Today, our founder and CEO, Emmy Brunner shares why the media can be to blame for eating disorders and what we can do as a society to reduce the negative impact on body image.
It is sad to say but very true that we live in a society that profits from our insecurities.
When we are consistently told through marketing campaigns that we are not good enough, slim enough or can look better or prettier, we buy into it. However, repeated exposure to these messages is teaching us to nurture an internal bully. We view ourselves as inadequate. We consistently ‘apologise’ for what we assume are universally acknowledged misgivings. Couple this with the power of social media (what we consume and what is directly said to us by ‘trolls’), TV shows, the adverts we see for products like flat-tummy teas and the unescapable scrutiny upon women’s bodies, it’s hard for women (and men!) to see that they can identify themselves by anything other than their appearance.
It’s saddening just how common it is for women to think their body is “wrong” or “embarrassing”.
You don’t need to suffer from an eating disorder to struggle with debilitating body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia can affect people in a number of ways. For instance, sufferers may:
- avoid mirrors
- spend several hours thinking about a perceived defect
- constantly compare their appearance to other people’s
- find elaborate ways to cover up the area they are worrying about.
These and other symptoms develop as a means of coping with the painful anxiety they feel towards their appearance – mechanisms that are harmful, both in the short-term and long-term. When somebody has poor body confidence (which is further impacted by the social media heavy/TV show culture), they will often limit themselves by society’s standards and expectations. Rather, they make choices from an “unwell’ mindset. They decide to work against themselves, instead of with themselves. An unconfident individual doesn’t dress for themselves. They don’t celebrate who they are and their external appearance is likely to reflect this. Because this is so “common”, people don’t question whether it’s normal to be so self-critical.
You’re not born hating your body, you learn to hate your body.
As a young person, you’re incredibly vulnerable to internalising messages from TV shows and adverts. With increased accessibility to these, there are increased messages of having to undergo cosmetic surgery or having to take up an unhealthy diet/exercise regime in order to receive the same compliments and level of attention as celebrities, reality TV stars and influencers. The entertainment industry already promotes a ‘clean’ lifestyle, cosmetic surgery and an underweight body type as the norm. This exacerbates young people’s vulnerability to orthorexia, body dysmorphia and other eating disorders/mental illnesses. If you’re not provided with the tools to counteract them, these messages can take root in the back of your mind and dictate the way you live your daily life.
Weight is just one metric by which to measure the severity of an eating disorder.
Being underweight is not a pre-requisite for suffering; many people of average weight still live with the torment of an ED. I think it would be nice for brands, creators and editors to not fall into the trap of only considering the stereotypical view and triggers of what it is to have an eating disorder: an obsession with weight and food and a desire to be thin. Eating disorders are far more complex than that. The relationship with food really acts as a metaphor for what someone is feeling. They are often consumed with self-loathing and wish to deny themselves any sort of nurturing and kindness. There needs to be increased conversation around the products, services and media being put out there and what impact they could potentially have on society.
Part of building acceptance, self-love and self-respect is acknowledging that there is no “right way” to look, even if social media, TV shows and adverts suggest otherwise. It’s very empowering to accept that you are so much more than a clothing size or certain body shape.
It’s down to the little day-to-day actions and words we can offer that promote love and care between women. We’re all fighting the same battle.