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A11. The influence of the media on eating disorders

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Background The cause of eating disorders is multifactorial. One of these is sociocultural factors which include family, peers and the media. It has been suggested that constant media pressures can lead to body dissatisfaction, which may result in distorted eating patterns.

Aims To review the role of the media in relation to eating disorders

Results There has been a shift in the media portrayal of the ’ideal’ body size for women, from the voluptuous curved figure of Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s to a thinner ’waif‐like’ look of Kate Moss in the 1980s.

In the mass media shape and weight define perfection. Women perceive themselves as being bigger than they actually are. Their figure deviates from the ideal thus resulting in self body dissatisfaction.

’All I see is these pretty models, I wish I could look like one of them.’ ( Wertheim et al. 1997 )

The ’ideal’ body image is far from the physiologic norm. Supermodels are born with a specific body type and what the public doesn’t understand is that they cannot diet to achieve it.

’Women don’t set out to be anorexic, they begin by thinking they’re too fat because everywhere they go the media is telling them that they are right’ ( Barrett, 1997)

Products are often advertised displaying the ideal body shape in the hope that it will enhance the product and create body dissatisfaction. Purchasing the product is perceived as a positive step towards reaching the ’perfect’ body image. Concern surrounds the appearance of such advertisements in magazines aimed at adolescent girls, as at this age they are particularly vulnerable to the influences of the media.

Stice and Shaw (1994) stated that exposure to the thin ’idea’ may have a negative effect on emotions leading to body dissatisfaction. Such emotions include depression, stress, guilt, shame, insecurity, unhappiness, and lower self‐confidence.

A study by Schotte et al. (1990) indicated that negative emotions can disrupt eating behaviour. Dieters watching a frightening film increased their food intake, whereas nondieters did not.

Conclusion The media are not solely responsible for eating disorders but they do contribute by promoting the ’ideal’ physique. There is some resistance to media messages, as the majority of people do not develop distorted eating patterns.
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Document Type: Abstract

Affiliations: Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds

Publication date: 01 October 2000

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