When talking about body image nowadays, people assume that the media has something to do with it. I know personally the media had nothing to do with my eating disorder so I thought that I’d try to ask people about their experience with eating disorders and how the media played a role in that experience.
“Eating disorders are not necessarily about body image. While images in magazines may distort our ideas of what is considered to be an ideal human body, they have little to do with eating disorders, at least in my opinion. Eating disorders are manifestations of deeper-seated psychological issues.”
That was my experience and one that’s been echoed in this study among the 39.2% of respondents who either have or have recovered from an eating disorder. That’s a large number and to make things worse, another 38.4% of women have known someone close to them who’s struggled meaning that 3 out of 4 women have been affected by eating disorders in some way.
Six percent preferred not to answer this question and while direct assumptions can not be made, guesses are that the question was an emotional topic for them maybe because they’re in denial themselves, are helping someone now or have lost someone from this disease.
The media could be triggering, but there wasn’t a direct link between their feelings of themselves and their media intake. “It was a way for me to have control–an idea not given to me by the media. So, yes I feel the media does play a role in determining how women feel about their bodies and what is beautiful, but they are not the only factor.” These disorders are more because of perfectionism, being rewarded, and other emotional events like divorce or abuse. “Speaking from my own experience, the media didn’t have much to do with my ED. Mine was due to pressure from the sport I competed in my whole life (think gymnastics, although that’s not what I did). Rather than feel influenced by the media, I felt I had to be stick thin because I was rewarded the most when I was that way. I was second at nationals when I was at my smallest, gained a little weight, started not placing so well, lost the weight through starvation, and started winning again.”
The triggering, but not causing relationship was also shown by this woman who said, “I hardly ever read beauty/health magazines (except at the doctor’s waiting room, maybe), read ‘the right kind’ of blogs (ED-recovery oriented, health food blogs etc.), don’t really watch TV etc. and still suffer from anorexia nervosa. Media might play into it a little, but it is definitely not a large factor in this mess I am in.”
Conclusion: What does this tell us? What can we do about it?
The cycle of negativity, disordered eating and eating disorders can also trickle down from mother to daughter and media to consumer. “Because I think confidence comes from within. My negative body thoughts originated because my mom is constantly on diets and unhappy with her body, so she passed that self-hating attitude to me and was always telling me to go to the gym, not eat dessert, etc. Yes, I look in magazines/movies and used to see the image of what I wanted/felt like I should be and it hurt even more, but that was only a contributing factor, not the main cause. When I beat my ED, I didn’t stop reading magazines, I simply stopped comparing myself and cut out the negative chatter.” Across generations, body issues have been a problem and if our mothers are showing their daughters these behaviors, they’re ultimately going to follow. Likewise, we continue to tell other women they aren’t good enough, they will feel that stress.
Because of this, instilling prevention programs at a young age (middle school and older) to women to learn about media literacy and also proper nutrition is key. Nutrition is really a glazed over topic in health classes in middle school and high school that just show the food pyramid. While this is a start, it doesn’t tell women why we need certain foods or even other options if you follow different lifestyles like vegetarianism or veganism. Obviously in a health class, they cannot get into too much detail, but it’s been said that many women try a vegetarian diet or even vegan to just be able to cut things out and in turn, eat less. That only starts a downward spiral. Along with that, media literacy in a health class would be recommended because health is not just physical health, but mental health. If we can talk about airbrushing and some of the standards prevalent in society, girls may be able to grow-up trying not to compare themselves to a standard models and celebrities can’t even achieve.
For magazines, the primary thing I would recommend would be to start using a diverse set of models interchangeably in the pages. There are always the “size” issues, but those just further show that seeing different sizes can only be a special occasion when it should be the norm. If we show women that they can grow up and be whatever size, it won’t cure eating disorders, but it won’t be a trigger and certainly will lessen body dissatisfaction and negatively comparing each other. Is it so bad to tell someone they’re beautiful? I don’t think so!
All done! I can’t believe this project is complete- or at least for these immediate purposes. This last section is what’s really pushing the new blog and I hope you guys enjoy that too.
Was there anything you were surprised about reading or that you learned?
PS: I can’t wait to launch the new blog, but it still might be under construction. I have some general things but my friend is helping with illustrations and I don’t know when she’s going to be done.
A formal announcement will be very soon!!!!