Media And Eating Disorders

The influence of the media on the proliferation of eating disorders cannot be refuted. From an early age we are bombarded with images and messages that reinforce the idea to be happy and successful we must be thin. Today, you cannot read a magazine or newspaper, turn on the television, listen to the radio, or shop at the mall without being assaulted with the message that fat is bad. The most frightening part is that this destructive message is reaching kids. Adolescents often feel fatally flawed if their weight, hips, and breasts don’t match up to those of models and actors. Today even elementary school-aged children are obsessed with their weight. To illustrate the media’s obsession with thinness, try and name 5 current female television personalities who are overweight. Compare that task to naming 5 female television personalities who are underweight or at an ideal weight. Even if the argument is made that the media’s portrayal of women is just a mirror of society and not an initiator, the media still needs to take responsibility for at least perpetuating the dysfunction. The following are statistics and facts that document how obsessed we are as a society with the pursuit of thinness.


  • One out of three women and one out of four men are on a diet at any given time.

  • 35% of occasional dieters progress into pathological dieting.

  • Two out of five women and one out of five men would trade three to five years of their life to achieve their weight goals

  • Diet and diet-related products are a 33 billion-dollar-a-year industry

  • In 1970 the average age a girl started dieting was 14; by 1990 the average age dropped to 8

  • One-half of 4th-grade girls are on a diet

  • 51% of nine and ten-year-old girls stated they felt better about themselves when they were adhering to a diet

  • Frequent dieting is highly correlated with depression

  • While only one out of ten high school girls is overweight, nine out of ten high school juniors and seniors diet

  • 79% of teenage girls who vomit and 73% of teenage girls who use diet pills are frequent readers of women’s health and fitness magazines. This is in contrast to less than 43% of teenage girls who do not participate in these purging methods


Body Image

  • In one study, three out of four women stated that they were overweight although only one out of four were

  • Four out of five U.S. women are dissatisfied with their appearance

  • 81% of ten-year-old girls are afraid of being fat

  • A study found that adolescent girls were more fearful of gaining weight than getting cancer, nuclear war, or losing their parents

  • Over one-half of normal-weight white adolescent girls consider themselves fat

  • Following viewing images of female fashion models, seven out of ten women felt more depressed and angrier than before viewing the images

  • When preschoolers were offered dolls identical in every respect except weight, they preferred the thin doll nine out of ten times

  • A study asked children to assign attractiveness values to pictures of children with various disabilities. The participants rated the obese child less attractive than a child in a wheelchair, a child with a facial deformity, and a child with a missing limb

  • A study found that women overestimate the size of their hips by 16% and their waists by 25%, yet the same women were able to correctly estimate the width of a box

  • In a Glamour survey, 61% of respondents said they were ashamed of their hips, 64% were ashamed of their stomachs and 72% were ashamed of their thighs

  • 30% of women chose an ideal body shape that is 20% underweight and an additional 44% chose an ideal body shape 10% underweight

  • 50% of women wear a size 14 or larger, but most standard clothing outlets cater to sizes 14 or smaller



  • In 1950 mannequins closely resembled the average measurements of women. The average hip measurement of mannequins and women was 34 inches. By 1990 the average hip measurement was 37 inches, while the average mannequin’s hip measured only 31 inches.

  • If today’s mannequins were actual human women, based on their theoretical body-fat percentages they would have probably ceased to menstruate.

  • The average U.S. woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds. In contrast the average U.S. model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds.

  • Over the last three decades fashion models, Miss America contestants, and Playboy centerfolds have grown steadily thinner, while the average woman’s weight has risen.

  • Also over the last three decades, male Playgirl centerfolds have become more muscular and have less body fat, while the average man’s weight and percentage of body fat have increased.

  • Some of the pictures of the models in magazines do not exist. The pictures are computer-modified compilations of different body parts.

  • A study found that 25% of Playboy centerfolds met the weight criteria for Anorexia.

  • Twenty years ago the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today she weighs 23% less.

  • Kate Moss is 5’7” and weighs 95 pounds. That is 30% below the ideal body weight.

  • Supermodels Niki Taylor and Elle Macpherson also meet the Body Mass Index physical criteria for Anorexia.

  • Gisele Bundchen was Vogue’s model of the year, in part the magazine states, because she strays from the rail-thin image. Gisele is 5’11” and weighs only 115, which is 25% below her ideal body weight.


Television And Movies

  • Following the introduction of Western television in Fiji there was a surge in the rate of eating disorders

  • One out of every four television commercials sends out some sort of message about attractiveness

  • 80% of women who answered a People magazine survey responded that images of women on television and in the movies make them feel insecure

  • Actresses Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz and singer Diana Ross all meet the Body Mass Index physical criteria for Anorexia

  • Model/Actress Elizabeth Hurley stated in Allure magazine “I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat.”

  • Pamela Anderson is 5’7” and weighs 120 pounds. She is supposed to be the voluptuous ideal yet she is 11% below the ideal body weight. In contrast, a generation ago Marilyn Monroe set the beauty standard at 5’5” and weighed 135 pounds. Today her agent would probably tell her she had to lose weight!


Changing society’s view cannot happen overnight, but here are a few suggestions to help you defend against negative messages:

  • Be Realistic – Women’s bodies are designed to store fat for a developing child. Those models and actors you admire starve themselves, punish themselves with extreme workouts and endure surgery to look the way they do

  • Variety is the spice of life – If we all looked the same life would be boring. Get into the uniqueness of you

  • Appreciate your body – Reestablish a positive relationship with your body. Your body is the most valuable asset you will ever own. All of Bill Gates’s money could not recreate you. Begin viewing your body as an instrument and not an ornament. Learn to appreciate your body for what it can do, not for what it looks like. Make a list of those things you like about your body

  • Pamper your body – Take a long hot bath and soothe yourself. Spoil yourself by getting a massage

  • Exercise – Studies have shown that when people participate in even moderate exercise, such as walking, they feel more connected and better about their bodies

  • You can’t judge a book by its cover – There is a lot more to you than what you look like. Your appearance is not your identity. Make a list of the traits that you like. Think about the people you admire and look up to. You admire these individuals because of who they are, not because of what they look like

  • Surround yourself with support – Seek out others in your life who value you for who you are and not for what you look like. Find people who exhibit a healthy relationship with their bodies. Avoid those who tease or are constantly focusing on their weight

  • Throw away the scale – For many individuals, the number the scale reads in the morning determines what kind of day they are going to have. If the scale number is higher than they had hoped for they feel depressed and if they met their weight goal they feel elated. Constant weighing usually turns into a negative experience that leads to dissatisfaction and obsession. Many individuals have chosen to smash their scales and in the process have freed themselves from having their emotions tied to a number that has nothing at all to do with who they are

  • Mealtime equals Family time – Studies have shown that families that eat meals together have a lower occurrence of eating disorders. Making time to eat together as a complete family can be difficult with all the family’s divergent responsibilities and activities but mealtimes may be one of the most important events of the day. Mealtimes together allow family members to check in with each other, model appropriate eating behaviors and provide a forum to resolve conflict both within and outside the family

  • Be a good role model – Your children will have enough pressure from the media and peers. Try not to express dissatisfaction with your body in front of your children. Seventy-seven percent of children first learn about dieting from a family member, usually a parent. Studies have shown that parents who displayed dissatisfaction with their bodies were more likely to have children with body image disturbances when they became adults. Discuss with your children the ridiculous nature of the media’s portrayal of body image and encourage them not to buy into it.