Eating Disorders on TV: The Good, the Bad, and the Okay

Opening Note: I am an overweight woman who has been dealing with body image issues for most of her life, and has gone through periods of disordered eating. I am going to keep this opinion piece as sensible and factual as I can and I want everyone reading this to feel like they are fine.

 

The Good: This Is Us

The American television series This Is Us, aired an episode on 16 January 2018, called “Clooney”. It features three siblings Kevin, Kate, and Randall Pearson, as according to the website IMDB.com, “their paths cross and their life stories intermingle, from sharing the same birthday, to so much more than anyone would expect.” This episode had a focus on the sister Kate and her friend Madison who are both dealing with and being honest about their eating disorders and struggles with body image. Kate is fat and Madison is not, but both girls suffer from eating disorders. It is not necessary to go into detail on what they are it is necessary to say that they both attend a weight loss support group in which Madison is ridiculed for her thinness, but this is because she has been silent about her eating disorder. It is first thought that she is attending this group because “she feels fat,” and hates all her skinny friends but her eating disorder is just as real as the fat people that are attending the group. The episode touched on a topic that is serious and scary to talk about in the world of people with eating disorders, and it worked with the topic in a really good way. There is an issue that can be taken with the show and that is Kate, who ridiculed Madison as well, does not apologize for her meanness towards Kate. It would have been nice if Kate told Madison that she was sorry and wished Madison had said something sooner, but the episode aired very recently and there is time for that in future episodes. A further note, is that whilst Madison’s eating disorder is raw and she needs help with it, it is understandable as to why all the fat people in the group feel upset with her presence. Madison is not fat even if she thinks she is and the issues that she has to deal with in a group that Kate attends are not the same as thin privilege is real. Madison should be attending an eating disorder group to help her better and also to help the fat people in Kate’s group not be triggered by her.

 

The Bad: Full House

I know next to nothing about Full House except it features John Stamos and the Olsen Twins, in a sitcom wherein three men raise three girls. However, this show set in the 20th century had one episode airing 9 November 1990 called “Shape Up” that dealt with crash dieting. The oldest Tanner child, DJ, feels pressured to look her best for an upcoming pool party and overexerts her body with intense exercise and it does not go over well. She begins to get sick and learns by the end of the episode like Raven Baxter, that she is beautiful on the side and that she should be fine with herself. The good thing about this episode is that it is set in 1990 and talk of crash dieting and the dangers of overexertion were not talked about outside of Today. The issue is that like many other shows set at a family audience and like That’s So Raven, the show does not go into graphic detail about why people with eating disorders should seek help and that it does not end with just one day as it does for DJ. The episode is not bad, but, it is not as good as the other episodes on this list.

 

The OK: That's So Raven

 The American supernatural sitcom That's So Raven aired an episode on 4 April 2004, called “That's So Not Raven.” It is a series about Raven Baxter who has psychic visions and the trouble she gets into trying to mess with the future. The 4 April episode in particular focuses on body image as Raven is a fashion designer who is able to model her own clothes and unfortunately, the magazine crops her body out for someone thinner. At first, Raven is upset and feels that she has to change the way she looks until she is encouraged by the people that care about her and that she is fine on her own and her body is beautiful. This episode had a lot of good material in it and frankly it is good overall but like many television shows that deal with body topics it has its flaws. It is beautifully naive, there is a moment in the episode wherein Raven says that what is on the inside matters and that is true and yet at the same time, thinness is still held above all. The episode did an okay job when it comes to sensitivity for its teenage audience but I wish it had pushed the envelope a little further and dove deeper into the effects of Raven’s problem, however, it is for a younger audience and it is difficult to explain such a topic.