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Eating Disorders: Caused by the Media? Delaying Pregnancy?

By Periscope @periscopepost
Eating disorders: Caused by the media? Delaying pregnancy?

Is she to blame for the under-9 anorexia scare? Photo credit: Bruno Cordioli,

Several stories about eating disorders have emerged in the mainstream media in the last few weeks and not all of them, shockingly, were featured in The Daily Mail. Earlier this week, a report indicating that children as young as 5 years old were being admitted to hospital suffering eating disorders triggered speculation that again, ultra-slim celebrities and stick-bug models were to blame. However, a recovering anorexic came out a day later, denouncing the link and claiming that it’s not about magazines or unhealthy body images, but about a mental illness. Meanwhile, a separate report surfaced claiming that women with histories of eating disorders may struggle to become pregnant.

So what’s the media to do?

  • Children as young as 5 years old…  On Monday, The Daily Mail, a tabloid that pays significant attention to all stories weight related, reported that 98 children between the ages of 5 and 7 were admitted to hospital in the last three years suffering from eating disorders, while a further 99 between the ages of 8 and 9 were also admitted to hospital over the same period. The number of children under 9 years old requiring treatment for eating disorders has doubled in the last year and, the paper warned, “these represent only the most severe cases, where children have become so desperately underweight that their lives are in danger. There are likely to be many more youngsters with milder eating disorders who have not been taken to hospital.” Doctors and eating disorder charities, the paper claimed, are blaming the burgeoning obsession with being thin on celebrity culture, magazines, and models.
  • Don’t blame the magazines. But, at least one recovering anorexic says that it’s not accurate to blame magazines and celebrity culture. Johanna Harrison, now 18, told Sky News that her descent into anorexia, starting at a very young age, had little to do with comparing herself to what she saw in magazines. “I doubt little girls at five are looking at a magazine and thinking ‘I must look like them’ – it just doesn’t work like that. If it was about size and about weight, it would be called a weight disorder,” she said, continuing, “So this whole thing about size zero culture is massively displacing the blame on to something people can understand because it is so prevalent in the media.”

Eating disorders do not stem from a desire to be slim: they are an expression of unhappiness through food.

  • Eating disorders aren’t just about wanting to look like a model. No wonder the media love a good eating disorder story, Hadley Freeman wrote at The Guardian: “They’re just so photogenic!” Freeman pointed out that both The Sun and The Daily Mail, tabloids with their own peculiar fascination with weight and women’s bodies, ran appalled stories shocked at the scourge of childhood eating disorders and blaming the celebs and the mags. “Everyone knows that the way women’s bodies are judged in the media is sick – heck, even the papers that do it know this,” she wrote. “How directly this leads to severe eating disorders is something I, unlike these newspapers and columnists, feel is less clear cut.” Freeman, who also suffered from anorexia as a child, noted that while celebrity culture and a wider obsession with being slim wasn’t the cause of her problems, it didn’t make getting better any easier. “Eating disorders do not stem from a desire to be slim: they are an expression of unhappiness through food. … People who claim that the media are the cause of their past or present illnesses are, in fact, undermining themselves. It would be like claiming that a really great Budweiser advertising campaign made them an alcoholic. Your problem, my friend, is bigger than that. The media is neither the cause of nor irrelevant to eating disorders.”

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