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Impact of the Media on Eating Disorders

Info: 2916 words (12 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 11th Feb 2020

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Analysing anorexia in the media

Throughout this blog my main focus is to look into the huge impact the media has on eating disorders, there is a variety of different eating disorders which I could choose to talk about but the chosen eating disorder which will be focused on is anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is a very serious eating disorder and mental health condition which can be life threatening if it is not recognised and treated in time, it has a huge negative impact on both the mind and the body. Someone who suffers from anorexia struggles to maintain a healthy weight, because of the psychological impact it has on an individual they will experience the extreme need to continuously lose weight, they develop a very negative perception of self-image and can experience extreme anxiety at the fear of gaining weight. Eating disorders such as anorexia effect both women and men, both male and female who have this condition are fixated on being thin and develop abnormal eating habits. ‘Anorexia nervosa is interchangeable with the term anorexia, which refers to self-starvation and lack of appetite’ (Eating disorder Hope, 2018). The most common age for anorexia to start developing is adolescent years, sadly for some who are anorexic it becomes a way of life with no end point which has result in very young deaths as result of starvation and the body shutting down. (Treasure and Alexander, 2013). There is many different trigger’s for anorexia, there is some evidence that shows it may be generic, for example if eating disorders run in the family and someone in the family who is in their teenage years is around it especially if it is in the same household it is a lot more likely for the adolescent to follow in the same footsteps. ‘The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is responsible for releasing certain neurotransmitters including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which regulate stress, mood, and appetite. In studies of individuals with eating disorders, it has been found that serotonin and norephinephrine levels maybe decreased.’ What this suggests is that there is a link between abnormal biochemical makeup and functioning of the HPA which is also linked to developing an eating disorder. In more research that has been done, it is believed that several psychological and emotional characteristics may be linked to what triggers anorexia. An example of this is, someone with low self-esteem and self-worth is a common feeling someone with anorexia will have a lot more compared to other individuals without the condition. Trauma, death and disappointment are some factors which could also trigger anorexia there is also psychological, environment and social factors. People who are diagnosed with anorexia believe that their lives will get better if they keep losing weight. It is often overachievers and perfectionists who develop anorexia, it is believed by experts that anorexia can partly be an unconscious attempt to come to terms with painful childhood experiences. (WebMd, 2017). Individuals with anorexia have obsessive behaviours around food and tend to be on very strict diet’s and have unrealistic goals and rules for themselves to follow. Out of all mental health illnesses anorexia has the highest death rate, one of the hardest steps for someone with the illness is to admit that there is something wrong, they see it as having self-control not as a mental illness but once help is given it is possible for anyone at any age to achieve a good quality of life and health.

(Extreme anorexia, 2013)

Sociocultural causes of anorexia comes from modern western culture, the Western culture often portrays an unrealistic image of extremely thin and beautiful models and actresses which teenagers idolise, what a lot of teenagers don’t realise is that the images they see on things like social media and in magazines have been edited so even the women themselves don’t look that perfect. In today’s current society self-worth and success are linked with being extremely thin. (McCallum Place, 2018). In the past 3 years the number of children and teenagers who are receiving help for an eating disorder has risen by 110%, more than 10,500 calls and online inquires have been made to ChildLine by minors struggling with weight related anxiety. This huge increase has been put down to the pressure of social media and the rise of anorexia websites, many girls who went to counselling talked about how they compared their bodies to celebrities and it has massively effected there body image and self-esteem in an negative way. The huge pressure on young people from social media can lead to serious emotional issues, what a lot of young people don’t realise is that it is impossible to look as good as an airbrushed picture. Currently the use of pro-eating disorder websites such as pro-ana are becoming very commonly used, these websites influence eating disorders by giving tips and tricks on the pro-ana diet, according to pro-ana websites it is more than a life-style it is a religion. There is a list of commandments and pro-ana is reffered to as ‘goddess of emaciation’ and it is explained that ‘that stomach cramps caused by laxatives are to be celebrated as the death rattle of the hated pounds’. The pro-ana goddess warns followers that if you break the rules there will be consequences. A very hard hitting consequence that was described on one of the websites said “I will force you into the bathroom, onto your knees. You will stare into the empty toilet bowl. You will stick your fingers in your throat and, not without pain, your food will come out. You need to do this over and over and over again, until you taste blood and water, and know it’s all gone. When you stand up, you’ll feel dizzy. Don’t faint! Stand straight! You fat cow, you deserve all the pain you get,”. (Dugan, 2014).If a young person has devoted their beliefs into this ‘religion’ and reads things like that every day it is going to be very psychologically damaging especially when there is ‘thinspiration’ galleries which is pictures of people who are dangerously underweight, these images are used as motivation. (Talbot, 2010).

(Pro Ana & Mia, 2016)
(Ana Log, undated)

Pro-ana is an extreme organisation, there is a WhatsApp group which has been set up for people who are pro-ana. Some of the rules which were given in this group chat where that you were not allowed to intake more than 800 calories a day, you were not allowed to eat after 5pm and every calorie had to be worked off through exercise. Every Sunday the girls in the group would send a picture of their skeletal bodies and a picture of their scales, if they broke the rules and didn’t lose weight you will be removed from the group. Although these websites have a huge negative impact on someone psychologically and emotionally which will increase eating disorder behaviour, these websites may not always be the cause of it. (Brenneisen, 2015)

(Metro, 2015)

