Eating Disorders Under the Magnifying Glass: What Role Does the Media Play?

An eating disorder is a psychological disorder that involves abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Typically, those affected with eating disorders are obsessed with their food, body weight, and body shape.They often have an “ideal body image” in mind as a goal for what they may be striving for. The media does not make it any easier on someone who already is experiencing poor body image issues. Influences from the media begin at a young age and follow you throughout the rest of your life. Let’s dive deeper into the role that media plays in eating disorders.

Media Influence: Television, Movies, and Commercials

Think back to the television shows or commercials that you used to watch as a child. A majority of the actors and actresses that were part of those shows were usually slim. This was considered the “norm,” even in cartoons or animated shows.Think back to your favorite Disney princess. Up until recently, almost all of the princesses were portrayed in a similar way, very slim with a “perfect” hourglass shape. On the other hand, most of the villains were drawn to appear larger than the princesses.Example: “The Little Mermaid”: Disney Princess, Ariel vs. The sea witch and/or villain, Ursula.As you grow up, different shows portray being slightly above average weight as a negative. Often, the person who is deemed “the funny friend” in TV shows or movies is also known as “the fat friend.” Jokes will be made at their expense. This type of commentary leads viewers to believe that you must be thin to be accepted and well-liked.You may not have realized it at the time, but you begin to compare yourself to the people and characters you see on the screen. You want to be like them in every sense—personality, demeanor, and looks. The influence of media does not stop there.

Media Influence: Children’s Toys

There is a good chance you owned at least one Barbie doll as a young girl. Similar to the shows and movies you watched, you strived to be like Barbie. Barbie could be anything she wanted to be. She was a doctor, veterinarian, mom, chef, pop star, and more. Sounds like a great role model, right?This is a great message to send to young children. What is not ideal is the size and shape that she portrayed. All Barbies were one size and one size only. She had long legs with a thigh gap, flat stomach, tiny waist, full chest, and slender neck.Studies have shown that if a real woman were to have Barbie’s dimensions, she would be forced to walk on all fours and incapable of lifting her own head. This is a very dangerous body to strive for.

Media Influence: Advertisements

Advertisements are everywhere: TV shows, movies, radio, magazines, bus stops, etc. Rarely will you find someone that isn’t stick-thin in an advertisement. This has a huge effect on how the world views beauty, which is why women often think that in order to be successful or beautiful, you must be thin.In addition to advertisements, the promotion of dieting is huge, especially in today’s world. Again, models that are already very slim will be featured in diet ads so that consumers are led to believe that they are overweight.The unrealistic body standards will cause customers to purchase diet plans, pills, shakes, equipment. The companies promoting these products are directly benefiting from eating disorders.These are just three examples of the media’s effect on eating disorders. Media plays a huge role in the increased number of eating disorders in our society. Diet and nutrition are intertwined with your mental health. Together we can work through your emotions around food. We also will create a plan, develop strategies, and make suggestions so you can succeed.


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