People who are struggling with disordered eating experience triggers for their illness everywhere they turn. For one thing, eating is something that people have to do multiple times every day in order to live and stay healthy, which means that disordered eaters have to face their demons with every meal. In addition, advertisements and other media constantly bombard us with unrealistic images of beauty and encourage us to be dissatisfied with the current shape of our bodies.
- Some people who struggle with disordered eating at an early
- age seemingly manage to recover fully and
- lead normal eating lives from that point forward.
But for many others, eating disorders never completely go away. Even when these people are able to establish fairly normal and healthy eating habits, the little voice that shames them for every eating choice, that makes them want to purge the calories they consume and that tells them they and their bodies are not good enough, still talks to them.
- Not only do such people frequently
- suffer from poor mental health as a
- result of low self-esteem and anxiety,
- but also the risk of a full re-emergence
- of their eating disorder is a real concern.
And the longer an eating disorder survives without treatment, or the more disordered eating episodes recur, the more an individual’s physical health is put at risk of serious long-term consequences.
The lack of media representation for diverse body types and the continued glorification of weight loss and thinness often encourage the unhealthy ideas that eating disorders thrive on. But while seeing airbrushed and edited actors and models make many of us sigh regretfully at our own lack of “perfection,” it is even more harmful to someone struggling with disordered eating. These people see such images as proof that they are not good enough and never will be. Advertising that encourages weight loss can be even more insidious. We’ve all seen ads that tout diets, pills or exercise programs for incredibly rapid weight loss, and most of us don’t give them a second thought. But for someone with an eating disorder, such ads can seem to promote and even normalize the attitude that dropping weight at a super-fast rate is desirable.
Furthermore, the only way that many of these claims can be realized is through behaviors that amount to disordered eating—essentially starving yourself through grossly insufficient calories, exercising (i.e., “healthy” purging) at an extreme rate or using a magical diet pill that facilitates either purging or starvation by serving as a laxative or eliminating your appetite.
Idealized media and unrealistic advertising campaigns can’t be accused, independently, of causing disordered eating. However, they are a major part of a culture in which the desired body types are so unrealistic for almost everyone that it is almost impossible not to suffer body-image anxieties. And for people in whom the unhealthy voice of disordered eating is already present, this media is a constant affirmation of all the lies that this voice wants them to believe. Ads that actually promote disordered behaviors (although they would never say so explicitly) are a natural if contemptible outgrowth of what society values. As long as weight loss and unrealistic thinness are the ideals, companies are going to continue to promote unrealistic—and therefore unhealthy—ways to achieve those ideals.