Eating Disorders

Can We Blame the Media for Eating Disorders?

Bad, Good; It's Hard to Tell--A Zen Story About Mindfulness | Libero Magazine 1

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When it comes to insecurities about body image and eating disorders within society the Media seems to take the brunt of the blame. But is this accusation warranted? Can we really blame media for our insecurities and the potentially lethal effects those insecurities can have on us the viewers?

Let me first say that I am not here to ‘trash’ or ‘hate’ on the media. I am here to promote healthy body image and I feel the media is a direct threat to this goal.

First, I feel it is necessary to explain what (or whom) I refer to when I say “the media”. The Media is not the actresses or actors you see on TV nor is it the singers in the music videos or even the models on the runway.

For example, Angelina Jolie does not have some hidden motivation to make other women feel down about themselves by maintaining her size 2 figure, nor does she promote using unhealthy means to become a size 2. We don’t know how she obtained the body she has, and if she got there through unhealthy methods I would not put her at fault for that or say she is promoting those unhealthy behaviours.

If she uses unhealthy means (and I am in no way saying that she does) then she is simply just another victim of the pressures that we are all subject to in order to reach some “Ideal”.


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So to clarify, Angelina Jolie is not “the media”; the media I refer to is the journalists, the magazine editors, and the critics who take photos of a celebrity and dissect them on the cover of a magazine or on a television show, exposing their “flaws” and imperfections in the name of “Entertainment”.

That is the “media” to which I refer and there is no question as to the influence that it has on our society.

After researching the impact that the media has on our self-esteem, I found the results to be unanimous: media promotes low self-esteem amongst individuals – especially youth.

In a study carried out by Cortney M. Moriarty and Kristen Harrison of the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois, where children were exposed to television media, the researches commented:

We are also able to infer that television viewing predicts changes in eating disorder symptomataology, changes that represent an increased risk over time, especially for girls.

Similarly, according to a study done by Ann E. Becker M.D., Ph.D, Sc.M, in which Television was introduced for the first time to a people group in Fiji, it was found that exposure to Western media had a major impact on how the females of that society viewed their bodies.

Where prior to this time there were no cases of disordered eating, within only three years of introducing American television, dieting became popular and 11% of Fijian girls used vomiting as a means to control their weight.

Ann E. Becker says of the results:

Numerous observational studies have investigated how media exposure (specifically, televised and print media from the women’s fashion industry) is related to disordered eating. Several of these studies have demonstrated an association between reported media exposure and various incidences of disordered eating.

There is no question that the fashion industry sets a standard of physical appearance that for many is unattainable by healthy means. The average model has a BMI (height to weight ratio) of only 16 – the healthy, recommended BMI for women is 25-30 and anything under 18.5 is considered underweight and a health risk.

Jenni Schaefer describes her experience with media and its influence in her book, “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me”. She says,

“I think the main part…that pulled the trigger for me was living in a Western culture that puts too much focus on the ideal of thinness. (When I restricted food to achieve the thin ideal, dieting became an eating disorder.)”

She adds,

“What I wanted was what I believed came with thinness. The media had taught me that to be thin was to be popular, smart, happy, and successful.”

I can speak from personal experience when I say that I feel that media fueled the flame that developed into my anorexia. After watching fashion TV or looking at pictures in magazines (which I now know are altered so extremely that the person you see on the cover bares almost no resemblance to the actual model) I would feel down on myself and I would work that much harder towards using disordered eating to bring me closer to what I thought was “perfection”.

To put an end to what the media (especially that related to the fashion industry) stands for is not impossible; however, it is something that will take time (possibly decades) to achieve. So the question is: What can we do about it Today?

I believe that the most important ‘Now’ action is to change the way we react to the media and the influence we allow it to have on our lives. We must begin teaching the truth about media and exposing its ruse to each other and future generations so that even if Media does not change, we will.

At the end of the day it is not about who to blame or who to hate; it’s about who to love – and that is yourself. And that is what Libero and my message is all about.

For an example of the media “getting right” visit this link: Debenhems bans the airbrush

Lauren is the Founder and Editor of Libero. She started Libero in April 2010, when she shared her story about her struggles with an eating disorder and depression. Now Lauren uses her writing and videos to advocate mental health and body positivity. In her spare time, she enjoys makeup artistry, playing Nintendo, and taking selfies with her furbaby, Zoey.

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