This article contains discussion of eating disorders and may be triggering to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
In a world where information is vastly spread at any moment, the media we take in every day has influence over us. Social media and the entertainment industry have lasting impacts on our relationship with ourselves and our mental wellbeing. It’s an unfortunate reality that eating disorders are glamorized in the media today, specifically for women.
Diet advice magazines in the grocery store checkout, weight loss competition shows and photoshop apps are forms of media that push depictions of disordered eating and body image to a wider audience. There are also subtle ways that eating disorders are presented in media other than for print or photographic purposes such as movies and television. Popular portrayals of eating disorders in television have been seen in Skins’ character Cassie or Red Band Society’s Emma. Cassie is shown moving food around her plate to make it appear she has eaten some of it, and Emma is shown writing down potato chip calories in a daily tracking journal. To young viewers who look up to actors and characters they see on television, these behaviors are influential and potentially harmful. Television shows only scripting the “tips and tricks” to eating disorders and not including the multiple negative aspects of the character’s disease can shift the audience's perspective into believing this is a “trendy” lifestyle choice. The most realistic portrayal of eating disorders that I’ve ever seen is in To The Bone starring Lily Collins. Collins plays Ellen, a 20-year-old anorexic woman who is sent to her NTH treatment program. The film shows patients with all types of eating disorders with the physical and mental distress that they go through whilst battling these diseases. In no way does it glamorize eating disorders but rather shines a light on the lack of awareness that people and the media have regarding the topic.
The hierarchy of eating disorders
For something to be glamorized, it has to be better than the alternative options. There's an unfortunate hierarchy to eating disorders, meaning one is viewed as more “desirable” than the rest if a person were to ever experience it. The hierarchy stems from societal ideals of women that go back decades — pressures to look thin and maintain low weight while balancing every other obstacle thrown your way from being a woman. The detrimental thin ideal makes women feel not good enough nor deserving of love solely based on their physical appearance. The unspoken hierarchy of eating disorders is anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. These are the most commonly spoken about eating disorders, however, there are various types. Anorexia is at the top because thin ideals thrive in the media and entertainment industries, damaging audiences that are viewing these ideals every day.
To stop the glamorization of eating disorders, awareness of the mental illness needs to be spread without societal stigmas. Eating disorders are deadly illnesses that have lasting impacts on a person’s life. They're more than just fad diets and losing weight. With more awareness comes better representation which could impact the way media interprets eating disorders.
National Eating Disorder Awareness week is February 21-27, 2022.
For help with eating disorders, visit the NEDA website here or text (800) 931-2237.