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Eating Disorders and the Media: How Much Does Media Play a Role?

Ben Barry Agency, model Lelia
Ben Barry Agency, model Lelia

A recent report revealed that eating disorders are sending more U.S. children to hospital.  The number of American children under 12 who were hospitalized because of an eating disorder has jumped 119 per cent between 1999 and 2006, according to a clinical report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We used to think eating disorders were the consequences of bad family dynamics, that the media caused eating disorders or that individuals who had certain personality traits got eating disorders,” Dr. David Rosen, a professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry at University of Michigan who authored the research, said.

“All of those can play a role, but it’s just not that simple. All young women are exposed to the same media influences, but only a small percentage of them develop eating disorders. So what is different about those 1 percent that develop an eating disorder compared to the 99 percent who don’t?”

The medical report may have missed those adolescents and young women and men who don’t necessarily have a hospital visit and do not receive an actual medical diagnosis.

Ben Barry

“I think when you look at eating disorders and body image from purely a medical perspective, you’re missing out 99%  of girls and women where we are dealing with day to day insecurities, worries and concerns, about not looking good enough,” Ben Barry, founder and CEO of the Ben Barry Agency, says.

“A lot of that comes from media images because everywhere where we look, no matter where we are, we’re surrounded by a singular beauty ideal.”

The Ben Barry Agency represents women of all different ages, sizes, backgrounds, abilities, as models and offer to the industry from solely hiring and casting models that actually reflect consumers.  His agency offers an alternative by connecting with the consumer and which reflects the consumer, and offering models that actually reflect the diversity of the target market.

Sharon DeVellis is a mom of two who struggled with anorexia and bulimia for many years.  When asked about the report findings, she said she found it worrisome, “especially since the girls and boys who are suffering from it are getting younger and younger.  But in a way, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”

“There’s such a focus on how we look in our society and while this is not the only reason (nor does it have to be one) someone would start down the road of eating disorders, I feel there’s this constant pressure to conform to one certain standard of beauty,” she says.

Although Barry says he wouldn’t argue that the media are the only cause, but they are certainly a critical cause.

Sharon DeVellis,
Sharon DeVellis

“Outside of the world of eating disorders, when you look and girls and woman and increasingly boys and men, it doesn’t have to do with family dynamics or abusive violent experience in their past, and it primarily has to do with media images because these images are inescapable, they are surrounding us, whether you’re walking down the street and you see billboards, you see posters on subways, you see images of the beauty ideal everywhere.”

DeVellis suffered with her eating disorder for a long time.   “I walked around for a very long time hating myself.  I was just never good enough and no matter how much weight I lost, that feeling never went away.  I kept thinking I would hit a magic number and suddenly I’d like who I was and how I looked.”

Eating disorders are much more complex than being an issue of food.  Many factors play a role.  But what’s disturbing is that children are now dealing with this issue, and that concerns DeVellis.

“The fact that young, elementary school kids (and younger) are making comments about their bodies means we as adults need to look at the overall picture and see what we can do to change it.”

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