Beauty Conference: Eating Disorders and Self Image in the Media

by Jesse Rae West

Recently I was invited to listen in on a three hour conference discussing Eating disorders and Self image in the media. I find it really irritating when people blame their problems on other people, and though I enjoyed some of the speakers, I found that most seemed to be playing an immature blame game.

I would like to start out by saying that I am no expert on the subject of eating disorders, and that I am only sharing my opinion. Many women are naturally very thin, and many women have mental and emotional disorders which make them more prone to eating disorders.

The main focus of the conference seemed to be on the emotional and physical problems that are affecting specifically women, but also young boys and girls. Anorexia and bulimia were hot topics, as well as the emotional stresses women face daily regarding their appearance. I do not take issue with these things being talked about, what upsets me is the finger pointing and blaming of media for the majority of the problem. I am not a scientist, doctor or therapist who is educated in the causes and effects of eating and emotional disorders – but I believe that magazines, television, and the internet are not the main cause of the problem. What happened to parents educating and building self esteem in their children? A huge part of the problem is that there are so many parents out there who rely on the education system and television to raise their kids. Instead of focusing on tearing down and taking the fun out of superficial things like beauty and sexualized media, maybe we should work on teaching young boys and girls to have a good sense of self, and to use their mind. We can’t (and shouldn’t) filter everything impressionable minds will see, but instead educate them on building good self esteem. Surrounding yourself with positive people who make you feel awesome and having a healthy lifestyle should trump exposing the truths of what we see in magazines.

I don’t always agree with the choice of models, or editing techniques used in ads – but I also have the choice to not buy or use things advertised this way. Everyone does. I know that most of what I see is fake, as well as completely unattainable. It is important for young people to know that too, which should be part of the whole process of building a strong mind. I appreciate when I see natural, healthy and beautiful woman used in fashion advertising-and I believe that should be seen more. More importantly, I would like to see happy, self assured and confident women who don’t need to blame their common insecurities on magazines.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    March 23, 2010

    Unfortunately, a lot of eating disorders are developed during adolescence, which – according to Erik Erikson’s theory of development – most adolescence enter the identity vs. identity confusion stage. Here, adolescence tend to develop a send of self-identity and self worth, however, a lot of this could be attributed to how the media perceives people should be. Once a young girl starts developing her self of self, she may compare herself to icons of her age.

    You must look at an eating disorder from a biological, psychological, and physiological perspective. Each eating disorder is so complex with multiple layers – no two are the same. And what about comorbidity? A person diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is more than 12 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. Parents could teach their children everything they know about harbouring a healthy self-esteem, but due to the complexity of eating disorders, and the vast range of them (are we talking about anorexia nervosa, or the spectrum from ed-nos to binge eating?)

    I agree with you that eating disorders should not be entirely blamed on the media. To do so would be completely irresponsible. However, the media is a huge agent of socialization regardless and must be addressed as a contributing factor.

  2. jesseraew
    March 25, 2010

    Those are some very good points, and like I said ‘I would like to start out by saying that I am no expert on the subject of eating disorders…’
    I don’t know all the causes and effects of eating disorders, as I have personally never suffered from one. I have also not attended med school.
    My response to this conference was more about people taking ownership of their problems, and realizing that they have more control over their lives then they may realize. From talking to friends who have suffered from eating disorders, I know that the subject of “Control” is a huge issue. Limiting, purging, and over eating are sometimes the only way someone knows how to find control in what they feel is a ‘hectic life.’

    I have sympathy for people who are suffering; I just feel that the amount of time and effort put into blaming the media is a waste. It isn’t just about parents teaching their children to harbor good self esteem, but more importantly – not give these images and ideals such power. In high school I could never understand why so many of my peers cared so much about following exact magazine trends, they seemed like mindless sheep.

    Like every other women on this planet I get insecure about my body and need reassurance from time to time. I work in the modeling industry, which (at times) has put me in the line of scrutiny, but what I constantly remind myself is “why is their opinion of me, or what an ideal woman should look like, more important than mine?”
    The fashion industry is full of important, decision making people – but what this article meant to me, was that women need to start investing more of their emotions in ignoring things take make them feel crappy. If flipping through Vogue or Seventeen makes you hate your body, then stop doing it. We don’t really have a choice regarding what images are thrown at us daily, but we do have the power to ignore the ones that bother us.

  3. jesseraew
    March 25, 2010

    Those are some very good points, and like I said ‘I would like to start out by saying that I am no expert on the subject of eating disorders…’
    I don’t know all the causes and effects of eating disorders, as I have personally never suffered from one. I have also not attended med school.
    My response to this conference was more about people taking ownership of their problems, and realizing that they have more control over their lives then they may realize. From talking to friends who have suffered from eating disorders, I know that the subject of “Control” is a huge issue. Limiting, purging, and over eating are sometimes the only way someone knows how to find control in what they feel is a ‘hectic life.’

