15-year-old girl dies of eating disorder, triggering calls to end distorted aesthetics, body shame
Published: May 24, 2023 10:09 PM
Photo: Screenshot of a documentary about Xiaoling

Photo: Screenshot of a documentary about Xiaoling

A tragedy in South China’s Guangdong made headlines on Wednesday and pushed discussions over body shame into the spotlight again, after a 15-year-old teenage girl died of anorexia nervosa.

A recently released documentary tells the story of Xiaoling (pseudonym), who was 1.65 meters tall yet weighed only 24.8 kilograms, lighter than many kindergarten children, when she was transferred to a hospital in Shenzhen from Dongguan in March. 

At that time, Xiaoling suffered from severe malnutrition, respiratory failure, electrolyte disturbance, brain atrophy and had lost consciousness. After more than 20 days at the pediatric intensive care unit, she passed away. 

Xiaoling started dieting from grade six as she liked a classmate who was affectionate toward a thinner girl. Xiaoling was a similar height and weighed 52 kilograms at the time, a very “standard” shape in the public sense. 

Xiaoling was later diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that has a very high death rate. Her parents brought Xiaoling to hospital several times but she resisted treatment fiercely. Medical methods came too late to save her life. 

The cause of anorexia nervosa remains unclear but influencing factors include social attitudes, family influences, genetics, brain chemical imbalances and developmental issues, according to the website of Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

After the news of her death became one of the most searched items on Sina Weibo, many netizens mourned the death of a teenage girl who should have been enjoying her youth and discussed how to rein in the pursuit of being pale and skinny, while changing attitudes over body shame and anxiety. 

Fashion blogger Huini complained to the Global Times that body shame and distorted aesthetics have gone crazy and she can hardly find clothes online that fit. 

Huini is 1.67 meters tall and weighs 55 kilograms. She used to wear size M to L, but now she mostly wears XL and even XXL. Sometimes the design is so small that there is no size for Huini. 

The first time when Huini ordered a size L and found the shirt too small for her, she immediately thought she had put on weight and should go on a diet. But after checking the detailed sizes, she realized the manufacturers were only producing sizes XS, S and M, and calling them M, L and XL. 

“It is a very bad trend as many girls and young women assume they are too ‘large’ to find clothes and turn to extreme dieting or doing excessive exercise, which is also bad for the health,” Huini said. 

Huini attributed the trend partly to the popularity of the “Brandy Melville” style, named after the Italian brand known for its one-size-fits-all clothing. “It was created for people of a certain shape, but when it was marketed as fashion, the style became ‘standard’ and created social rules,” Huini said. 

According to JHM, anorexia nervosa affects more women than men. It often starts during the teenage years. The number of young women between the ages of 15 to 19 who have anorexia nervosa has increased every 10 years since 1930. 

Social media platforms are used by brands to create fashions and hit products, but it can also lead to unreasonable comparisons and anxiety, observers said, urging joint measures across society to help young people form a healthier sense of beauty. There have also been calls for better methods and early intervention, forced if necessary, to help those who have serious anxiety or eating problems.