How Eating Disorders are Represented in the Media

How Eating Disorders are Represented in the MediaThere is no topic that is off-limits for the media, and nowadays, more than ever, it appears that serious matters and stories are sensationalized so much that the public easily develops misconceptions and internalizes stigmas surrounding issues like eating disorders. While many would guess that more media coverage for issues like this would be a good thing, the public does not benefit from hearing half-truths or from receiving misguided information and advice.

Understanding the Media’s Portrayal of Eating Disorders

The media has long-been criticized for its representation of eating disorders, in that those affected were strictly young-adult, Caucasian women. This demographic was portrayed in nearly every article, photo, television special, etc. Furthermore, the media does not tend to focus on the psychological aspect of the disorder. Although eating disorders involve physical behavior, they are mental health disorders that generally stem from some sort of mental or emotional issue; however, the true nature of eating disorders is not “sexy” enough to sell copies or entice readers/viewers. Instead, media outlets focus on portraying the most dramatic parts of eating disorders and those affected by them.

How Media Affects Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders

The image of a person with an eating disorder represented by the media is almost always a young female with extremely low body-weight and who appears to be a “stick-figure,” with her ribs poking out, baggy clothes, etc. The other side of this disease that is typically represented by the media are those who binge and purge. Movies, television shows, gossip magazines, and other media outlets love depicting eating disorder stories where bulimia is involved because the behavior is so extreme; it provides a shock factor for the public. While both starvation and purging are examples of eating disorders, several men and women, struggle with eating disorders that are not this extreme. Sensationalism over eating disorders causes these individuals to believe they do not have a problem because they are not using laxatives to lose weight, holding themselves to a diet of Saltines and waters, running on the treadmill three times a day, or heading to the toilet to dispose of their meal.

To make matters worse, the media continues to fuel the psychological factors that influence body image issues and eating disordered behavior. People want to be accepted, whether it be by their family, their friends, society in general, the opposite sex or themselves. The media sets the tone for what is “attractive,” what image is appealing and how to go about getting it. The media pushes different diets, body types, and size-goals in just about every medium. People are constantly unhappy with their bodies and their weight, and while they may not be near death or throwing up their food, their dissatisfaction with their body or their obsession with controlling their weight can constitute an eating disorder or at the very least, qualify as extremely unhealthy.

Individuals who go through life unhappy with their weight, body, or appearance can struggle with anxiety, stress, depression, malnutrition, relationship problems, and other serious health issues. Yes, eating disorders are very serious and they can lead to sickly-appearances, death, or involve purging, but there are plenty of individuals struggling with eating disorders and unhealthy body images who do not live up to the media’s portrayals. These individuals need to seek help just as much as those with a diagnosed disorder.

Need Help for Body Image Issues or an Eating Disorder?

If you’re ready to reach out for help for a body image issue or an eating disorder, you can call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline where a recovery professional will be happy to listen, answer questions, provide information, and help find and connect you with the treatment and recovery services that are right for you.