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The Role of Media in Promoting Eating Disorders

We are being battered about daily with facts about everything from everywhere with the outburst of information technology. We have television at home, in the car the radio, and at work the Internet. We are being attacked with new information at every turn with this entire media. We are told what is new, what is popular, what is good what is bad. And whether we like it or not or acknowledge it or not, it influences our choices. Choices about how we dress, where we go, what we buy, and probably the most dangerous, how we should appear. The constant image of beauty being absolutely perfect, a perfect body, smile figure, is sending constant message to us that that is indeed what beauty is.

The media is an important aspect of life in our culture. Everybody own a TV set and read newspapers and magazines. In addition, people interact with a wide variety of other media such as music delivered by CD or videos and communications via personal computers. Each form of media has different purpose and content. The media seeks to inform us, persuade us, entertain us, and change us. The media also seeks to engage large groups of people so that advertisers can sell them products or services by making them desirable. Other institutions such as Governments also engage public via the media to make ideas and values desirable. Institution from politics to corporations can use the media to influence our behavior. People look at all of the advertisements, movies and TV shows and when they compare their body image to the models or actresses, they look fat. However, in reality, it is the reader who is most likely a healthy weight and the model that is underweight.

Even children begin to believe that being thin is beautiful. In the past research has been geared to college age people, but the age that eating disorders start has dropped. Now, serious eating disorders occur frequently among elementary school children as they are exposed to the media and develop poor self body image. A study on the introduction of television in two towns in the Pacific islands on Fiji prove that television programs encourage eating disorders among teenage girls: "In a country where girls traditionally have good appetites and larger body shapes, many girls now vomit to control their weight, are on diets and believe they are too fat." There was another survey conducted of first, third and fifth grade girls and boys. After being exposed to both overweight and underweight people on TV, they were asked to describe the people. They had many negative descriptors of the obese bodies and much less of the underweight bodies. Today there are millions people who suffer from eating disorders. Eating disorders are most common among women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. Due to the media, young women get very caught up on being thin because they think they need to be thin in order to be pretty. This especially occurs during the adolescence stage when young girls are very sensitive about their changing bodies. Young women are increasingly tuned in to a celebrity culture where the models and actresses’ bodies are considerably thinner than they’ve been in the past. There is no doubt that media provides significant content on body related issues to young women. The exposure to ideal images coincides with a period in their lives where self regard and self efficacy is in decline, where body image is at most fragile due to physical changes of puberty and where the tendency for social comparison is at its peak.

The most important point, the negative effect of the media on eating disorders and its consequences is the topic for many studies. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that arise from a combination of psychological and socio-cultural factors with serious consequences on mental and physical health. This issue is very important to society. Eating disorders are more than the average diet and have the potential to be life threatening. The media is aware of the problem of eating disorders and some have tried to incorporate different body shaped models, but many do not believe that they are doing any harm by using underweight models. A heavily criticized magazine called "Celebrity Bodies", whose slogan is "you can get one too" had pictures of all the celebrities and their diet secrets. There were also exercise tips on how to get Elizabeth Hurley’s stomach, Posh’s legs and Courtney Cox’s arms. The magazine did not think that they were doing anything wrong. These messages may not directly cause eating disorders, but they shape women’s negative attitudes to body image and self-esteem, developing dieting behaviors as a risk for eating disorders. There is no doubt that the ideal body size, as reflected in the style icons promoted by the media is getting thinner. This thing leads to a lot of dieting because dieting is viewed as the solution to the problem of excess weight, even this excess is just all in the mind, as a result of faulty messages. National Eating Disorders Association finds that 91% of women on college are on diet. If you interview 100 women, you would be hard-pressed to find one who is happy with their body because of the standards the media sets. In this respect, media may contribute to low self-esteem by promoting slenderness as the way to gaining love, acceptance and respect.

The relation between media exposure and eating disorders is very tight. Media continues to model unhealthy eating attitudes and behaviors. Also, in a smaller measure, it prevents this negative effect. One of the ways we can protect our self-esteem and body image from the media’s often narrow definition of beauty and acceptability is to become a critical viewer of the media messages we are bombarded with each day. If we assent to the media messages about attractiveness and body shape and size then it will have an effect on the way we think about our bodies and ourselves.

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