Does the Media Influence the Development of Eating Disorders in adolescents?

Essay by PrincessAmelieHigh School, 11th gradeA, May 2003

download word file, 6 pages 4.7

"I'm So Fat!." This exact line (and lines similar to it) are spoken daily by millions of girls throughout the Western World. Girls that are not even overweight in the slightest have been under a huge misapprehension because they believe this line to be true and as a result, there has been a dramatic increase in development of eating disorders in the female population in the United States and Canada.

Imagine being a fifteen-year-old girl, flipping through the pages of Cosmopolitan and being constantly bombarded with airbrushed images of size 0 models and actresses with huge, bleached smiles on their faces surrounded by gorgeous, buff men. After viewing the images its not that hard to believe that the only way to acheive happiness is by being that thin.

There has been a huge rise in female adolescents developing some sort of an eating disorder in the past 20 years can be traced back to the media's influence on society.

While there are a number of psychological and biochemical factors that play a role in the epidemic, the media contributes greatly to onset of eating disorders in young women by distorting their body image, glamorizing sports that require a trim physical appearance and the portrayal of success among thin women.

Some General Information about eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder of self-starvation. It is an extreme aversion to good. It is a huge problem with deep psychological roots. This is perhaps the most popular or at least more commercialized eating disorder around since most of the general public has a general idea of what anorxia is. Bulimia Nervosa is the repeated cycles of binging and purging (consuming large amounts of food and attempting to get rid of it, by means of laxatives or vomiting) and it a predominately female disease.

A person with bulimia faces feelings of guilt, depression and self-condemnation after binging and will do whatever necessary to prevent weight gain while a person with anorexia will have similar feelings but instead of binging, they do not eat at all and many do excessive exercise to get rid of unwanted weight. They view themselves as fat even though they may be grossly underwieght. Eventually an anorexic may desire food so badly that they will start eating and purging. It is no surprise that 50% of anorexics become bulimic. Some factors that cause eating disorders include:

-family history of eating disorders




-low self-esteem

-childhood trauma

-feeling of a loss of control in ones life, etc.

Anorexia and Bulima typically affect adolescent, Caucasian girls from middle-upper class families however there are sufferers from all walks of life.

Compulsive Overeating is the repeated cycle of uncontrollable eating without the purging of food and is again, a predominately female disease. It is typically overlooked as an eating disorder but because there is a love-hate relationship with food it is a very dangerous eating disorder, and it is also the most common among the North American population.

The Media has a fine way of distortion a young woman's body image. Just look at the models in fashion magazines, who are so perfectly made up, so perfectly gorgeous, so perfectly thin... so perfectly AIRBRUSHED! Underneath the picture is a caption which states: 'Get this look in 4 easy steps'... even though there is no possible way the look has been obtained in four easy steps. The models do have professional hair and make-up artists creating the look and afterwards, layout editors airbrush out all the various "imperfections" (like blemishes, fat bulges, etc) that the models have.

The Majority of models/actresses are thinnger than 98% of North American women but many people don't seem to realize that television and movie actors spend hours a day to acheive their perfect look through layers of makeup and hours of exercise. Society throuws out a very unrealistic idea about what the 'perfect body' is. Movie stars and models are idealized in our culture more than any other group of people so everyone wants to look like their favourite star. Even children under the age of ten are starting to become preoccupied with dieting abd body image thanks to this obesssion. But actors are usually 20% thinner than the average woman and are typically very underweight for their height due to extreme malnourishment!

The sad part is that throughout history the image of the ideal woman has become very slenderized. In the 1950's, the bodies of voluptous celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russel were highly sought after. Men drooled over Ms. Monroe's body while women wanted to be her and she was definately not a skinny woman by today's standars considering she was a size 14. It she had been around today she would have been told by numerous casting directors to lose weight or be forced to play the overweight sidekick for the rest of her life. Why can't a curvy woman still be considered sexy by todays standards? What is so wrong with the western world that they can't see past and individuals weight and onto something more important... intelligence perhaps?

Secondly, the media tends to focus in on more body conscious sports such as gymnastics which require a trim physical appearance. Even Olympic television networks really show the sports where the typical female is thin and feminine. Does one often see the female body builder's events? Probably not, because no one wants to watch a female with huge muscles who looks almost masculine. A female must be delicate, dainty and sweet. It only the mass public knew that 62% of girls in sports like figure skating and gymnastics are anorexic. This definately has to do with the great pressure that is put on the athletes by their coaches and the rest of society.

Males tend to become bulimic in sports like wrestling, which demand a low weight class. There is a common misconception that only females have eating disorders but male eating disorders are vastly overlooked in the sports world even though 10% of bulimia sufferers are male.

The Media likes to glamorize the fact that it is easy to acheive the athletic look just by working out even though many male athletes take steriods to get the 'buff' look. No wonder so many people are ashamed of their bodies! Just by taking a look at all the health magazines out there, one can see that there is rarely an average sized model on the cover because it is usually someone who is perfetly toned and most likely spends all of their free time trying to look the way that they do.

The media has immaculate effects on many people due to stereotyping of body shapes and lifestyles that are ideal and promotes complicated diet and exercise plans despite the fact that the obesity rate is constantly increasing in the current generation. The U.S industrial outlook 1993, indicated that the exercise and fitness sector of the sporting good industry has been the fastest growing sector since the end of the 1980's.

Lastly, the media tends to portay only thin and beautiful woman as successful. Just by watching a television show or movie, one can figure out that the popular successful girl is the one who is thin and beautiful or highly profitable business woman is the one who looks the best in a mini skirt. An overweight person is ually a depressed 'freak' on television and movies, so why would anyone want to be a depressed freak? If one can avoid becoming depressed by being thin, why wouldn't they take the opportunity to do so?

Thinness can give a woman access to a number of important resources including self-confidence, a greater sense of femininity, and male attention or protection. Diet commercials constantly tell people that if they lose weight they will be happy. Americans spend billions of dollars per year trying to look the way the media wants them to. The Diet industry, which never existed 30 years ago, has become the most successful industry in North America. Plastic surgery has become a $5 billion a year industry in the past 20 years. It is even considered part of the natural order of things for a woman to do. It is done as a self-improvement for unhappiness with natural physical appearance.

So whatever happened to age being an attractive quality in women? People from non-Western cultures find it extremely strange how women of the Western world want to acquire an elusive, eternally youthful body. In some cultures, wisdom is acquired with age and therefore, so is beauty.

Even some musicians in today's society are famous only because of their image and not based on talent. It used to be that music was a way to expressive onself creatibely, looks did not matter but now looks are a highly important factor to the music business. One must have a certain 'look' in order to be considered for a record deal, thus becoming successful.

Overall, as girls enter adolescence they struggle for an identity that separates them from their families and feel a need to control something unstable in their life. As a result females develop eating disorder because their bodie are the only things they can control in a chaotic world. There will probably never be a way to completely abolish eating disorders in society because it the media's unattaible standards. However people can stop the growing numbers as soon as they stop believing all the lies the fashion and dieting industries bestow upon them. No number on a scale or being able to squueze into those tight leather pants will make a person happy because happiness can only come from within oneself.