Media and society are often looked at as a source of daily entertainment, gossip and news. Every day, people are constantly exposed to thousands of images of glamour, beauty, celebrities, and much more. The media is so compelling that it has the power to change what people believe in. The images that are shown repeatedly make a way into teenagers mind and they want to be a part of what the media shows. Teens feel the need to change their body to look a certain way and be like someone else. But a fact unknown to teenagers is that even celebrities’ body are not perfect. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
People with anorexia have a huge fear of gaining weight and a change in their body shape and size (“Eating Disorders”). Anorexia has been characterized as a “rich white girl” disorder because most anorectics are white and about three-quarters of them come from households at the middle income level or above (Davidson and Fundukian). Bulimia on the other hand is when a person eats large amount of food over a short period of time then later performs activities to try to burn the calories off. Binging is the most common symptom of bulimia and it is often done when trying to get rid of the food eaten.
Bulimia is thought to affect around 1% to 5% of teenage American girls and up to 3% will be bulimic at some point in their life (Arnold and Walsh 30). Studies show that “media exposure has a direct impact on disorder symptoms and indirect effects through gender role endorsement, ideal-body stereotype internalization and body satisfaction. ” The covers of magazines display pictures of both men and women whose images are offered as near perfection in society. “Research has shown that even brief exposure to ads showing highly attractive models results in decreased satisfaction with one’s own appearance” (McMurray).
Teenagers should know that celebrities are not magically beautiful and thin, they are made to look that way. “Today’s culture is unique in that the media is a far more powerful presence than ever before” (Derenne and Bersin). The media has been named as a causative factor for body dissatisfaction, which promotes unrealistic standards of female beauty and show images that create and reinforce cultural definitions of attractiveness. (Qtd. in Wexler). The media opens the door of eating disorders to teenagers and brainwashes them into thinking that being thin is important and necessary.
The media needs to be very careful in the messages that they give to teenagers regarding body image. Dr. Bond says how “the media should be more responsible in not publishing pictures of very thin models and celebrities because young people wish to emulate them. Eating disorders are not going away, if anything they are becoming more common (Thinspiration? ). Advertisements everywhere continually expose the notion that losing weight will make people happier. Advertisements that show thin celebrities reach out to individuals telling them what they can be or become if they were thin.
By looking at these advertisements, women start to feel insecure about the way they look. The NEDA reports that “women’s magazines contained 10. 5 times more advertisements and articles promoting diet and weight loss then were found in men’s magazines. It also reports that a study of 4,294 network television commercials revealed that one out of every 3. 8 commercials conveyed some sort of attractiveness message of what is or is not attractive” (Qtd. In Wexler). Many women frequently compare their bodies to those around them and the body images on advertisements lowers their self-esteem.
The advertisements of celebrities affects the stereotypical idea of an ideal body which leads to eating disorders (Stice et al 5). Online, there are websites that promote anorexia. Teens with anorexia can then put up pictures of their skinny bodies for other anorectics to see and feel encouraged by. They feature pictures of celebrities such Keira Knightley and Victoria Beckham that promote 400-500 calories a day diet. In a year alone more than 500,000 people visited the sites and a 2011 EU survey found more than one in five six-to 11-year olds had been exposed to one or more sites with these “harmful content” (Thinspiration? . Teens who are anorexic feel that having an eating disorder is not a bad thing.
They look upon each other for support, telling each other secrets of losing weight. The quote “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” by Kate Moss is popular among these pro-anorexia websites (Wardrop). TV shows also send the message to be thin to whoever watches them. Disney Channel, which attracts millions of viewers, especially the young, made fun of eating disorder and actually promoted the idea of being thin. In the show Shake It Up, someone stated “I could just eat you guys up, you know, if I ate” (“Party It Up”).
In another Disney show, So Random, a conversation goes on where one character tells another “Angus only eats one full meal a day” to which Angus replies “My agent’s always on me about looking my best (“Colbie Caillat”). Disney thinks about eating disorders as a joke which is not dangerous. For many kids, the people on Disney are their role models, and if kids see their role models not eating, they are going to think that it is okay to not eat. Also if Disney encourages the idea of not eating that kids will do the same thing. Demi Lovato who battled an eating disorder attacked Disney about these risky messages that they send to kids.
Experts say that Lovato opened the Pandora’s Box about the dangerous effects television shows can have on the negative body image of young women (“Disney Pop Star”). Even in other TV shows, the overweight characters are most likely portrayed as lazy and the one with no friends, while thin characters are successful and popular. This also sends a message that in order to be successful in life a person has to be thin. Teenagers feel pressured into looking the way society wants them to look like.
