The Glamorization of Eating Disorders in Media

We all know that iconic scene from the titular British TV show, “Skins”, where the eccentric Cassie shows Sid how she gets away with not eating. Mashing up, cutting up, playing with food, and hiding stones in her underwear to trick the clinic into thinking she’s gained weight. It is undeniable that her character resonated with many young teens both then and now. Unfortunately, her behavior and actions also inspired the youth, and soon pro-anorexia and thinspo photos flooded Tumblr and Pinterest with Cassie being the poster child. The world of eating disorders is greatly concealed, and the media tends to only glamourize it and “promote” it. Up until 2017, when the movie “To the Bone” was released, Hollywood seemly ignored the harrowing mental and physical illness. Although “To the Bone” shows the gritter side of EDs, it fails to communicate the different types of EDs, side effects, what recovery truly is like, how it affects the people in the person’s lives, and how important recovery is. I recognize that one movie cannot capture all of these elements without being hours long, however, I feel the movie was too lighthearted and didn’t show the severity of eating disorders. To encapsulate eating disorders in a respectful and informative way is no easy task. Anorexia is the most talked-about ED, but a majority of people who go through an eating disorder often go through bulimia/purging, binge-eating, pica, or rumination. Media tends to only cover anorexia and bulimia as it is often more discreet.

The Unknown Side of Eating Disorders

We always praise someone for losing weight, even if they weren’t necessarily overweight. And although it is important to recognize one’s efforts if they are losing weight in a controlled and healthy way, it can be motivation to upkeep any ED habits if said to someone with an eating disorder. People with EDs in real life aren’t like how they are portrayed in movies most of the time. Most ED victims are like you and I. Maybe its skipping breakfast and lunch that day. Maybe it is staying up until 3 am doing cardio in your bedroom while wearing layers of hoodies and sweatpants. Maybe it's saying “I’m not hungry” or “I ate beforehand.” Perhaps its constantly grabbing your waist to check if you’ve gained weight in the past five minutes. Or it’s having to wear layers upon layers during the summer and still being cold. The way your spine digs into any chair you sit in. Brushing your hair and seeing clumps of it fall away from the brush. Maybe it’s the depression, anxiety, or paranoia that often comes with eating disorders. The fear of food begins to sink in, and soon you can’t even eat your “safe foods.” Crying over a sandwich and hating yourself if you eat even one calorie over the amount you said you would. Being unable to wear your favorite clothes and resorting to baggy sweats to hide the body you hate so much. Maybe it's being unable to walk upstairs and constantly being exhausted, yet not being able to sleep. The “fuzz” that begins to cover your body and the odor of your body eating itself begins to emit. Passing out and having your body ache are daily occurrences. Maybe it's being forced to go to the doctor and finding out your liver is beginning to fail along with other organs. For some reason, perhaps because it's not a pleasant sight or environment, but media doesn’t seem to want to talk about these behaviors or how we can treat them. “To the Bone” was able to convey some of these habits, but their main pitfall was the recovery. Climbing out of a dark place such as an eating disorder is a rather difficult task. If one is inpatient, then they are constantly monitored and lose the privilege of going to the bathroom alone or taking a shower without someone in the room. Recovery on your own or through an out-patient program is just as trying. Besides the daily breakdowns over food or water and fear of gaining weight, bloating, dizziness, and warped body image comes with recovery. It isn’t overnight either, many people experience major bloating for several months even after they have fully recovered. Recognizing the symptoms of an eating disorder is just as important as recognizing recovery from an ED.

It’s a fine line to tread, you don’t want there to be an influx of teens with eating disorders like it did when Cassie from “Skins” was introduced, but at the same time, you want to bring awareness to the situation. Media is one of the biggest influencers in young adults and teens and to bring light to this disorder, we shouldn’t have movies or articles glamorizing eating disorders, but rather discussing them in healthy manners while still recognizing the grittiness of it all. Like anything, eating disorders can happen to anyone, but awareness can help lessen the number of people who have to suffer through it. Anyone experiencing an illness regardless if it's physical or mental should be alone.

National Eating Disorder Association Hotline: (800) 931-2237
National Eating Disorder Association Screening: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool