Pop culture portrays eating disorders so unrealistically it creates an increasingly dangerous environment for those suffering.
Since mental illnesses are incredibly complex, the spread of misinformation can deter those in need of help from loved ones. Proper knowledge about eating disorders is rare, but popular culture works hard to stigmatize them further.
Print media plays a huge role in creating these naïve perceptions. A simple stroll through a grocery store checkout line leaves shoppers surrounded by magazines hurling insults and accusations about celebrities.
“EATING DISORDER CONFESSIONS. Plus: Scary-Skinny Celebs” is front page news for magazines like Star, Life & Style and People. These brazen headlines are accompanied by thin women with subheads such as, “OMG! BONY BACKS” and “Starving for Fashion.”
The biggest problem with pop culture’s depiction of eating disorders is the concept that someone must be extremely thin in order to be considered ill. This is simply incorrect. It is impossible to “look anorexic” because these disorders are all psychological. For example, a person could be 350 pounds and dying of severe bulimia while someone else can be 90 pounds and perfectly healthy.
As a channel devoted to teens and children, Disney should be especially conscious of the message it sends to growing minds. However, over the years lead actors have become increasingly thin and jokes about eating disorders have trickled in.
“I could just eat you guys up, you know, if I ate,” is a line from “Shake it Up,” a Disney Channel show. Using dangerous illnesses as a gag creates the mindset where eating disorders are a frivolous character trait. Therefore sufferers are, by extension, a joke as well.
Celebrities themselves are often no help in the mission to spread awareness. Meghan Trainor has frequently been under fire for her views towards eating disorders and body image. In 2014, Trainor publically spoke about disorders and was brimming with ignorance and disrespect.
“I wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder,” Trainor said. “I tried to go anorexic for a good three hours. I ate ice and celery, but that’s not even anorexic. And I quit. I was like, ‘Ma, can you make me a sandwich? Like, immediately.’”
Trainor implied anorexia is a decision made willingly, but harsh reality proves the opposite is true. These psychological conditions repeatedly happen before the victim even realizes and their highly addictive nature leaves the victim trapped.
Eating disorders are often dismissed as solely for rich, white teenage girls but the reality is vastly different. These illnesses are spread among people of all socioeconomic groups, sexual orientations, ages, ethnicities and genders. In fact, up to 15 percent of those suffering are male.
Mental illnesses are not to be brushed off as fads or phases the victim will grow out of. Over 30 million men and women suffer from disorders in the United States and anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. One in five anorexics will die, either from physical complications or suicide.
American media is doing viewers a huge injustice by constantly feeding audiences images of emaciated women, cracking jokes about disorders and creating an environment where thinner is better. Our society’s dangerous obsession with eating clean and fear of obesity does nothing but harm.
More than half of girls and one third of boys age six to eight want thinner bodies. This is an epidemic which will lead to an increase in death unless a drastic change is made.
Pop culture cannot continue with this path of destruction. The constant cycle of beating down Americans and then telling sufferers we are vain, weak or it’s “all in our heads” just perpetuates the idea that we are not worthy of being happy and healthy. All body types are wonderful. As soon as pop culture can embrace this ideology, the sooner our society can begin to heal.