The relationship between the media and eating disorders is complex. Eating disorders are portrayed in the media in different ways, which can influence public perception of these disorders and their effects on people. In addition, the media is sometimes held responsible for contributing to the rise of eating disorders because of issues with unrealistic body image.
Eating Disorder Portrayals in the Media
Eating disorders are featured in the plot lines of television shows and movies alike. In some cases, eating disorders are shown as serious medical conditions that lead to dangerous and even deadly consequences. In other cases, they are treated less seriously and may even be used as a source of comedic relief. Depending on an individual’s unique exposure to eating disorders in the media, he or she may develop a realistic or unrealistic picture of these disorders and their consequences.
Understanding Media Influence on Eating Disorders
Analysts have proposed that the media may influence the development and experience of eating disorders in several different ways. For example, some people have questioned whether eating disorders caused by media exist. These individuals may suggest that some people develop eating disorders solely because of their exposure to the media. Other people suggest that even though the media may not be responsible for the development of a disorder, it can serve to perpetuate or worsen a disorder that has already developed.
There may also be a connection between social media and eating disorders. People tend to post only flattering images of themselves on social media, which may cause others to develop a more negative body image. Some researchers have begun to investigate the connection between social media and eating disorders by looking at the rate of eating disorders among heavy social media users.
On the positive side, some analysts suggest that the media actually has the power to contribute to the treatment of eating disorders. For example, programs that document the unrealistic nature of body image in the media can shed light on this issue and may prevent some people from allowing these images to influence them. Programs that offer hope and information about treatment can also be beneficial to people with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or other eating disorders.
How Could the Media Cause an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders can develop for a number of different reasons. However, one of the factors identified most frequently in treatment is a problem with body image, which influences the way an individual perceives him or herself. All forms of media are notorious for perpetuating unrealistic ideas of how the human body should look. Women are often portrayed as thinner than they should be, more toned and with less body fat than is reasonable for the average person. This can cause women viewing media to feel like their own bodies are inadequate. Because of their negative body image, these women may develop unsafe eating and/or exercise behaviors in order to achieve what they believe is an “ideal” body shape.
The possible connection between eating disorders and the media’s influence doesn’t end with the development of the disorder. In fact, studies have shown that the media may play a role in the maintenance of eating disorders as well. For example, women who struggle with anorexia nervosa often engage in heavy media usage, spending time reading fashion magazines or looking at similar content online. Viewing this type of media only serves to fuel the individual’s desire to be thinner and more attractive. In this case, eating disorders and the media interact in a way that worsens the individual’s condition.
Teaching Media Literacy
Given the gravity of the connection between the media and eating disorders, it is clear that people who consume media without the right mindset may be at risk of developing a negative body image or even one of these serious conditions. One way to prevent this from occurring is to teach media literacy, especially among young women and men. Teaching these individuals about connections between eating disorders and the media can help them to become more discerning as they view television programs, watch movies, read magazines and spend time on social media.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
Regardless of media influence on eating disorders, anyone who has this type of condition needs to seek treatment as soon as possible. With the right treatment, many people are able to recover in time.
Oliver-Pyatt Centers offers both residential and day treatment options for men and women with eating disorders. All of our treatment programs are customized to meet the needs of the individual client. Contact us today to learn more.