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Sushama Kirtikar


This year, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is scheduled for Feb. 24-March 1.

In the United States, 10 million women and 1 million men are struggling with an eating disorder that could have fatal consequences. So, what does this have to do with us South Asian Americans? More than you and I would have imagined. It is a subject that is generally overlooked in our community as irrelevant and dismissed as the excesses of the West, yet it exists and is fermenting even as you read this.

It has been observed that because of globalization, the standard of beauty has also been transformed. In the past, the full figures of Eastern cultures were admired. Now, everyone is vying for the newly exalted beauty of Parisian fashion magazine covers. Vogue and Elle flaunt the thin waif-like look that is impossible to achieve and moreover downright unhealthy. So does the recent entertainment industry standard: Bollywood.

For many of us, the white American’s image is considered the ideal, leading to distress about our own bodies, as South Asians are so far removed from the Caucasian-body type. This affects young South Asian men and women more than previously recognized as a problem. Many declare that South Asians are insulated from eating disorders and ascribe thin or thick physiques to genetics. However, in an insidious way, this disorder has entered the South Asian American psyche.

A community plumped with high achievers, stereotyped as the model minority and facing schizoid pressure from within the home and without, the young teens get hit with anxiety. They feel badly about themselves; and their bodies that are developing, become the target of negative thinking. This anxiety is often dealt with by restricting of food (anorexia), or overeating and purging (bulimia), or binge eating (BED). This leads to feelings of guilt and depression, which are further exacerbated when the maladaptive behaviors become habit and the cycle continues. Eating disorders are said to have biological, emotional and cultural factors influencing the onset of the illness.

Equally disturbing were the results of a study conducted of 122 college women of South Asian descent. “The psychological impact of racial teasing may be a potent but neglected source of eating and body image disturbance among minority women,” concluded Dana S. Iyer, New School University of N.Y., and Nick Haslam, University of Melbourne, Australia. They linked the roots of eating disorders in South Asian Americans to “exclusionary and racialized responses of other Americans toward them, and to the sense of not belonging, that these responses engender.” In short, youngsters feel left out or picked upon for having physical features different from their mainstream peers.

I believe it is not exclusively women that suffer from a distorted body image. I have seen young South Asian men in my counseling office who also express similar difficulties as a result of racial teasing. Not being as muscularly built as their Caucasian counterparts, they too become the target of bullying and teasing. This factor is rarely calculated into the equation and we as parents need to pay more attention to it. Further, I would like to stress that this continues well into the adult years where people in their 40s and 50s are still grappling with the disorder today.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Seattle, Wash., is a not-for-profit organization focused on prevention, advocacy, education and research related to eating disorders. They provide treatment referrals to those suffering from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder and those concerned with body image and weight issues. Along with a referral hotline, they also offer a support network for family and friends. They can be visited at

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

There are many organizations in the Tampa Bay area that focus on helping special needs children but the one organization that everyone should know about it is STAND (Statewide Advocacy Network on Disabilities Inc.) This not-for-profit organization, which has been around since December 1996, was organized by a group of parents and attorneys to help educate people on their rights.

STAND's purpose it to inform the families of children with disabilities of their rights. It is dedicated to getting a child with a disability the right education that they are entitled to under the law. The three main laws that STAND is concerned with are: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973. It focuses on three topics: advocacy, legal rights, and above all, education.

This year, STAND will be hosting SPARC 2007 – Stand Pinellas Accessing Resource Conference. The organization’s goal is to provide parents, teachers, therapist and other professionals with resources that help children with disabilities make achievements in their life. STAND focuses on children with Special Needs and they take this mission very seriously.

This year SPARC 2007 will be held at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Pinellas Park, on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Morgan Fitzgerald is at 6410 118 Ave. N., Largo, FL 33773. Cost for the conference is $25 for pre-registration. That will include one entry to the conference, a lunch ticket and a program.

(Dr. Ram Ramcharran will be a guest speaker at the STAND event. He will be discussing how to better understand and deal with children with special needs. If you have any questions regarding this event, contact Melissa Tremblay, SPARC chairperson at (727) 784-8493 or visit

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at

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