If you thought eating disorders were a problem for women only, you should have been at the 11th annual Life Lessons Breakfast at the Belo Mansion on Wednesday, February 10. There, a “mixed crowd” of 300 at the Elisa Project fundraiser listened to internationally known keynoter Dr. Jean Kilbourne talk about the image of women in advertising, and her critical studies of food, alcohol, and tobacco ads. But they also heard Brian Cuban, brother of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, talk about his struggles with eating disorders as he accepted the Elisa Project’s Star of Hope Award.
Cuban, an attorney whose self-published book titled “Shattered Image” was released in 2013, told the early-morning crowd that he had a two-decades-long struggle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (or BDD) that left him feeling depressed and lonely. An estimated 25 to 30 percent of people suffering from eating disorders are men, Cuban pointed out, a fact he wasn’t aware of until encountering The Elisa Project. Once he did, he added, “I realized I wasn’t alone.”
After receiving the Star award, Cuban, who was the Life Lessons 2016 honorary chair, returned to his front-row table to listen to Kilbourne. There he joined his fiancée Amanda Ellis, Elisa Project director Whitney Roberts-Kutch, Yvonne Crum and the breakfast event’s co-chairs, Catherine and Sean Lowe. Catherine and Sean, of course, are the celebrity couple who got engaged during the 17th season of TV’s “The Bachelor” dating show, and then married a year later.
During her keynote talk, which was augmented with a colorful slide show, Kilbourne criticized the country’s “toxic cultural environment” that “sacrifices health for profit” at the expense of American women. The “flawless beauty” held up in advertising and pop culture is a distorted and impossible standard for most women to attain, she said, making many women feel inferior and inadequate.
As males and females age, Kilbourne went on, “the only thing that counts for men is the size of their bank account.” But for 20 or 30 years, she went on, women have been taught to focus on thin-ness—to literally “become smaller”—and to “hate our bodies and feel disconnected.” The “solution” to this problem as prescribed in advertising, Kilbourne said: binging on “food and liquor and cigarettes” as a way of dealing with stress.
“Food becomes their only friend,” she said, and therefore is linked purposefully in advertising with sex and sexuality. To illustrate the point, Kilbourne showed a print ad for Milky Way candy bars headlined, “What you do in the dark is nobody’s business”—a come-on which she said “encourages binging.”
As one remedy for this huge problem, Kilbourne advised “talking to kids really early” about advertising and what it represents. She also urged warning labels on food, special taxes on dietary products, and more “media literacy” in general.