The media’s presentation of beauty influences the way many young people view their own bodies. With the thin-is-in mentality, a correlation between exposure to mass media and eating disorders has been identified.
It seems that people are obsessed with weight, and the battle to be thin or of a certain body type continues. The skewed idea of beauty portrayed in the media is nearly impossible to live up to, and the next generation of young women and men are being told that this is an aspect of life worth putting energy toward.
Does a correlation between media exposure and eating disorders actually exist? Many study results point to yes. As mainly women in our country see what the media depicts as beautiful and what the “right size” is to be, the desire to be thin is perpetuated by magazines, television shows, and movies. A vicious cycle is created.
Over the last several decades, the prevalence of eating disorders has risen. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. reports that there are about 24 million people suffering from an eating disorder, either anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.
Anorexia is the restriction of food intake. The fear of gaining weight for those struggling with anorexia is so real that the individual restricts calories to almost zero, restricts what foods he or she will eat, and even starves him or herself for long periods of time, missing meals along the way.
Bulimia is similar to anorexia in the fear of gaining weight or getting fat aspect of the eating disorder, but the person suffering from bulimia prevents weight gain by purging. The general pattern of a bulimic eating is that of large amounts of food consumed at one time, followed by a purge of all that was just eaten. Other forms of bulimia include the use of laxative, diuretic, or diet pills in an effort to maintain a certain weight.
Binge eating provides the other end of the eating disorder spectrum. Someone with an inability to control the amount of food eaten in one sitting, or during one day, may eat to the point of discomfort or even physical sickness.
The influence of the media on eating disorders generally leads more women, and men, to anorexia and bulimia than to binge eating habits. It probably comes as no surprise that it is estimated that women develop anorexia and bulimia ten times more frequently than men. The media primarily focuses attention on famous women, constantly portraying them as too fat or too thin. When women see the unrealistic expectations put on to the women who are already in shape, or to those who maybe had a baby and have yet to lose the weight, and are being called fat, what an impression that can have on a young girl.
During adolescent and teenage years, navigating the world is hard enough. With one or two body types being shown as beautiful and “good enough,” young people are forced, in a way, to compare their body types. If they do not look the way the men and women on television and in movies look, a sense of inadequacy can and does ensue. Without a team of stylists, nutritionists, personal trainers, makeup artists, hair stylists, and photographers with PhotoShop, many of the women on the cover of the fashion magazines would look much more like the rest of us. This side of the media’s presentation of beauty are not included in the broadcast.
How can the media shift its stance on weight and appropriate body size to widen the definition of beauty? What small steps can be taken so that the media’s current portrayal of beauty does not lead men and women to eating disorders? Since there is a correlation between media exposure and eating disorders, what can be done to prevent a further rise in unhealthy body image leading to unhealthy treatment of one’s own body?
Jared Friedman is the Quality Improvement Manager at Sovereign Health a treatment center helping people suffering from eating disorders, drug addiction and mental health problems.