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Sinead Moriarty: What makes us take risks in quest for the body beautiful?

WHEN I heard the terrible news about the 18-year-old girl who bought diet pills on the internet and ended up having her colon removed, I wasn't surprised.

To be honest, I'm amazed it hasn't happened more often. Even back in my school days in the 1980s, some of the girls in my class were taking diet pills. Huge diet pills the size of grapes that they had either stolen from their mothers' bags or obtained from dodgy GPs who were known to be free and easy with their prescriptions.

We've all taken out our bikini and dreaded the idea of exposing ourselves in it. We think, 'If I could just lose a few pounds before the holidays it won't be so bad'.

With a week to go before the holidays we panic and often turn to diets promising 'miraculous results' in seven days.

I have friends (professional women in their 40s) who've taken laxatives a week before going on holiday to lose weight. Other drastic diets women have tried include the cabbage soup diet, the maple syrup diet, the cotton ball diet (yes, you eat actual cotton balls to 'fill you up') and the sleep diet where you take sedatives to sleep through your meal times (apparently, Elvis was a big proponent of the sleep diet).

Women have always been obsessed with weight. The tapeworm diet has been around for more than a century. It was rumoured that the famous Greek opera singer Maria Callas lost 65 pounds with the help of a tapeworm.

San Francisco art dealer Horace Fletcher was famed at the turn of the 20th Century as "The Great Masticator" because his chewing diet instructed you to chew 32 times -- once for each tooth -- then spit out the food. Thomas Short, author of 'The Causes and Effects of Corpulence' (1727), observed that heavier people lived near swamps. The obvious conclusion: to lose weight, live in a dry climate. Not a useful one for Irish people!

The frightening thing now is that diet pills are so easily available online. This poor 18-year-old girl, who was a normal healthy weight, just wanted to 'tone up' for a planned holiday in the sun with friends. So she went online and bought some slimming pills.

A mere five days after taking the first, she was admitted to hospital with a life-threatening condition and had her colon removed.

Not only was this unfortunate young woman's life threatened, she will now live with serious physical complications for the rest of her days -- and all over wanting to shed a few pounds. When will women, of all ages, stop being so critical of themselves? When will we look in a mirror and think "Not bad" instead of "God, I need to lose weight"?

We're never happy with our body shape or size. I've never met a woman who said she was happy with her weight. Never. It's in our DNA to be self-critical. And it's even harder for young girls today. The messages teenage girls are being bombarded with about food and their bodies are very confusing. They need help in understanding and resisting the pressures and media images to develop strong body images, and we need to be on hand to advise them.

We live in a culture where thinner means better, happier, successful, more glamorous. Size zero is the Holy Grail. Why?

Men don't find skinny women attractive. And besides, have you ever known a hungry woman who was cheerful? Being hungry all the time makes you, and those around you, miserable.

Irish Independent