Eating Disorders and the Media

Table of Content

It almost everywhere you look. Pictures running rampid on magazine covers, advertisements, billboards: everywhere. Standing in the line at the grocery store, flipping through a magazine, or just glancing at the advertisements on television. It is quite evident by looking at the emaciated pictures of young women and surprisingly men too, what the media considers as the “ideal” figure. This perception society has created, plays a major part in our countries obsession with thinness and extreme dieting. America’s obsession with health and diets and the fashion industry and television exhibiting waif thin models as “sexy and voluptuous”, gives a distorted notion sending many young women the wrong idea about body image.

In today’s society these eating problems, such as anorexia and bulimia, are becoming all too common. Yet, the question still remains, what are the causes and factors contributing to this destructive behavior, and what kind of impact is the media contributing to these problems? Although there are only a few quantitative studies on the issue of eating disorders and the link between the diseases and the media: the research that has been done is quite informative and interesting. Hopefully though, in time more research will fill in some of the links to the enigma of eating disorders.

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The fashion industry, television, and society’s norms have all promoted not only a distorted perspective of what a “beautiful” person is defined as, but influenced many to deception therefore leaving many with an eating Looking at the television one can easily notice all of the ads and diet commercials claiming to have to newest and hottest diet. With these ads and societies norms, many are led to believe once the weight is lost, we they will be happy. Surely everyone has noticed the magazines while standing in line at the grocery store.

Most of them claim to also have the latest and best diet. What happened to last months diet claims? Without a doubt, dieting has become a insane obsession in North America. Billions of dollars are spent trying to look the way society tells us we need to look. People go to extremes from starving themselves to paying for various cosmetic surgeries. It is very unusual to find actors and actresses in Hollywood overweight-because that is not accepted in today’s society.

Many actresses and actors that seen on television have endured countless hours of strenuous exercise and have deprives themselves of nutrition in order to maintain a thin figure. Television is obviously a big influence on many teens. Thousands of girls are starving themselves this very moment trying to attain what the fashion industry considers the “ideal” figure. The average model/actress weighs 23% less than the average women (Bulk 46) yet what society is telling us is that this is normal. When I was watching the Grammy’s a few weeks ago I was disgusted when I saw some of the celebrities.

Most of them looked like they had not eaten in months-seriously. I do not know what is so glamorous about this look, but it seems to have caught on, and many are jeopardizing their health trying to achieve this look. So who is to blame for our countries obsession with thinness? Fashion industries, Hollywood ?? Think again, the American public is the one keeping them in business. The public is the one buying the magazines, purchasing the diet foods, and also guilty of paying big bucks for the various cosmetic surgeries. It is a known fact that eating disorders are on the rise, and the statistics are even scarier(McMurray 30).

From a very young age we are lead to believe that the only way to be accepted and fit in, is to be thin. Along with this we are also lead to believe that those who are thin are more successful and happier. It is no wonder that many colleges and universities around the country are reporting an increased prevalence of eating disorders among many female students. One out of four people between the ages of 12-21 have some sort of disordered eating, whether it be anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive over eating (Couture 47).

Researchers feel though, that the prevalence of eating disorders among female college students is not a necessarily a new phenomenon, but is now receiving more attention due to not only the media’s, but Hollywood’s fixation about weight and slenderness being associated with being attractive. Obesity is not very attractive nor health conscience either, but the weight of a person is not relative to how they should be judged. During the 40’s 50’s and 60’s curviness was considered desirable.

The norms set during that those time periods were infact very different to those say of the 90’s and today. Marilyn Monroe for example, is probably considered one of the biggest sex symbols in American history, even though she wore a size 12 at one time in her career(Arndt) . Models and actresses today at most wear half that size. Colleen Kay Hutchin, Miss America in 1952 weighed 143 pounds during her time as Miss America(Caballero 21).

Caballero, who is the head of the Miss America pageants is aware and concerned of the trend in extremely thin contestants and winners. Caballero states, ” Our concern is not so much the physical health but the mental health of the girls watching…because Miss America is held up as a role model.” Caballero fears that excessively thin winners will contribute to the social pressure to be skinny that sends some adolescents into eating disorders. Society has forgotten what comes from within is what is really important. It is unfortunate that in today’s society, people have forgotten what is inside a person that counts, not what is on the outside.

The American society needs to start loving and accepting each other, not for what they may look like. Yet, every time you walk into a store you are surrounded by images of emaciated models wearing the latest fashions. Does this really affect the young women and men ? I think it does, because even I find myself wondering if I was skinnier or prettier would I be guaranteed all the “happiness” and attention that all of the models, and actors and actresses are believed to have. I asked my little sister this question thinking that since she is in middle school, a time when youths are greatly affected and influenced by their appearance, and was surprised from her reply. Actually, I was shocked by her answer.

My sister informed me of one of her friends who already takes diet pills!! Diet pills in eighth grade seems so unreal to me. She also said that many girls do not eat lunch because they are afraid they are going to get fat. This was very disturbing news, because I know from personal experience how eating disorders can not only control, but ruin your life. This disease that affects many young women as well as men, is complex psychiatric and psychological condition that can be deadly. Although the exact causes leading to eating disorders still remain a mystery one thing is for sure, many college students are a high percentage of those who are affected by this disease. It is no wonder that one in six female college students has some sort of disordered eating( McMurray 30).

