American women are dying to be thin.

American women continually struggle with eating disorders - especially young women.

Every time we look around, a new diet craze is upon us, and another starlet is fitting into an even smaller dress than at last year's award show. A girl growing up in the United States is constantly receiving the message that she must be thin in order to be beautiful, desirable and achieve success.

The costs of this lie are sometimes deadly.

Although men also suffer from eating disorders, women bare the brunt of these debilitating diseases - one in four college-aged women exhibit eating-disorder behaviors, according to Arizona's Remuda Ranch Treatment Center. Such behaviors include starvation, compulsive exercising, self-induced vomiting and abuse of laxatives and diet pills.

Eating disorders strike women during their high school and college years - important times in a woman's physical and emotional development. Peer-pressure to be accepted often translates to compulsion to be thin and fit rigid standards of beauty seen in magazines. It's hell if you don't fit the mold, and even if a woman knows the dangers, the "beauty prize" can be appealing enough to risk it.

As if pressure to fit in isn't enough, the endless parade of ultra-thin women in fashion magazines, films and television constitutes an even more powerful influence. When actress Jennifer Aniston was unhealthily losing weight, a near-epidemic of women with eating disorders ensued, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Of course, Aniston is only one of many celebrities whose status is a curse on her health. Musician Gwen Stefani discussed the pressure to be thin in an interview with VOGUE magazine last year.

"I feel like if I don't eat, I might lose one more pound," she said. "But I'm starving.

When I'm home, I work out five days a week. It's a battle, I have to say. I have to stop myself from eating. Ask anyone around me: I have to struggle to have this hot body."

Women such as Aniston and Stefani are expected to look good for their careers in the entertainment industry, but they influence women everywhere, who subsequently feel they're also expected to be thin.

However, it's not feasible for most ordinary women to achieve star-quality, rail-thin bodies without having personal chefs, trainers and hours to devote to fitness each day. Worse, it's really frustrating to be dieting and exercising and still not be able to fit into a size four outfit like the glamour icons do. Such disappointment can be the first step toward developing an eating disorder.

It may seem normal for someone to restrict his or her eating, but when starvation and self-induced vomiting become factors, serious health risks follow.

Even brief bouts with eating disorders can cause low blood sugar, high cholesterol and decreased levels of vitamins, minerals and proteins, according to the Remuda Ranch Treatment Center, which is dedicated to helping people battle eating disorders. As a result, constipation, muscle weakness and loss of bone mass are common side effects.

Chronic diseases such as anorexia and bulimia can eventually lead to thinning hair, disrupted menstrual periods, low blood pressure, liver disease, heart disease and even infertility. Psychologically, concentration becomes poor, and people with anorexia are frequently depressed.

Eating disorders are a huge problem in America. I've battled with them myself, and have seen friends resort to outrageous weight-loss techniques in efforts to look socially acceptable. Sadly, anorexia and bulimia are not taken as seriously as they should be. They are mental disorders just like drug addiction, schizophrenia or clinical depression. With so many women and girls slowly killing themselves in order to be thin, the symptoms of these disorders sometimes seem normal.

Eating disorders are abnormal - they're not fad diets, and they aren't glamorous. They cause a slew of potentially fatal health problems, and we all must be on guard to detect the warning signs in our own behavior as well as in the behaviors of people around us.

Our health is all we truly have - no amount of so-called beauty is worth its demise.

The Daily Aztec - Opinion
Issue: 12/7/05
By Gaia Veenis, Senior Opinion Columnist