Esteem isn’t the only risk factor for an eating disorder. Traumatic childhood experiences, timing of puberty, family functioning, emotional resilience, exposure to unhealthy eating patterns in other people, family concerns about weight, fear of growing up, sexuality problems, bullying, loss, history of dieting, all may have an influence on a persons relationship with food. So we can conclude that the media may both steer and reflect our cultural obsession with how we look and what we put into our mouths.
These findings must be interpreted against the fact that women tend to overestimate their body size, a feature that extents back to early days of puberty. Waller and Hamilton have an interesting view of the effects of the media in this respect. They claim that the media may act as a “negative reinforcer of body size overestimation, which may lead to eating disorder”. In other words, the media doesn’t make women feel a need to be thinner per se, but the media may assist them in feeling bigger than they already feel themselves to be. The starting position for many females is thus a built-in vulnerability, which is reinforced by the culture of the media. This view must be considered alongside other, parallel studies on body image. These show that the development of body image over time, a more useful predictor of protection from eating distress, is dynamic and affected by many variables, including exposure to traumatic events, body issues in childhood and general self esteem derived from core personality traits.
Now the battle centres on a new morality of food and eating. We accuse the media, by glorifying the culture of thinness, of causing an epidemic of eating distress, especially among young women. The media denies culpability, or at least responsibility for doing anything about it. Kelly Brownell, a US expert in eating disorders, argues that the media contribute to a toxic environment in which eating disorders may be more likely to occur. This is because of the “Damaging Paradox” of modern society in which the media promotes, in a compelling manner, a low weight sculptured ideal body.
So there have been many debates about the influence of the media and social behaviour, for example sexual morality or violence. We recognise, as a result of these debates, that the interaction between message and response is complex and audience dependent. To quote the BMA report on eating disorders, body image and the media:
The media does not influence eating patterns or self-esteem in an exclusively negative fashion. Broadcast and written media can be a source of valuable information on health and well-being. In addition, awareness of eating disorders, through magazines, articles and television programmes may educate people about the danger of abusing food, and may help to make sufferers aware that they have a problem and they are not alone.
In addition we are not isolated, but are part of a global culture. The trends cross the entire developed world are consistent in their glamorisation of slenderness and youth as a feminine, and increasingly a masculine ideal.
The media would find it hard to convince the national psyche, therefore, that thinness is not a desirable ideal. By promoting sensible messages, however, they may impact on those individuals in society who are vulnerable and who may otherwise filter unhealthy messages, which will lead them into a path towards developing eating disorders.
The media are held responsible for the supposed growth of eating disorders in the country. To what extent is this true? In this short article I would like to separate myth from fact, and to provide the reader with some articles that might help them decide which is cause and which is effect.
When a person does not respond to well-known treatments for a disorder, the most likely explanation is that they do not have the disorder. ." Rather than blame the victim, seek another diagnosis, and if needed, seek another treatment. Efficacy studies suggest that about one-half of people with psychological problems will benefit from psychotherapies, psychotropics, or both.