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Media Eating Disorders

We are constantly surrounded and influenced by the media no matter where we go. With all of the great improvements the media has provided to our lives, it is hard to recognize how much the media has negatively impacted us as well. Media advertises body images that are deemed to be “perfect” which pressures individuals to change their appearance to meet the standards of society’s view of “perfection. ” Not everyone can achieve self-satisfaction with his or her appearance. Body image is the mental image of one’s own body based on self-esteem.

Since the media does not provide a realistic standard of beauty, it does not help self-esteem and can even worsen one’s body image. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. Out of those men and women, low confidence and self-esteem are already a problem especially since research has shown that those individuals are the most influenced by the media and society.

Exposure to the media can strongly contribute to the development of an eating disorder. The media seeks to inform us, persuade us, entertain us, and change us. The media also provides an easy way of communication so that everyone in our culture is up to date with the new “norms” and morals within society. Norms are standards that are found in society and groups. We are exposed to societal norms and expectations through various forms of media starting at a very young age. With every advance in technology, the media further integrates into our lives.

Sometimes we fail to realize how large the impact of the media actually is. The most common types of influential media include the Internet, print media, music, television, and movies. One of the most influential sources of media today is the Internet because of how new and how fast the Internet is improving and expanding. In this day and age of mobile technology, we are exposed to the idea of an ideal body more now then ever. Social media’s image-centric nature can trigger a person to compare themselves to each other, even unintentionally.

Pointing out flaws on one’s self creates dissatisfaction and a need for change because of the compulsive scrutiny of one’s body image. It does not help that the media presents being beautiful or handsome with unrealistic standards that very few can match up to in a healthy way. For example, the media portrays women with only one ideal body type – the slender, thin woman with the measurements of a catwalk model. These women are plastered all over social media and are usually famous only because of their appearance.

If the media showed a variety of body shapes and sizes then it would more accurately represent the population considering that everyone is unique in their own way. The most widely used social media websites are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What makes a post popular on these websites is the amount of likes or comments it has received. All of these sites have an image-centric nature therefore the amount of social comparison is heightened. These images can directly affect an individuals self esteem.

For example, if your romantic partner posts a picture of himself or herself with another individual of the opposite sex, jealousy intensifies. The viewer may feel inadequate or less confident in their relationship and themselves. Another example is the thin ideal internalization that a lot of women suffer from. This internalization can be linked to the blogs and websites that post “thinspirational” images of unhealthily thin individuals to the point where the outlines of bones are visible. These types of pro eating disorder images can act as a trigger because of the exposure and pressure to be just like the individuals in them.

Print media is another type of media that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder and a poor self-image. Magazines are one of the most influential sources of print media that are read by men, women, teens, and children. Magazines are now readily available online and over kindle type readers. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 70 percent of girls in grades five through 12 said magazine images influence their ideals of a perfect body. The people behind the media go above and beyond to create an acceptable view of perfection.

For example, most photographs that appear on magazines have been edited through a software program known as Photoshop. Photoshop allows one to change everything and anything desired therefore creating an unreal representation of the image appearance. Another form of media that impacts us everyday is music. Music can be very therapeutic, in fact there are many kinds of music therapy to help with eating disorders as well as other mental health conditions. There are so many different types of music today to fit any mood. However, the derogative language has increased in today’s greatest hits.

Besides the actual lyrics, the music videos are usually plastered with beautiful men and women who are half naked. The individuals watching these videos obviously find the artists desirable, but the message and images may leave the viewers feeling lacking in confidence or ability. According to the National Centre for Eating Disorders, out 95% of people own a television and watch for 3-4 hours everyday (Jade). The cast for television shows and movies are usually inspirational and often unintentionally serve as role models.

Reality television such as the Kardashian’s however is all about appearance. In the 1998 survey in Fiji, girls who said that they watched television three or more nights a week were 50 percent more likely to describe themself as too big or fat (Goode). The media is always soliciting a new fad diet plan, pill or company to jump onboard with. These gimmicks lead people to believe they are lacking in some way. Many of these ads encourage rapid weight loss, obtain a gorgeous tan, cardboard abs, perfect figured girls next to the ad.

