To make a long story short, I had to write a paper for my writing class so i picked eating disorders and the media. It actually helped me get closure from my ed, and was really good. Its lengthy, but if you want to read it- let me know what you think…
Media Fuels Eating Disorders
A frail women is sitting in a chair, shivering, clothed with 6 layers and drinking hot water, the sadness in her eyes is visible for the life she is living is hell but inescapable. This woman is not elderly but only twenty-one years of age? Surprised? Chances are yes. This woman is suffering from a life threatening eating disorder. Reported cases of eating disorders are on the rise, yet we are doing nothing to avoid them. In fact we are adding to the factors that help assist in creating these awful diseases. There is a long list of eating disorders. Some eating disorders include, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, orthorexia, EDNOS also known as eating disorder not otherwise specified, and many more. Many patients have a wide variety of signs and symptoms, and fit into more than one category of eating disorders. This makes treatments hard, and confusing. Eating disorders have a wide range of health consequences. Many of which include, excessive weight gain or loss, bone deterioration, low blood pressure, dehydration, disease of organs, loss of hair, loss of menstruation in females, and quite possibly death. Eating disorders don’t just affect one small group of people. Not all eating disorders come in the same shape and size. It is nearly impossible to determain upon looks if an individual is suffering from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are mental illnesses that affect any age, race, or gender. Eating disorders affect all individuals in some way, shape or form. In fact many Americans obtain some sort of eating disorder behavior. Due to the awful side effects, who is to blame for eating disorders- parents, media, or their peers? Eating disorders come from several places, depending on who’s speaking. Hereditary genes and jeans both influence the tendency for developing an eating disorder, yet jeans and the media’s influence of appearance pressure is much more detrimental.
Models in the media are extremely thin, and many participate in eating disorder behaviors themselves. These models are the ones that provide a basis for what we base our self-being and worth on. The general public views magazines and ads, all they observe the fact that they are thin. Not only that but we as people are unaware on how these models eat and their personal body structures. Everybody has a different body shape, but most models all have the same body type, thin, lengthy, and toned. People can be naturally thin, but it is hard to remember that when viewing beautiful people consistently in advertisements, that they are not “average Americans.” When many Americans look in the mirror all they see is a disgusting monster staring back at them. The reason this happens is because they so frequently see thin, beautiful models. Recently hashtags have been used that are commonly associated with words such as thinspiration, thighgaps, and bikini bridges. With hashtags like these, viewers aspire to also look just as thin and beautiful as the models that are bowed down to. “The average woman is 5” 4’ and weighs 140 pounds. The average model is 5” 11’ and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner that 98% of American women,” (Smolak ). With this type of statistic it is easy to see why women see themselves as “not good enough” compared to these clear cut models. These statistics provide the evidence that, “ Fashion models weigh at least 15% less than the average American woman,” (Amara). Like athletes, models change their bodyweight and image so they can “excel” in their profession. In the fashion world thin is in, it is normal for models to be thin and unhealthy looking. That makes things really hard to distinguish reality from what they themselves alter. Unfortunately models are setting a false standard of what beautiful really is. It is now more common than before to see so called plus size models on advertisements. Unfortunately not all advertisement companies are taking these steps to help decrease the likelihood of body image issues. Due to the fact that only a select few are doing this we still see the sickly, stick thin models. BMI or body mass index is one way to determine an unhealthy body weight for an individual. Many models don’t mean to present this sort of image, yet many have a BMI that portrays an underweight individual for their height.
Models and advertisements go hand in hand, advertisements can be overwhelming and convince the average person that they are not good enough. Advertisements are everywhere. One expert expresses, “The type of media that has the biggest influence on our society includes television, magazines, and runway shows the types of things that the average person is exposed to everyday,” (Ferreday). Advertisements are everywhere, and are practically inescapable. In this day and age the amount of medical procedures and diet supplements that are available are incredible. These include liposuction, dieting, and the intense need for workouts. This implants the idea that people need to change their bodies, whether it is true or not. Many advertisements companies present the idea that the obesity epidemic is on the rise. Due to this fact these companies are trying to over compensate for the damaging effects. This is producing problems where there really is none at all. “ The diet and diet related industry is a 50 billion dollar a year enterprise,” (Garner, and Wooley ). This industry was made solely upon profit. Dieting is in demand only because these dieting companies are telling the public that they need them. They need them to become thinner and in turn happier. When in most cases loosing weight can actually decrease your chances for happiness. Dieting companies also portray this idea and people believe that they will become obese. These people then get scared into dieting and excessively exercising. A researcher concludes that, “ The most common behavior that will lead to an eating disorder is dieting,” ( Zunino). Unfortunately “35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full syndrome eating disorders,” (The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders). The over publicized problem of obesity leads to dieting and more often than not developing into an eating disorder. The overcompensation for obesity anxiety is taking a turn for the worst, and medical procedures make us believe as if we can and should be better than what we are.
Advertisements a lot of time include quite a bit of photo alterations. Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert state the idea that, “Thinness is considered desirable and attractive,” (68). Based on today’s society, they are quite correct on that assertion. In the media’s eyes, the soul purpose of making their models thin, muscular, or flawless, is to sell products and to make a living. The main problem with this photo editing is that it is not identifiable. To the gullible viewer they cannot detect when a photo has been altered or left alone. Many models don’t believe the final product because they themselves can’t recognize the face or body in the picture. A writer for a journal of research reports, “ Numerous studies have been linked between photo retouching and eating disorders or body image anxiety,” (Amirza). Photo shopping does many things. These things including thinning to the individual in photo, smoothing made to have perfect skin or made to be just outright perfect with absolutely no flaws. This is invisible to the naked eye, so it therefore creates an idea of what is normal. This normal becomes our standard for “ ideal beauty.” Along with altered models, it seems that they obviously wear the smallest size. The public then has the desire to be or fit into the smallest possible size. Everyone wants to feel beautiful and appealing, and many will go drastic lengths to achieve it.
