Reaching for the Stars … falling into the void

Photo Illustration by Wakeelah Crutison | Copy Editor

Desire for stardom warps self-perception

By Bonnie Berger

The lights burn bright as members of the crowd talk among themselves, a dull drone humming throughout the room. Jennifer Bell, a 22-year-old University of Texas student and singer, takes the stage at a local coffee shop, centering herself before performing her newest work.

“It’s nerve-wracking putting yourself out there with your music,” Bell said. “I don’t have an instrument to hide behind — it’s just me out there.”

Without an instrument to blame for hitting a wrong note or any external factors to hold accountable for a mistake, Jennifer internalizes this strain as it ultimately manifests itself in unhealthy and unconventional ways.

“You see these pictures of beautiful singers and celebrities looking trim and polished,” she said. “How am I going to ‘wow’ an audience if part of my physical performance is lacking?”

Admittedly skipping meals to shave off the pounds, the aspiring vocalist said she hopes the combination of her voice and appearance will get her the fame she craves.

“As a performer, people are always looking at me. … I don’t want them to be disappointed,” she said.

Unfortunately, Jennifer’s mindset and coping methods are not uncommon for those in the spotlight.

“When you’re involved in performing, you want to be the best,” Dr. Emma Wood, Baylor Counseling Center staff psychologist, said. “The healthier attitude would be to be your best.”

A strong sense of perfectionism, low self-esteem and extreme self-discipline are key components in developing unhealthy eating habits, Wood said.

“You fall into this mindset of ‘I know I’m hungry, but I’m going to ignore that because it’s not giving me the body I need to perform,’” she said.

Such mindsets are reinforced through coaches, trainers and even parents as the weight continues to drop.

“There’s a pressure to embody the certain look culture and society call for,” Wood said.

Wood said a disturbance in one’s sense of identity springs from a skewed body image, resulting in deep-seated issues that must be addressed in order to overcome the disorder.

Similar to drugs and alcohol, disordered eating can become addictive, taking over people’s lives before they realize it.

“If you get addicted, it’s a slippery slope. … People don’t know that,” Bell said. “A lot of times, we’re trying to defy genetics. Only 5 percent of women are genetically capable of achieving the model look.”

Although falling into unhealthy habits seems overwhelming, such disorders are beatable with determination, self-love and a strong support group.

“Early prevention is key,” Wood said. “Considering the ‘new normal’ is not normal. Go seek counsel, or check in with a friend with [a] healthy body image.”

In a society where thin reigns supreme, artists who have embraced their curves have found success in the music industry and happiness to be easily attainable.

British vocal powerhouse Adele Atkins, known for her recent hit “Rolling in the Deep,” is one such example, tossing criticism to the wind and accepting herself as she is, not striving to look like the typical performer.

“I don’t believe I need to look like that,” Atkins said in a 2008 interview with “The Observer.” “Until I start not liking my own body, until it gets in the way of my health or stops me having a boyfriend then I don’t care. I’m fine.”

Despite the prevalent mantra that thin is the preferred look these days, individuals have their own unique body type and structure, making an excessive amount of weight loss unhealthy as well as undesirable.

“It’s a constant struggle to accept yourself where you’re at, but it’s going to be worth it when I find that balance between my singing and appreciating the way I look,” Bell said. “I want to be able to look back at this someday and feel good about how far I’ve come. … I want to start really loving myself.”

The Counseling Center offers a myriad of services to help people struggling with body image or weight issues. Along with providing a specially qualified eating disorder assessment team and general counseling, women and men’s issue groups are available as well. Recent efforts such as the “I Heart Me” campaign also strive to reinforce positive body image in students. Located on the second floor of the McLane Student Life Center, the Counseling Center can be contacted at 254-710-2467.

“It takes a lot of strength to know when you need help,” Wood said. “A lot of the time your friends are going through the same thing. Seeking help is not saying you’re weak; it’s a tribute to your strength.”

For privacy purposes the name Jennifer Bell is a psuedonym.