Seeing this gorgeous girl no doubt would motivate anyone to want to workout or to take the advertised pill or fad diet to look like that. Many girls though have been choosing the easy way out to losing weight, feeling the need to starve themselves and thus developing an eating disorder. It would seem that the media doesn’t simply make the ideal body desirable, these dieting behaviors spring from an epidemic of low esteem, stress, guilt and depression about having a body that falls short of the cultural ideal.

There are many diagnostic classifications of eating disorders according to the DSM-IV-TR but the most common among individuals are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge eating, and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Anorexia Nervosa is a common eating disorder in which the individual fears weight gain and has a fixation on a thin figure. These two factors can cause the person to develop harmful eating behaviors such as self-inflicted malnutrition. There is a strong relationship between anorexia and the media because of a thin ideal stereotype.

One example of this stereotype emerged as a thigh gap that mainly affected teenage girls. If one had a gap in-between their thighs, causing them not to touch, while standing with their feet together, then they were considered beautiful and desirable. Bulimia Nervosa is the second most common eating disorder. This disorder is characterized by binging on food and feeling guilty afterwards, therefore the individual will attempt ways to undo the large intake of food by self-induced purging. Binge Eating Disorder is where an individual eats large amounts in a small period of time to the point where they are uncomfortably full.

The individuals have been described as using food to avoid their feelings instead of dealing with them. One of the most misunderstood categories of eating disorders is EDNOS, Eating Disorders Otherwise Not Specified, because it causes stress and pain but does not meet the criteria for other eating disorders. Typically EDNOS is defined by routine unhealthy eating habits that may include refusal to eat, overeating, purging, and an over obsession with food. Regardless of the specific type of eating disorder diagnosis the outcomes can be detrimental to overall health and wellbeing.

These habits can cause significant nutritional deficiencies, liver and kidney failure, and poor circulation and even at times be fatal. Women, especially teenage girls, are incredibly vulnerable to developing an eating disorder because during the teenage years, self esteem is at an all time low and body image is fragile due to physical changes of puberty. A young woman’s progression through maturation is also very much on display and noticeable, therefore creating more pressure to be attractive. Women are also more exposed as a sexual stereotype compared to men.

For women, a slim waist, a larger bust size, and wide hips are just a few examples on how media and advertising construct “beauty”. These constructed and unrealistic standards for beauty leave women who do not meet them to feel worse about them especially since body size can determine how people socialize. The National Centre for Eating Disorders explains this concept: Research shows clearly that overweight women suffer in a number of important respects. They are less likely to be accepted into higher education, they have lower salaries; they are less likely to date in adolescence and are less likely to be married in adult life.

Conversely, graduate career women are more likely to feel guilty about eating than any other target group. There are a small percentage of males diagnosed with eating disorders compared to women but that does not mean that they should not be recognized. Men are under more pressure to be muscular with cardboard abs, and tall to portray strength in character. They also suffer with eating disorder behaviors such as binging, and purging. However, various studies have shown that males with an eating disorder have a higher mortality rate compared to women (Raevuoni, 2014).

I believe that this is because males are not supposed to show emotional instability because they are suppose to be strong for women and children. There are also surgeries that people can undergo to achieve that fake representation of beauty. These surgeries can take up a lot of time and money because of how extensive the procedures are. Plastic surgery provides an “improved” self-image because that individual assumed that what they looked like was not good enough or attractive for themselves and for others.

The distortion of natural beauty can lead to a feeling of low self worth in an individual because they cannot relate and meet a “perfect” self. Although the media can contribute greatly to the negative self image and poor confidence that often times can lead to eating disorders there are other aspects such as genetics and environment that play a role in the development of eating disorders. Popular psychology theories indicate that genetics, hormonal imbalances, stressful family dynamics, careers that do not support work life balance, and many other factors can contribute to eating disorders.

We are exposed to an average of 362 advertisements per day according to the study done by Media Dynamics (Johnson). It would be hard to argue that we are not impacted; negatively or positively, by those advertisements. Eating disorders are often times seen as a choice to self-harm for attention however they are very serious medical conditions that can also be fatal. I believe the media has an obligation to represent the world around us rather than construct a grossly unrealistic expectation and ideal.

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