Anorexia: A Media-Borne Illness
TV, magazines, and the Internet are to blame for today’s artificial standard of beauty and the resulting low self-esteem and eating disorders among girls and women. Pro or con?
Pro: Hazardous Reading and Viewing
As a college student who’s visited a variety of schools, I have no trouble quickly listing the top shows watched by female college students: Gossip Girl, Project Runway, and America’s Next Top Model. Likewise for magazines: Vogue, Seventeen, and Allure.
The media I’ve listed contribute to shaping what society considers beauty. The common denominators are tall, desperately skinny women who look fabulous. It should come as no surprise the media is to blame for today’s artificial standard of beauty.
Executive producers would argue "the shows focus on fashion and drama," and magazine editors would scream "it’s about the clothing." Please, the intent might be about the fashion statement, but psychologically it digs deeper.
A report by the Media Awareness Network states that "over three-quarters of the female characters in TV situation comedies are underweight, and only one in 20 are above average in size. Heavier actresses tend to receive negative comments from male characters about their bodies ("How about wearing a sack?"), and 80% of these negative comments are followed by canned audience laughter."
This wouldn’t be so funny if it didn’t ring true.
Every day there is some form of access to a model’s diet and exercise plan that keeps her extra skinny for an entire year. There comes a point when women compare themselves to these supermodels and start feeling pressure to conform.
The constant bombardment of skinny models and diet plans will certainly have an effect on women whose bodies are just not meant to be that small. Low self-esteem and eating disorders are the side effects from the media’s portrayal of artificial beauty.
Con: Blame the Eaters
People love to blame the media for eating disorders: Magazines glamorize emaciated bodies! TV news keeps telling us how fat we all are! Facebook puts diet ads on girls’ pages!
Enough. Yes, all those statements above are true. I’ve been a victim of those Facebook ads myself. "MUFFIN TOP??" asks one ad, which then tells me the hottest new supermodel diets are just a click away. And as of 2004, 8 million people—7 million of them women—had an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, etc.). But consider this: According to the American Psychiatric Assn.’s Diagnostic & Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, people who suffer from anorexia typically have an underlying personality disorder and seek more control over their environment. Anecdotes from former sufferers indicate that discipline and control, rather than thinness, were their true goals.
We are a fat-obsessed society, probably because about two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, and the media likes to give such numbers a lot of play. But think about it: Even with the daily barrage of skinny imagery and finger-wagging, 66% of Americans do not even come close to conforming to that supposed ideal. Meanwhile, less than 3% of the U.S. population suffers from an eating disorder.
We know Barbie is anatomically impossible. We know magazine covers featuring celebrities have been airbrushed, and that those celebrities sculpt their bodies with the help of personal trainers, nutritionists, and plastic surgeons. The media gave us this information. Yet some girls still starve themselves, and others eat their feelings away. At this point, blaming the media for eating disorders is a lot like laying the blame for underage smoking on TV characters who smoke. By now, everyone knows smoking is unhealthy, but people do it anyway.
Enough of this nonsensical blame game. It’s time to let personal responsibility back into the picture.