Everywhere they go, they see posters of celebrities enhanced to look “perfect. Society thinks that if someone does not look a certain way then it is not acceptable and that they should change how their body looks. From a young age, women are given the message that in order to be happy, they must be thin. Thousands of teenage girl starve themselves to attain what the fashion industry considers to be the “ideal” figure (Thompson). Society has become obsessive and prejudiced when it comes to body image. Society and media work together to get that one message across to teens today; to be thin. New diets come out every month and media spends money trying to advertise them and get celebrity endorsements.
In stores, the front pages of magazines show that one celebrity that everyone looks up too. How they talk about that one diet that “changed their life” and made them “happy” again. Teens think that if these celebrities can be skinny, then why can’t they? Teens spend their times looking at websites and magazines that tell them how to be skinny. By constantly portraying “perfect” bodies in the media, it promotes unhealthy eating that can sometimes lead to death (“Disney Pop Star”). Even today, dolls like Barbie send that message to young girl to be thin.
The Barbie doll is a stereotype of a woman with no flaws and a perfect body who gets to be whatever she wants. Girls who play with Barbie feel the need to look and act like her. The traditional Barbie is known for her 40-18-32 measurements (Young) which would be unproportional on human bodies (Grey). If Barbie were real, she would be 5’9″ tall and weigh 110 pounds, about 35 pounds below the minimum healthy weight for a woman of that size (McMurray). Barbie helps to perpetuate an ideal of materialism, beauty, and being thin is happiness and since a young age, the desire to be thin is recognized by girls everywhere.
But eating disorders doesn’t just affect women, it affects men also. In a study by Harvard researchers, 25% of 3,000 adults had anorexia or bulimia and 40% of binge eaters were men (Boodman). Just like women, men also feel pressured into looking a certain way. In school, boys are told to be healthy if they want to keep playing a sport. But that habit can become something more dangerous. “Studies show that gay males particularly place a higher calculation on thinness than heterosexual males, with a level of concern for thinness almost equal to that of the typical heterosexual female” (Anderson, Cohn, and Holbrook 41).
Because of this many men might be afraid about coming out to the world about their eating disorder. Some people think of an eating disorder as more of a woman thing and “psychological tests for eating disorders are biased towards diagnosing women” (Anderson, Cohn, and Holbrook 41). Eating disorders are also common in the entertainment business. Celebrities and models are also under pressure to look their best. The average model weighs 23% less than the average woman and fit the category of being anorexic (Thompson). Models go through plastic surgery and photos are air-brushed before going to print.
The body type and images are unobtainable to the average individual and the constant force of these images on society makes teens believe that they should be. Many celebrities and models who feel that an eating disorder is something more dangerous than what everyone else seems have come out and talked about that issues. Even celebrities who once had an eating disorder spend time educating others and telling them that it is okay to get help. In 1992 after the news about Princess Diana being bulimic was released, there was a significant increase in the number of bulimia diagnoses.
This effect then came known as the “Diana Effect” (Celebrities Who Battled Eating Disorders). Just like how Lucy Grealy states in her memoir Autobiography of a Face, “Beauty, as defined by society at large, seemed to be only about who was best at looking like everyone else” (187) it looks like that concept has not changed since that time. In today’s society everything is about being thin and trying to look like a model or a celebrity. Teenagers try to do everything to make themselves how society wants it but in the end they just destroy themselves.
Society and media think of an eating disorder as a joke but it is a disease; a disease that has the power to take the lives of both women and men. For anybody out there who thinks that an eating disorder is not a big deal then they are wrong. People, especially the media, should know that the message they send out to teens is wrong; everything is not just about being thin. Simply by the media bringing out the concept that being beautiful and thin is necessary for a successful life is wrong. Having to look like a model to be accepted in society is wrong.
All these messages have a huge negative effect on teenagers and they think down of themselves just because they do not think they are “right” for society. The fake advertisements that are shown is just another step for teens to developing a dangerous and deadly addiction that is called an eating disorder. “I think we look at society and we look at every ad that out there and everything that tells us how we’re supposed to look, and how we’re supposed to live, and how we’re supposed to be instead of saying ‘Is that how really I feel? ’, ‘Is that really what I want to do? ’, and ‘Is that really how I want to live? ’” (Ellen DeGeneres).
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