Do Media Images Trigger Eating Disorders?

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the elimination of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction. They have an interesting press release on a study in 2003 on the impact of media images on people who are already prone to eating disorders. They found “that viewing ‘plus-size’ models decreased young women’s body dissatisfaction, thereby reducing a critical risk factor for eating disorders.” This seems like common sense to me.
According to the press release the year-long study randomly assigned undergraduate college women to one of three groups. One group viewed images of “plus-size” professional models, one viewed “super-thin” professional models and the control group viewed images of non-human objects.
They concluded that “viewing thin images has a negative effect while viewing plus-size images has a demonstrably positive effect on young women,” Wiseman said. “Based on this research and given the scarcity of plus-size models in magazines and television shows targeting the adolescent audience, we can conclude that the media may inadvertently increase the risk of pathological dieting and eating disorders among adolescent females.”
Not surprisingly their recommendation is to increase the number of plus size models in the media.
In a recent issue of Ms. Magazine, writer Catherine Orenstein’s article, The Dialectic of Fat sites a 90s study by Harvard Medical School regarding Fiji girls and television, “Between 1995 and 1998, the islanders watched Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, and 11 percent of the girls surveyed developed bulimia–a disease previously unknown to them.”
The studies have been done, the results are in. It’s time to stop wasting money on studies and start spending money on doing something about it. It’s time we had a fair representation of women in all forms of media.
Originally published 8/22/2004 at Large & Lovely, BellaOnline.
Topic Links
* National Eating Disorders Association
* Ms Magazine

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