Women are given the message at a very young age that in order for them to be happy and successful they have to be thin and beautiful. It is also not surprising that eating disorders are on the rise because of the value society places on being thin. Most women and girls feel like being thin is the ultimate achievement and quite possibly the most important aspect of themselves. Eating disorders used to just be a way for women and young girls to keep their weight off. However, the sad truth is this isn’t just a diet, but a silent killer. In recent years, girls with low self esteem are becoming increasingly younger.
According to the National Association of Eating Disorders, 47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures (12). When young girls compare themselves to images of women who appear “perfect” their self image lessens, and in turn creating a vulnerable platform for an eating disorder to take over. The medias unrealistic portrayals of women, societies obsession with being thin, and lastly the rise in weight loss advertising are problems discussed throughout this paper as reasons for the growing epidemic of eating disorders.
Women constantly ask themselves “what is the perfect body type? ”. As our adolescence ages into adulthood many women struggle with trying to answer this question. Societies idea of what the perfect body type is constantly changing. However, it is always influenced by the medias perception of what the perfect body image should look like. We all idolize these images we see on television and in magazines and some of us would do anything to look just like them. When they are constantly being compared to what they see in the media, its no wonder these young girls develop self esteem issues.
One study showed that 69 percent of girls stated that magazine models influenced their idea of the perfect body shape (Does the media cause eating disorders? 3). I believe the media and how they portray women unrealistically is one of the reasons for the increase in eating disorders over the years. Instead of focusing on what college they are going to attend, these girls are worried about how many calories are in an apple. Between TV, magazines, and movies, girls are constantly comparing themselves to unrealistic images that are painted everywhere.
It’s almost impossible to step outside without seeing these illusory images. By 17, the average woman has received over 250,000 commercial messages through the media (Mass-Marketing of Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders: The Social Psychology of Women, 212). These advertisements are damaging to both mental and physical states to the girls and women trying to live up to the medias perception of the perfect body type and are more likely to develop one of the many body image disorders (Media and Eating Disorders 1).
Trying to live up to these expectations can be detrimental to the health and well-being of these girls, all to achieve the “perfect look” they see so often. Thin models and actresses in the eye of the media are often the ones these girls are looking up to, and strive to look like, which can also pose a problem as many times these women are unhealthily thin. It’s no secret that female celebrities appearances have shifted in recent years. Celebrities and models exude a sort of power over people, partly because they are so highly visible in our society.
There is a meaning behind what celebrities and models look like; it is the message that these women are powerful, they are sexy, they are beautiful; they are wanted (Ahern et al. , 2008). The influence of the stereotypical vision of a woman is taking a toll. When a girl becomes obsessed with dieting and looking better, they can easily become anorexic or bulimic. 79% of teenage girls who suffer from eating disorders are readers of women’s magazines (“Media and Eating disorders” 2). This just shows how influential images in the magazines can be, and its upsetting that these are the images young girls and women chose to compare themselves to.
I’m not quite sure when the idea of beauty went from the curvy size 14 figure of Marilyn Monroe to a sickly looking size 0 model. It’s understandable that the fashion industry wants models to wear their clothes efficiently, but what’s the harm in having women look like women to model their clothing? Fashion editors and models believe they are just responding to a supply and demand, or in other words, trying to market their product efficiently despite the underlying issues it presents. If these marketers don’t realize that what they chose to display is harmful, the issue at large will continue to rise.
So what can we do to change this problem? Some media influences started to realize that the media was to blame for this self-hatred amongst girls and began to do something about it. DOVE, for example, released a campaign called “The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” in which they began airing commercials displaying women who looked like real women, not sticks. Dove has realized the medias negative effect on adolescent girls and has taken matters into their own hands by publishing a new ad with healthier looking models. This ad is one step in the right
direction to building back up young girls self esteem and making them comfortable with their bodies. They also launched a self-esteem movement where they travel and do workshops with young girls who have self esteem and image issues. DOVE also released a video titled “Real Beauty Sketches” in which a trained FBI sketch artist drew the women based on their own self- perception, then based on that of a stranger. The strangers depictions of the women were more attractive and actually similar to what they looked like, while their own perception was extremely harsh and a less beautified image.
This short, but powerful video enlightened these women how critical they are towards themselves and how women usually do not realize how they appear in everyone else’s eyes, just how they view oneself. If prominent brands in the media created these kind of campaigns, there would be more girls inclined to look up to an realistic image, versus something that is not attainable. Women will never stop wanting to improve themselves, but by advertisers embracing all the different beautiful attributes women have they will refrain from practicing unhealthy methods and will work towards realistic goals that will make them happy.
There have been many studies about the effects media has on women and how it could eventually lead to eating disorders. One study was done examined how the viewing of fashion magazines affected middle school and high-school-aged girls. In one particular survey, this study found among middle school-aged girls that viewing fashion magazines influenced them to consider a thin body type as the “ideal” body type. This seems to be the initial effect of viewing media that continuously and predominantly displays abnormally thin
women. (Field, 2000). As for the high-school-aged girls, a connection was made between idealizing and desiring the body types that were seen repeatedly in the fashion magazines to the point of development of symptoms of eating disorders (Field, 2000). The influence of these images in relation to these girls made a large impact. When they are comparing themselves to these images, in their minds they have to take measures to alter their physical appearance, and in turn leading to symptoms of eating disorders.