A type of theory which helps explains issues in the media is the objectification theory, to objectify someone it means that you see and treat them as an object, this can be done by being controlled and manipulated. A philosopher who is named Martha Nussbaum specified seven qualities that shows common behaviours and attitudes towards objects and how they are related to objectifying a person. Each of these qualities relate to sexual objectification of females. Originally the objectification theory was proposed by Barbara Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts, ‘The Objectification theory attempts to explain the extreme and pervasive tendency to equate women with their bodies and why this can have such negative consequences for women’s body image and beyond.’ The sexual objectification theory starts by explaining how a large amount of people in the westernized society have documented that women are targeted as a sexual object throughout their everyday lives, it is not to say men cannot be sexually objectified as well but a large majority of sexual objectification is directed towards females. By sexually objectifying a women it can make her feel downgraded and worthless, especially if they have experienced this from a young age they may think of it as the norm for someone to see their body as sexual parts and give them attention for that reason instead of focusing on them as a person, for example wanting to get to know their personality and their likes and dislikes instead of all focus being on just their body. Objectification can be out of a females control, no matter how they are as a person they can not control everyone around them thoughts and feelings towards then, it could be someone they have never spoke to before but the person sees them as an object just by looking at their body and making an assumption about that person. An example of this could be a man making sexual comments towards a women, whistling at her or beeping their car horn while passing, it could also be staring at women or taking a picture of her body parts, this also includes looking at images of women taken by other people and watching videos such as pornography. Any types of sexual objectification should be seen as unacceptable but it becomes a more serious matter when it turns to sexual harassment or forcing a female into doing something she does not want to do, which is rape. (Calogero, 2012). Over the years advertising has massively changed, in recent years many companies have decided to put the focus of their advertisements on the female body, a female body that is fully clothes wouldn’t be as appealing so the choice of clothing they give to their models to wear is minimal. This is a big issue with the media but another big issue is the use of Photoshop. The ‘perfect’ female who is shown in these adverts will have no scars or wrinkles, her skin will be flawless, she will be extremely thin and have long legs something similar to the look of the idolised Barbie doll, her teeth will be straight and beyond white and she will also have the ‘perfect’ breasts and bottom. The idea of a women having all of these characteristics is completely unrealistic and very negative for young people to be influenced by. This unrealistic image of women are a big reason that the percentage of anorexia and other eating disorders is constantly increasing, people are harming their bodies in the hope they will look like these images. (Suggett, 2016).

To summarise the effects of media in relation to anorexia overall it is very negative, it has only been in recent years that there has been use of ‘plus’ size models by companies such as dove, diesel and on website such as misguided they have stopped airbrushing their models skins and showed that even the thin models they use have stretch marks and blemishes on their skin. Some brands such as Calvin Klein claim to use plus size model but this idea of plus size is no more than a female who is a size 8-10. This contributes to the raising numbers of eating disorders reason being that if big brands like Calvin Klein class a size 8-10 as plus size females, especially at a young age will want to be called skinny not plus size which means being smaller than size 8-10. Media is something which has a huge impact on today’s society which could potentially be used as a positive thing but while websites that promote anorexia and eating disorders and images are being release of unrealistic looking females the number of people being diagnosed with anorexia will continue to increase.

(Calvin Klein meets plus size, 2016)


Ana Log [image]. Available from https://proanalog.wordpress.com/tag/diet/ [accessed 4 January 2018]

Brenneisen, N. (2015) I Spent a Week Undercover in a Pro-Anorexia WhatsApp Group. Available from https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/vdx7ex/i-spent-a-week-in-a-pro-ana-whatsapp-group-talking-to-the-goddess-of-emaciation-876 [accessed 10 January 2018]

Calogero, R. (2012) Objectification theory, self-objectification and body image, 2nd edition. San Diego: Academic Press. Available from https://kar.kent.ac.uk/33425/1/ENCY.OBJTHEORY.CASH.pdf [accessed 4 January 2018]

Anorexia: The Basics (2017). Available from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa/understanding-anorexia-basics [accessed 3 January 2018]

Dugan, E. (2014) Eating disorders soar among teens and social media is to blame. Independant.

Eating disorder Hope (2018) About Anorexia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes & Articles For Treatment Help. Available from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/anorexia [accessed 2 January 2018].

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Fallon, P., Katzman, M. and Wooley, S. (1996) Feminist perspectives on eating disorders. New York: Guilford Press.

McCallum Place (2018) Causes of Anorexia Nervosa. Available from https://www.mccallumplace.com/anorexia-causes.html [accessed 3 January 2018].

Metro (2015) Paedophiles are trawling pro-ana websites to target vulnerable teenage girls. [image]. Available from http://metro.co.uk/2015/06/11/paedophiles-are-trawling-pro-ana-websites-to-target-vulnerable-teenage-girls-5241173/ [accessed 4 January 2018]

Nasser, M. (1997) Culture and weight consciousness. London: Routledge.

Pro Ana & Mia (2016) [image]. Available from https://stayingintheclouds.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/pro-ana-mia/ [accessed 4 January 2018]

Suggett, P. (2016) Advertising Sets Impossible Standards for Women. Available from https://www.thebalance.com/advertising-women-and-objectification-38754 [accessed 4 January 2018]

Smith, G. (2004) Anorexia and bulimia in the family. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Talbot, T. (2010) The effects of viewing pro-eating disorder websites: a systematic review. Available from http://caribbean.scielo.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0043-31442010000600016 [accessed 4 January 2018]

Treasure, J. and Alexander, J. (2013) Anorexia Nervosa A Recovery guide for Sufferers, Families and Friends, 2nd edition. New York: Routledge.

Web Md (2017) Anorexia: The Basics. Available from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa/understanding-anorexia-basics [accessed 3 January 2018]


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