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

Eating disorders are psychological disorders that involve 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. The media doesn’t make it any easier on someone already experiencing poor body image issues. Influences from the media begin at a young age. Then, they follow throughout the rest of 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 were usually slim. This was the “norm” even in cartoons or animated shows.

Think back to your favorite Disney princess. Most princesses were portrayed similarly until recently. They were very slim with a “perfect” hourglass shape. On the other hand, most villains were drawn to appear larger than the princesses. Example: “The Little Mermaid.” In this film it was 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. In TV shows or movies the person deemed “the funny friend” is often known as “the fat friend.” Jokes will be made at their expense. This type of commentary leads viewers to believe you must be thin to be accepted and well-liked.

You may not have realized it at the time, but when exposed to these things, 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 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. Barbie 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. Furthermore, she would also be 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 who isn’t stick-thin in an advertisement. This has a huge effect on how the world views beauty. Consequently, it’s also why women often think in order to be successful or beautiful, you must be thin.

Additionally, the promotion of dieting is huge in today’s advertisements.

Again, diet ads commonly feature models who are already slim. Thus, 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.

Mental health intertwines with diet and nutrition. Together we can work through your emotions around food. When you reach out to our counselors at Serenity Wellness & Counseling Center for help with eating disorders, we also will create a plan, develop strategies, and make suggestions so you can succeed.

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