    I have sympathy for people who are suffering; I just feel that the amount of time and effort put into blaming the media is a waste. It isn’t just about parents teaching their children to harbor good self esteem, but more importantly – not give these images and ideals such power. In high school I could never understand why so many of my peers cared so much about following exact magazine trends, they seemed like mindless sheep.

    Like every other women on this planet I get insecure about my body and need reassurance from time to time. I work in the modeling industry, which (at times) has put me in the line of scrutiny, but what I constantly remind myself is “why is their opinion of me, or what an ideal woman should look like, more important than mine?”
    The fashion industry is full of important, decision making people – but what this article meant to me, was that women need to start investing more of their emotions in ignoring things take make them feel crappy. If flipping through Vogue or Seventeen makes you hate your body, then stop doing it. We don’t really have a choice regarding what images are thrown at us daily, but we do have the power to ignore the ones that bother us.

  4. Anonymous
    March 28, 2011

    This is coming from someone who does understand eating disorders, because i’ve survived it…..

    Of course the media is NOT the only source of the problem and should not be treated as such…genetics, home life and other factors play a huge role. But to say that we are unaffected by the media is ridiculous. The whole job of the media is to affect people. If the media dosen’t affect people the magazines on the news stands won’t sell….ads on TV won’t be responded too (ads basically convince people you want something)….we are impressionable people as a society when you think about it. How many people will watch a commercial for 30 seconds and decide they REALLY want something that they never gave thought to before? If it didn’t happen, commercials would not be there. Media is a very big reflection of our society and can make (especially teenagers and tweens…the general onset age of an eating disorder) a big difference. I don’t get why our society needs to have magazines that say “loose 100 pounds in a year”- I don’t care how obese you are, no doctor would approve of a diet lke that, it’s simply not healthy…….

    Models are also much more prone to develop eating disorders as are ballerinas. But like i said genetics are also a huge factor and so is whether the child got bullied/their peer relationships, personality, and the person’s family life.After all, I know people who expose themselves to media constantly, and they NEVER develop an eating disorder….so it can’t be the only factor.

    eating disorders are complicated, blaming it on the family is not more of a progressive solution than blaming it on media. Of course, the person’s family life may be a factor, but I have known people who have gone through horrible circumstances (horrible abuse) and they have not developed eating disorders (some have some haven’t). The thing is, nothing is just one factor….eating disorders aren’t that simple. It’s a variety of factors. I happen to have great parents, who constantly taught me lessons about self-appreciation- but by age 5 I chose to tune them out to some degree because i just wanted to see myself as beautiful. i would never blame them for what happened. The blame game just isn’t right, shifting blame from the media to parents isn’t better.

    Of course, deal with the factors. I discarded of magazines with unhealthy messages, I resolved conflicts and stood up to bullies and tried to deal with those hurts, I started dealing with any everyday conflict my parents and i had, instad of burrying it. Dealing with conflict and root issues is good, blaming is bad.

  5. Anonymous
    March 28, 2011

    This is coming from someone who does understand eating disorders, because i’ve survived it…..

    Of course the media is NOT the only source of the problem and should not be treated as such…genetics, home life and other factors play a huge role. But to say that we are unaffected by the media is ridiculous. The whole job of the media is to affect people. If the media dosen’t affect people the magazines on the news stands won’t sell….ads on TV won’t be responded too (ads basically convince people you want something)….we are impressionable people as a society when you think about it. How many people will watch a commercial for 30 seconds and decide they REALLY want something that they never gave thought to before? If it didn’t happen, commercials would not be there. Media is a very big reflection of our society and can make (especially teenagers and tweens…the general onset age of an eating disorder) a big difference. I don’t get why our society needs to have magazines that say “loose 100 pounds in a year”- I don’t care how obese you are, no doctor would approve of a diet lke that, it’s simply not healthy…….

    Models are also much more prone to develop eating disorders as are ballerinas. But like i said genetics are also a huge factor and so is whether the child got bullied/their peer relationships, personality, and the person’s family life.After all, I know people who expose themselves to media constantly, and they NEVER develop an eating disorder….so it can’t be the only factor.

    eating disorders are complicated, blaming it on the family is not more of a progressive solution than blaming it on media. Of course, the person’s family life may be a factor, but I have known people who have gone through horrible circumstances (horrible abuse) and they have not developed eating disorders (some have some haven’t). The thing is, nothing is just one factor….eating disorders aren’t that simple. It’s a variety of factors. I happen to have great parents, who constantly taught me lessons about self-appreciation- but by age 5 I chose to tune them out to some degree because i just wanted to see myself as beautiful. i would never blame them for what happened. The blame game just isn’t right, shifting blame from the media to parents isn’t better.

    Of course, deal with the factors. I discarded of magazines with unhealthy messages, I resolved conflicts and stood up to bullies and tried to deal with those hurts, I started dealing with any everyday conflict my parents and i had, instad of burrying it. Dealing with conflict and root issues is good, blaming is bad.

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