Eating Disorders And The Media Essay Research

Eating Disorders And The Media Essay, Research Paper

Eating Disorders And the Media

American writer Allen Ginsberg once said: “Whoever controls the media-the images-controls the culture.” Nothing could be truer, the media has always influenced fashion and body shape. But what’s remarkable now is how much the media affects body image, and how willing and eager people are to mess with Mother Nature. (Underwood, par.2) Although there are other factors that contribute to eating disorders the media can partially be blamed for the millions of people with eating disorders because it promotes and glamorizes being thin to the public.

A healthy newborn child eats when it is hungry and stops when it is full. But there are factors that combat against a normal relationship with food from the moment a child starts to communicate. The idea, that looking a certain way and being a certain shape is installed at a very young age. Young girls play with Barbie dolls that have unrealistic proportions and kids see an overload of images on television and in magazines, which imprint an image in their minds of what a body should look like. According to Jonathan Rader, Ph. D., one-half of forth grader girls are on a diet, and when a study asked children to assign attractiveness values to pictures of children with various disabilities; the participants rated the obese child less attractive than a child in a wheelchair, a child with a facial deformity, and a child with a missing limb. (par.2) These fat hating attitudes that are formed at such a young age may very well lead to the development of an eating disorder a few years down the road.

Media sets a certain value on being thin and what thinness means, they brainwash people into believing that thinness is success, beauty, and happiness; while images of overweight people are associated with being unattractive, lazy, and unsuccessful. Companies almost never use heavy-set people in ads, and even when they are used they are portrayed negatively in ads for companies such as Weight Watchers. In most television ads, thin and flawless models grace the screen to sell products. These ads portray woman who have a weight that is way below average, and unhealthy. It is impossible to attain this look, and the women watching these ads at home don’t realize that. Ads like these are shown during shows that teenage girls watch, and this is the age when women are most vulnerable to develop an eating disorder. The more that a person is exposed to these ads, the greater their desire to be thin is. According to Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention Incorporated a study of 4,294 networked television commercials revealed that one out of every 3.8 commercials send some sort of “attractive message,” telling viewers what is or is not attractive. These researchers estimate the average person sees over 5,260 “attractiveness messages” per year, and that is only from television advertisements. (“The Media”, par.3) Women resort to eating disorders because it is the only way to achieve their goal of looking like the women in the television advertisements.

Women’s magazines routinely show two sides of the same story; a gooey, fattening cake recipe placed next to an advertisement for Slim Fast or diet tips from the television stars across the page from an article on bulimia. This type of advertising in magazines sends very mixed signals to women. According to Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention Incorporated, a study of one teen magazine over the course of twenty years found that all of the articles contained in these magazines included statements highlighting that weight loss would improve appearance and in articles about fitness or exercise plans seventy-four percent cited “to become more attractive” as a reason to start exercising and fifty-one percent noted the need to lose weight or burn calories. (”The Media”, par.3) It isn’t very often that woman and teen magazines have articles that are actually meaningful for today’s body image conflicted women and girls.

In the 1960s the only model that didn’t have to diet and exercise constantly to keep her thin figure was Twiggy. She set a standard that most models found impossible to reach, and started a trend that made models start killing themselves with eating disorders so they could be as skinny as she was. Even though the 1970s brought us larger, somewhat healthier looking models, they were still thinner than the average woman. Brooke Shields, a model in the 1980s, admitted that she had dieted since she was eight years old, and was scared to death of gaining weight. Another model in the 1980s, Kim Alexis, revives some painful memories when she looks back on her successful modeling career; she has suffered many long- term health effects from the unhealthy life she lived. (“An Image”, par.13) The standards by which agents and clients judge supermodels has escalated in the 1900s and the year 2000, and most models must jump to the standards or risk losing their jobs. Today the average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds, and the average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than ninety-eight percent of American women. (Rader, par.2) The models of the year 2000, like Kate Moss and Jodi Kidd, are so abnormally thin that they are creating the distorted image of the ideal body that many insecure women are trying to imitate. Female models are getting thinner and thinner at a time when women are becoming heavier, and this gap is getting wider than ever.

Actresses also deserve some recognition for the suffering they endure in their profession. Like models they are under the gun. If they are considered fat and unfit, they are considered unattractive. The stick figure celebrities are all over the movies and television and we’ve watched their weights drop until their bones show through. Some of them include Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox Arquette on “Friends”, “Ally Mcbeal’s” Calista Flockhart, and Pamela Lee Anderson on “Baywatch”. Pamela is 5’7” and weighs 120 pounds; she is supposed to be the voluptuous ideal, yet she is 11% below ideal body weight. In contrast, a generation ago Marilyn Monroe set the beauty standard at 5’5”, weighing 135 pounds. In today’s standards she would be considered fat. The super thin actresses that we all see on television and movies are role models to their fans; and in their quest to be like their idols, some fans may end up with serious even life threatening eating disorders.

On the other hand the press is helping to educate and inform the public about the seriousness of these disorders with attention to the eating disorder related deaths of public figures as well as the admission of other well known people such as Princess Diana, actresses Ally Sheedy, Tracy Gold and Jane Fonda that they have struggled with anorexia and bulimia. Unfortunately the media and public continue to idolize the ultra thin body images.

I have dealt with an eating disorder myself and I can honestly say that media played a big part in my eating disorder. When I was a child I was overweight and the other children teased and made fun of me; those children most likely got their ideas about the ideal body shape and their attitudes about fat from the media and society. When I got older I read a lot of magazines, all of them showed toothpick thin models and included diet and exercise plans that promised to work like magic. I also saw on television and in movies that in order to be beautiful and lead a happy life I obviously needed to be skinny. I still feel very insecure about my body when I look at magazines or see the skinny actresses on television or in movies. But I just have to remind myself that being really skinny just to fit into our cultures’ unrealistic body image isn’t worth letting my weight control every aspect of my life, and defiantly isn’t worth risking my health and life for. I can say, because of my experience, that the media can be partially blamed for the millions of people with eating disorders.

In conclusion, media has had a huge impact on the publics’ body image. Children are affected at a very young age by being imprinted with an unrealistic body shape and fat hating attitudes. Television advertisements send a message to the public that being thin will cause them to lead happy lives and be attractive. Magazines send a mixed signal with their conflicting advertisements, and like television ads show that thin is the only way to be. Models and actresses have gotten thinner over time and are risking their own health to portray the ultra thin body images of today. And my experience with an eating disorder has changed my life and made me become a more critical viewer of the media and its messages. The only way our culture will change is if we stop believing in the social attitudes that make us feel not good enough and start believing in ourselves and our right to our individual body, even if it isn’t a body type currently worshipped as fashionable.

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Related Disorders, Inc. 1 Mar. 2001 .

Immell, Myra H. Eating Disorders. California: Greenhaven Inc., 1999.

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Arizona: Oryx, 1992.

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Underwood, Nora. “ Special Report: Body Envy: Thin is in-and people are messing with

Mother Nature as never before.” Maclean’s Aug. 2000: 23 pars.

Zimmerman, Jill S. “An Image To Heal”. The Humanist Feb. 1997: 20+.


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