For many, food is a comfort or security in a time of confusion and stress. The transition from high school to college is an important, most being freshman and leaving home for the first time in their lives. This experience can be traumatic for many, and the unrecognized dependency of parents and lack of experience making adult decisions on their own can cause problems functioning in the less-controlled college environment.

Living in a dorm or apartment with other students means getting along with others, withstanding the normal coming and going as students leaving for school. This situation among the other stressful situations college introduces, can leave many students vulnerable therefor more susceptible to problem eating. For students who already feel vulnerable to problem eating, this situation can may cause more feelings of helplessness, thus worsening the problem even more.

In a recent edition of People magazine, a researcher analyzed and studied the rise in eating disorders among college campuses, and came up with some surprising conclusions. The researcher found that the connection between an unfamiliar place and insecurity using problem eating to gain control. Also, being in an unfamiliar place, social acceptance is a major issue and also another key in eating disorders. Many young women feel as though if they are skinny then they too will be accepted. These young women are surrounded by images of rail thin models in magazines and actresses on television who are thought to be beautiful, so they too think that is they are thin then they will be accepted and therefore, happy.

Many girls who are already very self conscious may look to catching a guy to fulfill their emotional needs they lack. In doing this they believe that they have to look a certain way or be a certain size to be wanted. “This situation carries all the dynamics that can also contribute to problem eating”, states Chelsea Waters in her biography Diary if an Eating Disorder. Many girls then turn to extreme dieting and bingeing and purging to control the situation. Although many researchers have found college stress and lifestyle change, and social acceptance to be a major factor in the prevalence of eating disorders among college students, family life is also another key factor.

There are many psychiatric and psychological reasons behind eating disorders, including both mental and emotional anguish. Psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Couture has found a connection between the family relationship and the effect it has on young women and men. Dr. Couture found that women especially have been abusing food since they were small children. As children they learned to reach for a sweet instead of a potential friend.

Also, certain variables also contribute to a young women’s problem with food. For example, most dorm cafeteria’s serve food mainly high in fat and protein. Students who study late at night and become hungry cannot access healthy food like they would at home. Therefore, many female college students find themselves handling stress by bingeing or starving themselves. Several researchers trace difficulties with food and eating habits back to family origin. Those students suffering from bulimia or bingeing and purging, often came from families characterized by lack of parental affection, negative, hostile, and disengaged patterns of family interaction, and alcoholism. Researchers also found a link between childhood sexual experiences and bulimia.

Families in which the mother’s daughter from each other, also show a correlation with anorexia and bulimia. For many young women, poor eating habits evolve as a way of exerting some sort of control in a difficult family situation. Many women suffering eating disorders report that their families lack commitment, help, and support, so instead of reaching out and expressing their frustrations and anger, they feed their eating disorder with this negative feedback. Those who came from a family with such problems also reported suffering from other conditions such as: depression, social phobia, and hostility.

Cynthia Bulk, another Psychiatrist, found that many anorexics and bulimic hold fears similar to those with social phobia. These people have issues about social situations and are insecure and ashamed of their bodies. In that sense, many suffering from eating disorders feel like if they achieve their goal weight they too will find the happiness associated with what our society values as slenderness and Researchers are still looking at the factors of eating disorders, from the stressful college transition, family life, and the media’s impact , to find some answers to this myriad and perplexing disease. Researchers feel that the prevalence of eating disorders among female college students is not necessarily a new phenomenon, but one gaining recognition because of the prevalence and acceptance and exploitment in the media.

Although there is a great deal of information between the family origin and the resulted eating disorder behavior, and the stress of the impersonal college living with maladaptive eating, the information on the link between the media and eating disorders is quantitative. It is a tragedy that our society is partly to blame for eating disorders due to the value they place on being thin. It is also very unfortunate that so many young women and men are starving their bodies and souls to fit what our culture has considered to be “ideal.” People have forgotten that what is inside a person that counts, not what is on the outside.

The American society needs to learn love and accept themselves, and also begin to love their bodies, no matter what size they are. Along with that, the children need to be taught to be proud of who they are. People come in all shapes and sizes, and should be accepted them for who they are not what they look like. It is scary when children as young as the age of ten are becoming obsessed with dieting and their bodies. They are becoming afraid of what our society says is unacceptable and is looked down upon: being fat. If a child is raised to love and accept who they are and what they look like, they will be less likely to strive to fit into society’s unattainable standards.

Society cannot control what the media says or what they may claim, but they do not have to support it. Stop buying those fashion magazines that just make you feel bad! Stop believing all the lies told by the fashion and diet industry. Our society needs to learn to be realistic and focus on learning to love and accept themselves. No number on a scale and fitting into a smaller dress size will make anyone happy. Real happiness can only come from within.

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Eating Disorders and the Media. (2018, Jun 13). Retrieved from

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