarettes was killing people & get the ads off the air. I believe we are on the verge of a grass roots revolution regarding how women's beauty is portrayed by the media. It is time to realize that advertizing is killing girls & women by promoting an unachievable unhealthy image. We, the consumers, can change the face of feminine beauty. To do so we must speak up & let the fashion, music, movie, dance & gymnastics industry know that we will not put up with the exclusion of girls as models or performers who do not fit the "twiggy" look. Beauty comes in all shapes & sizes. It starts from within & external beauty varies from culture to culture. Dove made a huge step in that direction with an ad campaign using older women showing the beauty of aging bodies & varying body types. We need to demand similar campaigns directed towards young girls & teenagers. More singers & actors need to break away from the pressure to have a thin "look" like Adele, who can be a role model for artists to accept their uniqueness.

The article & documentaries I mentioned give the hard truths about eating disorders. The statistics alone are staggering 30% of college students have eating disorders. The problems are starting with younger & younger children. 
  • It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women & one million men
  • One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia
  • Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
  • Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder (Note: One in five Americans suffers from mental illnesses.)
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
  • A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years & only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide & heart problems 
  • Only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment
  • About 80% of the girls/women who have accessed care for their eating disorders do not get the intensity of treatment they need to stay in recovery – they are often sent home weeks earlier than the recommended stay (All above statistics copied from: http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/anorexia/statistics.htm)
Insurance companies are withholding funding for much needed longer inpatient treatment which can prevent the deaths of eating disordered patients. Families are struggling to help their children survive by locking up food & do not know what to do when insurance companies send their loved ones back home when their medical profile improves, but the therapy is incomplete. 

These facts are unsettling, however, there is also hope. Women, men, families of those suffering from or whose loved ones have died from eating disorders are fighting back. Movies like the one made made by a mother & a therapist, Someday Melissa (www.somedaymelissa.com) & America the Beautiful (America the Beautiful ABC LA News www.youtube.com) are raising awareness. Grass roots groups are lobbying for "truth in advertizing" campaigns (http://www.openpr.com/news/209154/NEDA-Joins-Off-Our-Chests-In-Battle-to-Launch-Media-and-Public-Hea ) & mental health parity laws to force insurance companies to pay for much needed services. There are awareness programs in schools, universities, online & in the broader communities around the world. New research, as well as free treatment programs (http://www.teenbulimiastudy.org/) are happening. 

If you know someone who is suffering from an eating disorder, let them know help is out there. If you know someone who is being bullied or ridiculed for their appearance, help them by speaking up. Get involved. Let women's magazines know that you want them to stop promoting the "twiggy" look, that you want medical screening for eating disorders for models under the age of 18 & that you will unsubscribe from their magazines if they do not make changes. If enough people protest things will change. Get involved, you can help make a difference. Let's make someday that SomedayMelissa.com is promoting come as soon as possible. As we enter the brave new world of the internet & social media, let us all learn how to use them to promote good causes & fight harmful abuses of the system. The American Dream will survive if we keep it at the forefront of our dreams & actions to protect the lives, liberty & pursuit of happiness for all it's citizens.
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