It's a quiet insidious revolution that is eating into our youth. A desperate battle in these desperately competitive times to look exactly like the style icons that they look up to! In fact become a style icon themselves if that may be possible. When the renowned Hollywood actress of yesteryears said, "You can never be too rich or too thin…"she may well have been echoing the sentiments of today's youth who are ready to go to any lengths to get the perceived body image they aspire to.
As was the case with Delhi girl, Anjali Goyal, a teenager who thought herself obese and killed herself in despair, or like Priya Mishra*, 17, who lives on a diet of Diet Pepsi and popcorn, or even Radhika Jain* who suffers such nutritional deficiency that her hair is falling off and she has an irregular menstrual cycle. What ails generation Y? According to dietician Shikha Sharma it is a killer combination of wrong eating habits from childhood, parental neglect and an addiction for the world of glamour with a steady diet from the media. She adds, "Parents bring children to me, who are living on fad diets and will not eat or will go on eating binges after starving themselves for days. The problem is that most have been brought up on wrong eating habits and are suddenly feeling that their bodies lack tone or firmness. This leads to a panic situation where they want to lose weight quickly and at any cost whatever. So, if sacrificing food has to be it, then that's what they do."
Life is hard for today's teenager and in some cases pre-teen too. Peer pressure and fashion fads rule the roost in a world where you may get jeered at for having 'fat legs' or 'big tummies'. Young people swear off the usual calorie laden goodies like cokes, sweets and pastries etc, and in some cases, sugar too! The transition occurs sometime between school and college, which is when the maximum cases occur too. Dr. Veena Jain, of VLCC says, "Most of these teenagers come to us, after trying a host of fad diets that they have just heard of. Once at our centre, we let them know if they are really obese, and only those who need counseling receive it from a huge team of professionals." Dr. Manoj Kumar, a cosmetic surgeon and consultant with Apollo Hospital states, "Girls want to be thin, but not curvaceous. Young people are definitely increasing in number when it comes to fat busting procedures like lipoplasty or a liposuction. They are in a hurry to get thin, but then they seem to have tried other means of losing weight and not succeeded."
And what are these other ways? Fad diets, weight loss clinics, which have mushroomed all over town, consultations with weight loss therapists and even visits to the neighborhood gym and diets that leave out the food as well as the fat. Unfortunately, the people these youngsters emulate are really not buying the concept. Ramneek Paintal, well known model and emcee explains, "Even though they are star struck y the slim figures of models they don't realize that most models are very tall, and already have a genetic predispositon to be thin. They also exercise a lot and eat healthy, so the question of emulating us does not arise. These youngsters are living in a delusional fantasy world that does not exist." Hotshot ramp model, Udita Goswami agrees, "I think everyone is making a very big issue out of how we models influence younger people, but they never bother to read the finer point or see how hard we really work and how particular we are about healthy eating."
Agrees, Therapist Dr. Harish Mithai, "A lot of young people have begun to come to me and though there are a large number of girls, many are boys too. Most suffer from eating disorders, are anorexic, suffer from bulimia or generally have a hostile feeling for their own body. It takes a long time for them to come to terms with what is healthy and what is not." The problem is that the youngsters are aspiring to unrealistic goals and in most cases physical perfection masks deeper insecurities. Dr. Jain adds, "Anorexia and Bulimia are definitely on the rise. Some small percentage of anorexics literally starve themselves reaching a level of "crash diets" or "mono diets" ads they perceive themselves very fat."
Of course, the new trend has parents waking up in alarm. Shikha Sharma cites that most of her patients are brought to her by the parents themselves who don't know how to handle a daughter who has stopped eating or a son who spends most of his pocket money on nutritional supplements and free time at the gym. Dr. Kumar agrees, "Parents have changed a value system and don't mind shelling out money for children to get a nose job or a chin tuck. The old taboos don't exist and perhaps this has brought the problem more into the light. I personally feel that youngsters in India are still not as conscious as young people outside where the dependence on cosmetic procedures is more common, but yes, the trend is increasing here."
Of course, most cosmetic procedures, or weight loss consultations, don't come cheap. A visit to a dietician can set you back by Rs.500/- to Rs.1,000/- a sitting depending on their individual name and fame. Tummy tucks can cost Rs.30,000/- and liposuctions are at Rs.15,000/- onwards depending on where you go. If that were not enough most weight loss institutes guarantee weight loss corresponding with the amount of money you pay. Most take out ads that advertise the virtues of a slim, trim figure compared to a fat one. Model Udita fumes, "A healthy toned body is no longer the ideal look. Everyone wants to be thin, with skinny being the new fad and there is nothing really beautiful about that.
Unfortunately, if you ask these young people, what motivates them, they may not be able to give you a complete answer. The reason behind this as Dr. Mathai points out is a deep sense of insecurity in a changing worldview. He says, "Scratch the surface and most young people with weight loss or body issues are actually hiding a deeper issue. It could be anxiety about the future, unhappy homes o just a feeling of inadequacy, but these diseases are symptoms of acute mental and emotional trauma and not problems within themselves." In fact, Vandana Luthra recently conducted a workshop on healthy eating and obesity at Delhi Public School to ascertain the level of obesity among students and to re-educate them on correct eating habits.
Thus in the meantime, even as parents fight a losing battle with their children, the beauty and fashion industry is laughing all the way to the bank.
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