Body image, eating disorders and the media

Did you know that one in ten people in the UK will experience partial or full symptoms of an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime? The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence have previously stated that 1.6 million people are affected by an eating disorder, of which around 11% are male- an astonishing number of people are affected by this mental health disorder and these figures are just for the UK alone.

Sadly, these numbers are growing. According to a study by www.kcl.ac.uk and www.ucl.ac.uk, the number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by 15 per cent since 2000.

An eating disorder is described as ‘an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour’.These changes can be anything from eating too much, eating too little or restricting certain food groups from your diet.

There are 3 main types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa – when someone tries to keep their weight as low as possible, for example through starvation or excessive exercise.
  • Bulimia – when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then deliberately making themselves sick or abusing laxatives.
  • Binge eating – when someone overeats huge quantities of food (generally junk food).

There are also some people who may suffer from one or more of the symptoms categorised above but not ALL of them, in which case they are generally diagnosed with ‘EDNOS’- Eating disorder not otherwise specified.

Eating disorders such as these can develop amongst anyone- male or female-and at any age. However, recent studies have shown that most eating disorders being from the age of 10 upwards. 10 years old. An age when children should be outside playing with friends, enjoying themselves, before dragging their muddy shoes across freshly cleaned carpets to join mum and dad for a home-cooked meal. Not sitting in their rooms staring at internet posts and magazines full of skinny size 6 women and mercilessly counting calories, working out how many roast potatoes they can allow themselves to eat tonight.

And this is precisely the problem- the media, the big benevolent institution within whom we trust and ask for advice has slowly but surely drilled into our minds the big fat disillusion that thinness equals happiness.

This institution tells us that if we want to be loved by the opposite sex then we should start the 5:2 diet and drink loads of water so we can banish our cellulite because no man is going to find you attractive if your thighs jiggle and crease. But no man likes constantly waiting on his girlfriend to finish using the bathroom every 10 minutes because she has the bladder of a weak 60 year old post-menopausal woman either. So, how are we supposed to win?

The institution shouts at us ‘look at all these pretty, sparkly, over-priced clothes, you can wear them and look this good too if you just lose those extra 20 pounds’.

It tells us ‘you be yourself, push yourself, go and get that promotion because you deserve it but don’t reward yourself with cake after oh no no, spend 2 hours at the gym instead because no one wants to work with a fatty’.

And the worst thing is, we listen to it. We eat up every last word the media serves us, as if it was a meal itself and then we feel guilty and full of self-loathing for swallowing it. We listen to it telling us that we need to lose weight and we not to stop eating this and we need to look more like that and then we start judging others for not eating from the same judgemental plate as us.

Why do we do it?

What happened to being accepted rather than judged, based on our personalities, our intelligence, our drive, courage and our kind hearts? Health and happiness should be our main concerns. Do I sound like a hippy? Probably. But I know I’m not alone in thinking this should be the basis of how we see and accept one another.

To me, being ‘skinny’ and ‘perfect’ seems like you’re being accepted into an elite club, with membership based on how many days you can deprive yourself of the sweet things in life before having a complete meltdown and face planting a chocolate gateau.

But i would rather be a part of my own club, where membership includes eating 10 slices of pizza on a Friday night with my best friends followed by not giving a f*** if I look more like a Victoria’s secret cake-stasher that a Victoria’s secret model.

So to finish this ramble (plus I’m getting kind of hungry now) here is my second favourite Julia Roberts film ever, because she made such a great hooker!

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