Across the country, there is an increasing number of people with eating disorders, more than 28.8 million Americans have suffered from an eating disorder in their lifetime.1
Perhaps it is because of the media.
Teens are constantly exposed to toxic diet culture at a young age. To lower the amount of eating disorders in America, the media needs to stop all forms of toxic diet culture and include people with all body types.
To start, what is an eating disorder? According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Eating disorders are illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become preoccupied with food and their body weight.”2
When someone suffers from an eating disorder, their muscles will break down so their body can use it as fuel after fasting. Purging by vomiting destroys your body’s electrolytes which leads to heart failure or death. Along with, nausea caused by vomiting, stomach pain, and a sore throat. Eating disorders also cause a hard time concentrating, a hard time sleeping, numbness in hands or feet, cramps, seizures, fainting, and people may stop breathing while asleep.
Binge eating can cause type 2 diabetes, and not eating enough calories can lead to dry skin and hair dropping out.3 Eating disorders are deadly, and the media needs to educate teens on all of the effects of eating disorders.
Unfortunately, by the age of ten, 4 out of 5 children are worried about their weight and being too fat.4
One mother found a list of misspelled workouts and food plans with the title “diyet” in her healthy seven-year-old daughter’s bedroom.5 She was mortified her innocent daughter already had these insecurities at such a young age and wondered how this happened. Children are worried about their size for several reasons. The toys they play with, such as Barbies who have unrealistic bodies. The actors in their favorite television show have bodies that are very different from the average person. Along with that, magazines targeted to teens edit bodies to remove flaws and create unrealistic standards. Having all of this exposed to children at such a young age is detrimental and starts the toxic dieting, and skinny is superior, mindset early on in life.
The media needs to help out and stop the rising amounts of cases of eating disorders by including people of all body types in a positive light.
Eating disorders are very hard to get over. One reason is weight loss is praise even if the person is losing weight in an unhealthy and dangerous way.
In 2018, when asked about how social media affects eating disorders Anika(18) said, “People get positive attention in the world by losing weight.”6 You never know if that person is starving themselves to have that “beach bod” they receive praise for. Another factor eating disorders are tough to get over is the dangerous eating disorder communities that go by names such as thinspiration pro-ana (pro-anorexia) or pro-mia(pro bulimia) that encourage one another to starve themselves.
When people slip into these toxic communities, they struggle to leave because they have been told starving themselves is for the best. The media needs to make sure teens don’t have access to these dangerous sites and make sure advertisements for dangerous amounts of weight loss are advertised to teens. The media needs to educate teens on all of the effects of eating disorders.
The average female model is 5-foot-11 and 120 pounds versus the average woman who is 5-foot-4 and 165 pounds.7
Everyday people don’t get to see someone who looks like them in the media. Instead, they see models with unattainable edited bodies in magazines bombarding them with catchy slogans, “Lose 42 pounds in a month with this diet, and all your problems will be solved!” People fall for these dangerous scams out of desperation to be like the models, who are young, skinny, pretty, and seem to have the perfect life. A University of Windsor study by Sara Santarrosa and Sarah J. Woodruff was conducted to find out more about social media and its effects on self-esteem. They asked people to rate how they were feeling about their bodies and life. Then, they were asked to look at social networking sites and then rate their body and life again.
The second time their responses included that they were feeling more depressed and insecure. 8 Once again, the media brought down people’s self-esteem.
A Harvard study taken in 1999 introduced a group of teenage girls in Fiji to western media and television for the first time.
Before the study, a curvy or plump body was idealized, and the people of Fiji took pleasure in eating. But after 38 months of being exposed to western media, everything changed. The girls reported having lower self-esteem, having symptoms of eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts.9
The teenagers were desperate for the skinny body they saw in the media, and their health suffered from it. Teens are easily influenced by the media, which leads to eating disorders.
Some may argue body positivity and displaying people of all body types is “promoting obesity” They worry that if we encourage society to be happy with themselves, they will become fatter and unhealthy.
What they fail to recognize is that including people of all body types does not promote obesity. In fact, including people of all body types makes people feel happier and more beautiful.
Nothing good comes out of shaming obese people.
No one should comment on their weight unless they are their doctor.
The media pretending fat people can’t happily exist is harmful to people’s mental health.
Magazines need to quit targeting teens with dieting propaganda; Celebrities should stop editing their bodies and creating unrealistic beauty standards; Hollywood must start including people of all bodies. If society does this, eating disorders in America will decrease, and positive self-esteem will increase.
Lila Gonzales is an eighth grade student at Clarkston Junior High School.
1 National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Eating Disorders Statistics, anad.org (2021)
2 American Psychiatric Association, What are Eating Disorders?, psychiatry.org (2017)
3 National Eating Disorders Organization, Health Consequences, nationaleatingdisorders.org (2019)
4 American Addiction Centers, An Epidemic of Body Hatred, rehabs.com (2012)
5 Amy Cheney, Help: My daughter is 7. And I found this in her room, mamamia.com (2013)
6 Anika,How Does Social Media Affect Your Body Image, nationaleatingdisorders.com (2018)
7 The Body Image Therapy Center, Eating Disorders Facts and Statistics, thebodyimagecenter.com (2021)
8 Sara Santarossa (MHK, University of Windsor) and Sarah J. Woodruff (PhD, University of Waterloo),#Social Media: Exploring the Relationship of Social Networking sites on Body Image and Eating Disorders, journals.sagepub.com (2017)
9 Anne E. Becker, Fijan Girls Succumb to Western Dysmorphia, news.harvard.edu/gazette (2009)