by AllisOn cHristensen
Eating disorders are on the rise and although studies have shown that they are mental illnesses, not a lifestyle choice, external factors can still have an effect on people who have or are more likely to develop an eating disorder.
We construct our body image, our image of how we perceive ourselves or how we believe others perceive us, based on what we see around us. We compare our body types to the body type that is currently considered “at- tractive” or “ideal” by the media. Today, that body type is tall, skinny, and only naturally possessed by 5% of American women. Pressured to be lean and muscular, male body image dissatisfaction has risen to 43%.
The media can’t be blamed for directly causing eating disorders—there isn’t enough research to support that claim. But we can’t deny that it has an effect on people, especially young people who may not know about the misleading magic of Photoshop.
This photo was put on Target’s website to advertise a Junior’s swimsuit. Besides the fact that her left arm is grossly elongated and her left hip is ac- tually missing a chunk, even her crotch has been practically removed. This is not naturally occurring in anyone. So why tell girls in their early teens that this is how they should look in their swimsuits?
This age group is particularly affected by the media. According to An- orexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape. After a sparking controversy, the image was taken off Target’s site.
Maybe the photo editor responsible for this dangerously misleading advertisement was just trying to create the body type that is so popular today, unaware of the potential negative effects on the body image and self esteem of young girls.
So what’s Lady Gaga’s excuse? During her performance at SXSW, Gaga arranged for Millie Brown, a vomit painter, to force herself to throw up on her on stage. The pop singer has had a history of struggle with bulimia and anorexia since the age of 15. Now recovered, she, of all people, should understand how triggering it can be for someone struggling with an eating disorder to see that glamorized in the media.
A “trigger” is something that could cause a person to engage in un- healthy behavior, such as cutting, restricting calories, or throwing up.
Although undeniably part of the problem, media has the potential to be part of the solution. We are exposed to hundreds of media messages every day. Everywhere you look or listen, there is advertising: TV, radio, the In- ternet, newspapers, magazines, billboards, taxis, buses. If you can print on it or buy ad space on it—someone’s advertising on it.
If we replaced even half of the negative body image messages out there with positive ones, I believe that would make a tremendous difference on people’s body images. If we could compare ourselves to some average-sized people in the media, we wouldn’t have to construct our sense of beauty around a highly-Photoshopped, underweight model. And what a relief that would be!
We are beautiful without the media’s latest diet fads, retouching soft- ware, and cosmetic surgery. Let’s give the media a makeover for once—we don’t need them!