The Media Mirrors that Lie: Binge Eating Disorder and Self Image


This timely article comes to us from our friends at the Highlands.  Right now legislation is being crafted and considered to address Photoshop and the impact it can have on people prone to disordered eating behavior and poor body image.  These are not “1st World Problems”, these are problems that bolster unrealistic ideals and change how we interact with our peers and our bodies.

When considering where to find the most accurate reflection of self-image, is it found in the mirror or in the media? Probably neither, but few would argue that both are connected. Body dissatisfaction, as one piece to self-image, has been a topic of intensive formal research since the 1990s. What was originally viewed as a problem among young women has now been identified as an issue among men as well. Media influence on body image is at the center of an increasing amount of formal research, particularly in advertising.

While most individuals may not be completely satisfied 100% of the time with what they see in the mirror, there is some self-forgiveness on having been born with the family nose, hips, or propensity to going bald. When this self-dissatisfaction turns to obsession, or is expressed through binge eating or purging, the mirror can turn deadly.

The term “body image” has not been fully defined in one consistent manner. Since the 1950s, over 15 different definitions and terms have used, approaching the idea from many different perspectives: body schema, body appearance, body esteem, and size perception accuracy, to name just a few. According to health psychologist Sarah Grogan, this is lack of definition is problematic because it allows anyone, researchers and advertising specialists alike, to skew the definition in the desired direction. For eating disorder specialists, and those suffering from issues such as binge eating disorder, the media’s role in body image “marketing” is of concern.

Research Related to Binge Eating Disorders & Body Dissatisfaction

Looking more closely at research on binge eating disorder, multiple factors have been identified, including genetics, and most recently, neurobiology and neural pathways that are present in some individuals. The media’s ideal body image changes over time, and it continues to be increasingly thin in the images presented in print, internet, and the television and movie screen. While someone with a binge eating problem becomes an expert at hiding their disorder, it is impossible for an individual to hide from the media’s message on idealized weights and body shapes, and their self-image suffers.

Duke University researchers released statistics concerning dieting in elementary school children. These diets were self-initiated, and in 9 and 10 year girls, who were within acceptable weight ranges. In another national study, over 70% of 6-12 year olds (including both sexes) expressed the desire to be thinner. The connection between restrictive diets and the development of eating disorders, including bingeing, has already been identified.

Media’s Ability to Mesmerize

The American public is increasingly exposed to the media in many various forms, with children and adolescents the recipients of a large portion of the visual body image messages. Models in advertisements are almost always altered and whittled down to lean and lengthen. Instead of looking around for real, healthy body types, people of all ages fall prey to the media standard of body image.

There is a chasm between the body in the advertisement and the body mirror. Neither is telling the truth that needs to be heard.

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