What role does the media play in causing eating disorders?

We are constantly bombarded with images from the media that show us a narrow picture of what it looks like to be cool, successful, and attractive. We are exposed to these messages more than ever before — through the Internet, TV advertisements, magazines, and social media. Models, actors, and celebrities are used to portray an image and lifestyle that is largely unrealistic and unattainable for most people. It is important to keep in mind that these images are strategic; they are encouraging us to purchase a product in the hopes of attaining a little slice of the glamorous lifestyle they are presenting.

When we compare ourselves to these images, it’s no wonder that we are often left feeling down. The more we “buy in” to these images and believe that we should look like them to be happy, the more likely we are to be hard on ourselves and how we look. In some cases, this can contribute to a negative view of ourselves and lead us to take unhealthy steps in an attempt to try to fit in with these unrealistic images. It can be said that the media has created a culture of comparison that leaves us unsatisfied with how our bodies look.

Research tells us that the causes of eating disorders are varied and complex; there are many different factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder. However, we do know that two major risk factors are dieting and low self-esteem. Advertising that promotes an obsession with appearance and a particular body shape (thinness in women and leanness/muscularity in men) can lower our self-esteem and encourage dieting. The constant marketing of a thin or lean body type can contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies. In this way, the media can be seen as playing a part in the development of eating disorders. It may also intensify or worsen disordered eating in those individuals who are already vulnerable or struggling with an eating disorder. This is why it is extremely important for us to question and be critical of the media and to remember that their intention is to sell a product. Having these conversations is called media literacy and we encourage everyone to start talking about it. This is one of the goals of our Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves campaign, check us out on Twitter, Instagram (@loveourbodies) and Facebook (Loveourbodiesloveourselves) to fight back and join the conversation!