The media is continuing to target younger and younger generations. With this specific targeting technique, companies teach our youth that it is not okay to like themselves and their bodies. For example what is it that we give young girls to play with? Many would agree that Barbie dolls play a big role in developing body image issues. “ If Barbie was a normal women she would be 5” 9’, have a bust of 39”, a waist of 18”, hips that measure 33”, have a shoe size of 3, weigh 110 pounds and have a BMI of 16.24,” (Katz). Physiologically that is impossible for a human structure to obtain life in that kind of body. “An interesting study was conducted with groups of young girls, half played with the thin “unhealthy” Barbie and the other half played with normal looking proportional women dolls. After playing they then were confronted with a snack, the ones who had played with the normal looking dolls actually ate more,” (Anschutz). This just puts emphasis on how much these dolls are actually implementing action. “81% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet,” (Mellin, Irwin and Scully ). The ages of children presented with body image issues is getting younger and younger. A writer for the International Journal for Eating Disorders explains that, “42% of 1st-3rd graders want to be thinner,” (Collons ). No first grader should ever be under that type of pressure to be thinner or on a diet. In fact nobody should. Time magazine did a study and reported that 80% of all children have been on a diet by the time they have reached the 4th grade,” (“ Time magazine reports,”). Society should be discouraging the media to place this pressure on such young children. They need to be advertising that being at a persons normal and natural height and weight is perfectly acceptable and that they should embrace that.
Some say that genes are to blame for eating disorders, yet not as much plays in to that as characteristics do. Some argue, “Research has shown that there are certain genetic factors that raise your risk of developing an eating disorder,” (Costin and Schubert). Yet this may be true, but the fact is that parents pass down more than just genes. Along with the genes that are passed down, there is a sort of environmental factor that parents provide. These environmental factors may include parental morals, rules of the household, examples that parents set, certain types of pressure, and emphasis on the need for perfection. Parents are role models for their children and their actions directly influence the child’s behavior. If the child sees a parent body shaming and dieting themselves, the children in turn will feel the same way. Children think that their parents could do no wrong and are super smart. With this thought in mind if someone as great as a parent is not good enough, what would make them any better if not worse. A writer for the Journal of the American Dietetic Association announced, “46% of 9-11 year- olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets,” (Gustafson-Larson and Terry). This proves that dieting directly influences the family environment as a whole. It also shows that children observe eating behaviors and they represent their parent’s actions. Another thing that may be a factor in the household is the type of foods available. If the parents are extremely healthy, eco, organic eating machines that may affect the child. Orthorexia is eating healthy to the extreme. This could happen due to the fact that there is never any room for indulgences. They also could take a turn in the other direction and develop a binge eating disorder, when presented with any type of extremely desirable foods. A child may shadow the parents’ morals and characteristics. Indeed, that it may be highly likely that genetic makeup may influence the tendency to developing an eating disorder, certain characteristics may also play a role. Many patients with eating disorders are self-motivated and share similar traits with one another. Costin and Schubert discuss that many people with these disorders are perfectionists, feel as if they lack control, may have low self-esteem or have aspire to feel special. (83-84). Perfectionistic qualities result in the desire to strive to be nothing but the best. This quality may be shown in schoolwork, image, and likability. Patients that feel they lack control in every aspect of their lives may turn to food to feel like they have some authority. People with low self-esteem may always be putting themselves down, feeling as if they are never good enough. Many of them believe that their eating disorder makes them feel special and different. Even if someone obtains one or all of these traits, they quite possibly could have an eating disorder emerge in their future. More often that not genetics and environmental factors are hard to separate, but technically speaking characteristics play much more of a role verses genetics in developing an eating disorder.
Chances are this young lady will die from her eating disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry published that, “ A young women with an anorexia is 12 times more likely to die that other women her age without anorexia,” (“Mortality in Anorexia Nervosa.”). The media’s influence is so strong it causes people to go drastic measures to ensure they are thin and beautiful. Many people that have characteristics to developing a disorder, develop one when certain influences push them past the breaking point when exposed to the overwhelming aspect of the media. I believe that nobody encourages positive body image, and self worth as much as they should. It is nearly impossible to part from the immense pressure that the radio, models, and television all put on individuals. Diets, liposuction, over exercising, photo shopping, airbrushing, and the fear of becoming obese is inescapable. To people who feel as if they need to be the best, and have low self esteem this pressure is really just a challenge. Many things go into developing an eating disorder, yet I believe that a few simple steps can be taken to help prevent the onset of them. They won’t ever be eliminated totally, but the overall total of them can be reduced if action is taken. One simple way to help prevent these disorders is to distinguish the type of advertisements that are viewed in everyday life. This includes limiting ads that suggest we as a society we need to be on a diets, have a medical procedure to be beautiful, and photo editing all together. By taking this small step, individuals may feel more comfortable about themselves, knowing that it is okay to be who they are. Another really simple way is to educate people about eating disorders, consequences, and also how to celebrate themselves. As a whole we need to learn how to accept our own bodies and feel comfortable in our own skin. If children see that it is okay to be who they are, no matter the size, gender, and ethnicity they will in turn be more accepting of themselves. By becoming a society that is accepting of all body types, we as a whole will benefit. Eating disorders are deadly; but media, characteristics, and pressure are all to blame.
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