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Sunday, November 19, 2017
HomeHealthCeteraA Dangerous Game: The Media and Body Image

A Dangerous Game: The Media and Body Image

ralph_lauren_model_i_was_fired_for_being_too_fatFebruary 20th-26th is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  Eating disorders are a sensitive topic, making it too easily and too often skipped in conversations about health and wellness.  Overlooked are discussions with young about body image, among whom this crisis runs rampant.  The media still swoons, after many years, over the “perfect” size 0 body.  So I’d like to ask: Where are the role models for young women?  Why is this destructive media attention to unattainable thinness allowed to continue when there are 10 million females and 1 million males suffering from disordered eating in the United States—an illness related to the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder?

As a nurse and a nurse practitioner student, it has become my role as a provider to intervene when I see a child nearing the clinical label of “overweight”.  I must speak to the family about healthy food choices and exercise, but is a fine line I walk when approaching my patients and their families.  I think, “Could I create an eating disorder in this young person?  How can I best be sensitive to their needs?”  Similarly, when I see a young girl, painfully underweight with little self-confidence, how can I also approach her with the same sensitivity?  How can I effectively battle the images young people are assaulted with daily in movies, TV, and magazines in the exam room?

From my own experience as a Division I collegiate cross country and track and field athlete, I know the physical and emotional toll body image issues took on my teammates and myself.  The secrecy of this unspoken “thing” was apparent in our nightly rituals, as we distance runners sat in the dining hall together, after two or more hours of grueling practice, eating little and comparing meal choices, silently, to those of our teammates.  We had severely low BMIs and most of us no longer got our period–both indications of malnutrition and unhealthy bodyweight.

I know we weren’t the only ones coping.  I watched female gymnasts, field hockey and basketball players, as well as my friends in the dorm struggle, too.  But where were our coaches, health care providers and teachers?  Where were our positive role models?  No one talked about it.  Through our misery, we continually received reinforcement that our emaciated bodies were “beautiful” and “healthy” via images of the professional athletes we aspired to be like, and through media portrayal of the “ideal” woman.  So, the bones we were seeing in the mirror were beautiful?

Women in college are not the only ones at risk.   In 2009, Ralph Lauren made national news for firing a size 4 model for being “too fat” after they had severely altered her image in their campaign (see above).  This is where the National Organization for Women and the National Eating Disorders Association come in with their “Let’s Talk about it Campaign”.  Visitors to the site are encouraged to speak out against media representation of unrealistic bodies bombarding the eyes and minds of us all.  On the website, you can share your story and feelings or be inspired by videos of others who have struggled with their own self-image and come out stronger on the other side.

Do you have your own story of a struggle with body image?

Latest comments

  • “The secrecy of this unspoken “thing” was apparent in our nightly rituals, as we distance runners sat in the dining hall together, after two or more hours of grueling practice, eating little and comparing meal choices, silently, to those of our teammates. We had severely low BMIs and most of us no longer got our period–both indications of malnutrition and unhealthy bodyweight.”

    In the ballet department at an extremely competitive program in college, I’ve been through the same ritual. Already 5 years into anorexia, my medically emaciated weight was openly envied by the other girls; however, by the end of my freshman year, injuries triggered by the ED forced me to quit dancing entirely. It’s upsetting to see how warped perceptions can be among athletes and dancers.

    I’m still living with anorexia and bulimia, but I hope to get through this someday. Thanks for the great post; it’s appreciated.

  • Scarlett, thank you so much for sharing your story. My heart goes out to you and others dealing with such a tough reality. I hope that by sharing our stories, we will inspire others to talk about eating disorders and to get help, as well. What also really needs to happen is that we bring light to this issue at colleges because this is a horrendous problem, especially among athletes. Thanks again so much for providing more proof of this problem.

  • I really appreciated this post as well. It’s so important to remember that while women and girls are coming from all different kinds of places on this issue, it IS possible to find a way to start the conversation. It’s one of those issues where you sometimes feel like you can’t please everybody; there are body size activists who are pushing for greater acceptance who don’t want any acknowledgement that weight is a health issue, and there are people focused on the health care problems of the obese who don’t see that adding their voices to those condemning the overweight can hurt more than help. Your piece was great dialogue starter and took a tone we can all learn from.

  • Jenbusse, of course you may put me on the prayer list. You’re right about colleges, eating disorders, and disordered eating–the environment has so many elements encouraging EDs in anyone remotely susceptible, and most college students don’t have any sort of stable on-site support structure.

  • I speak with kids/teens about body image and the media in my workshop presentations. In question and answer time some of what the y oung people are saying horrifies me. “Skinny” is easily the number one answer when I ask how the media defines beauty. An ideal they are all trying to live up to. I also spent about 10 years working and studying media and am so glad I left to do what I do now!

  • I’m eighteen in a few days and I’ve spent the past five and a half years fighting anorexia. I was always thin, but all the problems that I was going through just crushed me. I weighed 79lbs by the time I started recovering. I ran eleven miles every night in hope that I would lose one more of the dreaded pounds.
    The problem that no one acknowledges is that anorexia is an addiction. Just like being an alcoholic, that urge is always there. Relapse is inevitable, but it can be overcome. It isn’t just about getting thin, it is about holding on to your existance.
    I am now 127 and eat at least two meals a day. People do need to realize that it isn’t easy. I don’t like the ‘what is wrong with you’ look that I get when I tell my story, but people need to hear. They need to see what is out there.

  • ‘ In an online State Department posting from 2007 titled ‘Protocol for the Modern Diplomat,’ envoys are advised to be aware of greeting rituals such as kisses, handshakes or bows and to follow a country’s tradition.
    “You were right, Pandon,” Helena spurred her murross into a faster gallop the small beast seldom
    executed except when panicked, “our allies might’ve found who was inside that vehicle. The highlights of the set were Bark At The Moon, a song he doesn’t perform very often, and a surprise Fire In The Sky.

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