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Media and Eating Disorder

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Anorexia: The Role of Media
Hillary Indako
University Of Nairobi

Eating disorders have a higher mortality rate than any other mental illness. As many as 20 percent of those who suffer from anorexia will die prematurely from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems. While there are many possible causes and triggers for these disorders, the media’s influence on body image cannot be overlooked. The media has been playing a central role on the growth of eating disorders such as anorexia. As adolescents we are convinced with images and messages that tend to further the idea that to be happy and successful we must be slim. Nowadays, It is nearly impossible to open a newspaper or listen to the radio, or turn on a TV without being confronted with the ideas that to be fat is to be undesirable. When adolescents feel as though their breasts, weight or hips don’t match up to those of supermodels and actors, they feel fatally feel secure. This in turn makes to feel insecure about their body image and thus resulting in this eating disorder.
Surveys show that there is plenty of evidence demonstrating that the media encourages slimness and weight loss and over-emphasize the importance of beauty and appearances. It appears that beauty and fashion magazines significantly impact the process of identity development in young women, especially with regards to gender-role learning, identity formation, and the development of values and beliefs (Arnett, 1995; Thomsen et al., 2001).The result of this is that the adolescent girls in question will do whatever it takes to achieve such body figures and thus in the long run result in eating disorders. Magazine articles, television shows, and advertisements have also created a social context that may contribute to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in girls and women. Numerous correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and disordered eating among women.
The effect of media on women’s body dissatisfaction, thin ideal internalization, and disordered eating appears to be stronger among young adults than children and adolescents. This may suggest that long-term exposure during childhood and adolescence lays the foundation for the negative effects of media during early adulthood. Pressure from mass media to be muscular also appears to be related to body dissatisfaction among men. This effect may be smaller than among women but it is still significant. About 90 percent of women overestimate their body size. Research shows a correlation between the media’s unattainable standards of beauty and this rampant epidemic of body dysmorphia. One study showed that 69 percent of girls stated that magazine models influenced their idea of the perfect body shape. On television, half of the advertisements aimed at women speak about physical attractiveness. Study after study show that these ads are contributing toward a negative body image. Of women answering a People Magazine survey, 80 percent said that the images of women that they see on television and in movies make them feel insecure. This insecurity can easily lead to a distorted view of one’s body.It is hard to separate the influence of the media in the development of eating disorders. Various studies point to the correlation between low self-esteem in young girls and high scores on eating distress measures as they grow. It follows thus by logical reduction that influences on body image will affect self-esteem and promote the risk of developing an eating disorder as a person turns to the control of their body in order to feel acceptable. In this respect the media may contribute to low self-esteem by promoting slenderness as the pathway to gaining love, acceptance and respect while at the same time reflecting a trend in society to demonize fat.
Whilst the portrayal of "ideal" body types in western media has long been recognised as a factor in propagating eating disorders, current research has been examining the role of social media in the triggering and spreading of the diseases. Research has shown that eating disorders can be transmitted through these social media for instance Facebook like a virus. Facebook users for instance have been shown to have increased the levels of self-consciousness about body image and weight, the implications of which could be profound as the social network has just announced that it now has 1 billion users. Social media is perhaps even more pernicious than mainstream media in promoting body insecurity. Young girls are negatively affected by the overwhelming messages they receive from films portraying overly skinny movie stars. These young girls are faced with societal pressures to fit in. Young girls are turning towards eating disorders to obtain this mythical norm. In conclusion,media”s influence on appearance and focus on “ideal” body sizes have a significant negative impact on body satisfaction, weight preoccupation, eating patterns, and the emotional well-being of women and men in our society. Prevention and treatment of eating disorders should therefore include media literacy, activism, and advocacy.

Posovach,Posovac SS,Weigel RG.(2001).Three target inventions. Journal of Clinical and Social Sciences,324-340.
Rader Program(2014,January 26).Eating Disorder and the Media.Retrueved from:http:www.radar
Barrier Gunter(2005).The Media and Body Image:If looks could kill.London:SAGE publications ltd.
Stice E. Risk and maintenance factors for eating pathology: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin. 2002;128(5):825–848.
Martin MC, Kennedy PF. Advertising and social comparison: Consequences for female preadolescents and adolescents. Psychology and Marketing.1993;10:513–530

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