The British charity organization, BEAT, currently supporting the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, have appealed for new guidelines to be adopted to change the way eating disorders are portrayed in the media. While BEAT is recognizing the fact that coverage has become less punitive and more accurate in recent years, BEAT believe that media images used to portray the illness continue to be stereotypical and consequently distorting people’s perception of what an eating disorder is. BEAT contend that extreme images are unhelpful to individuals attempting to recover from an eating disorder and that these images perpetuate the notion that eating disorders are only about extreme thinness.
Extreme thinness as a possible result of severe Anorexia Nervosa only account for a very small portion of those affected by an eating disorder. It is useful to bear in mind that a significant number of people are battling an eating disorder that is not manifested in extreme thinness or obesity but is however, diminishing the quality of life and posing a great health threat for the person afflicted.
Echoing BEAT’s appeal, The Royal College of Psychiatrists calls for a new editorial code in a bid to encourage the media to stop promoting unhealthy body images, and introduce a wider representation of body shapes, size, and ethnicity. These appeals seem appropriate and timely, since, according to BEAT, a growing body of research suggests that the media plays a part in the development of eating disorder symptoms. This influence is widely documented and whilst the extent of this influence remains debatable, introducing a more diverse body type representation seems an ethical and sensible thing to do.
Anecdotally the media report a number of cases in which individuals state; ‘One remark made me bulimic’, or ‘Models are to blame’. Men and women suffering from an eating disorder are likely triggered by the alleged glamorizing of thinness, paired with covert and overt messages of thinness equaling success. However, it is a myth that all eating disorders are motivated by concerns about appearance or a desire to be thin.
Eating disorders are usually underpinned by unexpressed emotions, e.g. anger. Restricting or overeating becomes a way of controlling emotions while simultaneously conveying, through the body, a message to the outside world that all is not well. Some health care professionals view eating disorders as an addiction to control, much the same way as an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. There is sometimes a ritualistic obsessive component to eating disorders.
For some, the desire to be thin in a bid to fit in and enhance self-esteem can trigger eating disorder symptoms. In such cases, the illness is often related to underlying issues of low self-esteem and peer pressure, which is why information and education from an early age is useful.
While there is value in cautioning the media to use more diverse body types, and for the use of images of extreme thinness as a representation of anorexia to stop, it seems it is of equal value to be mindful of statements such as ‘the media caused my bulimia’. Such statements can be exacerbating the inaccurate notion that the media is the sole causal influence. The etiology of eating disorders is a complex interplay between genetics, biology, and environmental factors. Conveying the message that one factor alone causes the illness is unquestionably too simplistic.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
This year the National Eating Disorder Awareness organization has invited everyone interested to do Just one Thing in order to raise awareness about the illness and promote eating disorder recovery. Continuing our commitment and contribution towards this noble cause, we hope that our daily blogs on the topic of eating disorders will serve to highlight some of the attitudes, behaviors, and pressures that shape the disorder.