Eating Disorders and the Media
Everyday one is exposed to the media in every front. Whether it is through television, magazine, billboards, radio or newspaper, the media’s presence is widespread making it the most efficient means of changing opinion, creating controversy, exposing scandal and setting standards. Media can dictate what products are good by portraying them positively and they can also expose products in a negative light leading to their unpopularity. It is no secret that the advertising and marketing companies are billion dollar industries and large corporations such as computer companies and fashion moguls pay millions of dollars yearly to hire the best advertising agencies to represent their brand, knowing that exposure is the key to setting trends and making their product coveted. Even seemingly neutral or objective media mediums such as news broadcasting agencies can influence public opinion though exposing certain sides of controversies over others or giving more air time to certain stories. In every aspect of one’s life, the influence of the media can not be underestimated and whether desired or not, one’s opinions are formed and changed by the dictates of the media.
This prevalence of the media in forming opinion has in latest years become especially detrimental in the issue of self-image, especially that of women and how they perceive themselves. The images continually shown in the media of the “ideal” woman is always that of an overly thin woman, a super model who is supposed to represent the average woman and set the standard of beauty for women everywhere. However these models used in the media represent the top 2% of women in their build and the standard of beauty that they set is unattainable for the majority of women. This had led to an increase in the number of women who develop eating disorders in an attempt to cope with living in “a society that demands women so thin”(Davies, 2000), most women will fall short their whole lives regardless of how little they eat and how strictly they exercise. Although eating disorders have in the past been limited to the models themselves, these days average women in all walks of life develop eating disorders. In this day and age the media is a main cause of eating disorders in women who are made to feel unwanted and worthless by continuously falling short of the images media uses to portray the “average woman.”
The media perpetuates the image of women and sets the standards for how women should look. Whether it is fashion spreads directly showcasing a beautiful woman, advertisements for products non-related to beauty or even simply news broadcasts, the media perpetuates a specific ideal for women. The women used in all these advertisements are young and painfully thin. In many fashion magazines,”the majority of women photographed are under the age of 21″(Eating Disorders, Body Image and the Media, 2000), but are aimed to target a demographic of women much older. In swimsuit ads, lingerie catalogues and exercise advertisements, the use of thin women to portray a physically fit women is understandable. However these types of women are used in media that is not beauty-related. Whether it is in displaying automobiles, computers and cellular phones, or the news anchors on television, the women are always young and thin. The use of only one specific type of woman in media has led to a belief among men and women that the standard of women is to be youthful and skinny and not fitting into this makes women increasingly self-aware. The standard has become so unattainable that even as most women recognise that the models used are not representative of the population, they still strive to fit into this ideal mould.
Even men are exposed to this standard of feminine beauty and fall to believing all women should look like the models they see. In the video and computer games they play, the cheerleaders in the sports they watch or the actresses in the pornography they view, the “women they are exposed to fit into a type of woman that exists in only 2% of reality”(Eating Disorders, Body Image and the Media, 2000). They in turn expect women to look like the women they are exposed to in the media and wrongly believe that this standard of beauty is the norm when in fact it is not. Women fall short in the eyes of men because they can not fulfill the model of beauty exalted by the media.
Women have thus developed a sense of inadequacy in society, falling short of the standard portrayed by the media and falling short of men’s altered expectations as well. Regardless of how little they resort to eat or how strenuously they exercise, “most women will never reach the ‘ideal’ of the media due to their natural shape and genetics,”(Eating Disorders, Body Image and the Media, 2000). This has generated feelings of low self-esteem in women and a perception of low self-worth. Studies show that 90% of women claim to be on a diet at any particular time, demonstrating just how damaging the media has been on the image of women. The majority of women are dissatisfied with their body and this number is “exponentially higher in younger generations”(Davies, 2000). This increase in low self-esteem has led to an increase in the number of women who develop an eating disorder in their lifetime, whether it be self-denying disorders such as anorexia or bulemia, or other types of eating disorders such as compulsive eating disorder. All these mental disorders stem from an inner need to express a fight with inner inadequacy.
Although many believe that eating disorders are simply women who want to be thin, eating disorders are mental disorders that stem from deeper rooted issues, not a “simple deprivation of food in an attempt to be thin,”(Mendelsohn, 2007). Eating disorders are steeped in a deep dissatisfaction with one self and a constant need to gain attention and admiration that manifests itself through actions such as depriving oneself of food, purging food, or eating compulsively when anxious or stressed. Many women with eating disorders “have a need to feel in control over one’s body or to prove self-worth,”(Mendelsohn, 2007). Fatness is perceived as a lack of self-control and control over one’s body and women with eating disorders often have many control issues. But the added pressure from the media and an unreachable standard of beauty has exaggerated these feelings and has made notions such as control seem paramount, further feeding the growth of eating disorders among women. By portraying only a specific type of woman and holding her as the standard of beauty for women everywhere, the media makes the average woman seem unworthy of being “beautiful,” pushing her to be not only smarter and more capable, but taller, thinner and younger as well. Only when a woman can match the models painted on billboards and sashaying down runways can she be “acceptable.”
The media can be brutal and cruel in the message they spread of the ideal woman, pushing women beyond their means with false hopes of trying to be an ideal most will never reach. As long as the media continuously uses the top 2% of women to represent the entire pool of women, the increase of eating disorders will only continue.
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Davies, Maxine. Hidden Hunger: Overcoming Eating Disorders Through God’s Healing Power (Hope for the Hurting) (Hope for the Hurting). Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2004.
Hook, Sue Vander. Eating Disorders (Understanding Illness). north mankato: Smart Apple Media, 2000.
Jung, Jaehee, and Michael Peterson. “Body Dissatisfaction and Patterns of Media Use Among Preadolescent Children.” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 36.1 (2007): 40-54.
Mendelsohn, Susan J . It’s Not About the Weight: Attacking Eating Disorders from the Inside Out. New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2007.
Eating Disorders, Body Image and the Media. London: BMA Books, 2000.