However, fashion icons and magazines are not the only culprit for the rise of eating disorders and body image issues. Weight loss promotion is everywhere we look, and seen every time we turn on the television. Between ads like “Jenny Craig” and “Atkins”, these campaigns are telling women everywhere “you can be happy too, if you follow this plan and become thin like me! ”. Women are constantly confronted with the message that they need to lose weight, and since the weight industry is booming, they are buying into the hype. Health and well-being are often mixed up with weight-loss.
However, there is a difference between being healthy and being unhealthily thin. There is nothing wrong with working out and keeping active to be healthy, but when exercising begins to replace meals and self image starts to deteriorate, that’s when it becomes a problem. Being thin is portrayed to equal being strong, healthy, and powerful. The exploitation of images that display women’s bodies benefits both weight-loss companies and companies selling beauty and fashion products. Yes, it is good for the business, but can be damaging to women.
If women continue to convince themselves they need to look a certain way or be a certain size, the easier it will be for consumers to sell them into “looking better” (Hesse-Biber et al, 2006). As unfortunate as it is, these marketers are benefiting in the end from the presence of eating disorders in our society. Weight loss advertising goes hand-in-hand with fashion and beauty advertising. Both display unrealistic expectations and convincing them that to be happy, they must be thin. Saying that weight-loss advertisers should cease is a stretch, but what is possible to
promote change is to begin to reiterate the idea of being healthy and active, versus taking diet pills and being on diets, because often enough diets turn into serious eating disorders. I can attest this to my personal life because I understand what they going through, myself having suffered with an eating disorder for 6 years. The first time I had the idea of not eating to lose weight was when I saw Mary-Kate Olsen on the cover of a magazine for her problem with anorexia. My 12 year old brain saw the cover and thought “if that’s how she lost weight, that’s how I will”.
even though I was a slender 115 pounds, I still thought I was overweight. It started by not eating lunch sometimes, or telling my mom I was full at the dinner table. The weight fell off easily, and I liked all the compliments I was receiving, It made me feel important and special in the moment, but when I would look in the mirror I didn’t see what everyone did. I felt as though everyone was lying to me to make me feel better. Little white lies about my weight started turning into bigger lies and as my disorder got worse, so did I. There was a time I didn’t eat anything but an apple for 3 days straight.
It begun to affect my grades, my social life, and worse of all my health. My family all knew something was wrong with me but I never listened to anyone or wanted help. My mom noticed me weight-loss and forced me to see a therapist and a doctor. I gained the weight back almost instantly and fast. Once again I was drowning in the same negative thoughts about myself as I had for so many years, but this time I looked how I felt, and it made it even worse. I felt huge and disgusting and became severely depressed. It took all that I had in me just to get out of bed and get dressed.
So many times I just wanted to slip back into the cycle of not eating, but I knew everyone had a close eye on me. Then one day I was at a friends house with a bunch of girls and one of them starting talking about bingeing and purging. It sounded like the best idea ever to me; I was able to eat, but not consume the calories. I began the cycle of bingeing and purging every day. At first it felt like an adrenaline rush and the weight was falling off fast, and that invincible feeling started up once again. But this began to take a toll on my body even worse than not eating.
My mom was suspicious and confronted me one day to let me know she was worried and she knew I had a problem, but of course I was in denial and insisted I was fine. The day I threw up blood and fainted I knew this was much more serious then I had thought. My body was finally shutting down on me after all these years. I told my mom everything that had happened and she brought me to the doctor and had many tests done. The doctor said my esophageal passage was damaged and if I didn’t stop purging soon there would be permanent damaged. He also said I had anemia and my bones and organs were weak.
The dentist said my enamel was destroyed. This disorder had not only permanently damaged my body, but my soul felt broken. I felt like I had no life left in me and it took a long time and a few therapists to learn how to love myself and my body the way it is. I just hope one day I can tell my story to young girls so they know that they aren’t alone and they won’t have to grow up thinking they need to destroy their bodies to feel beautiful. Eating disorders are something that will continue be a problem in this country until the media along with society decides to make an impact.
We find unrealistic images of extremely thin women plastered everywhere in television, magazines, television, weight-loss promotions, and are glamorized by celebrities. These media advertisements are all contributing factors to the self-hatred these girls feel. Women who see these images firsthand try to live up to the “perfect” image of what a woman is supposed to look like, when in fact this perfect image doesn’t exist. There is the underlying idea that to be happy, powerful, and satisfied in your life, being thin will get you there.
The advertisers, even though are trying to keep their business successful, should make it so the images they chose to display are representations of women who look like women. If there were images of real women, with real curves, girls might be able to not only relate, but be inspired instead of bashing and hating themselves for not achieving their own idea of what their supposed to look like. Having too have suffered from an eating disorder I understand what these girls are going through and how serious this disease is.
When the media finally realizes that displaying unrealistic images of women are doing more harm then good, the cycle of these women and young girls feeling like they have to starve themselves to be beautiful will hopefully come to an end. Having women who represent women will not only provide inspiration for girls, but also give them positive influences to look up to. Hopefully one day society will learn that there isn’t just one vision of beauty or weight, and the horrible cycle of eating disorders will cease to exist forever.