Unhappy with studies

Unhappy People Watch More TV interests me. I'm surprised at how little questioning there is to whether TV makes people unhappy, or being unhappy makes the TV more attractive, or when unhappy people watch TV they feel more dispirited.

It is the same question I have about media and eating disorders. There is a headlong rush to hold the media responsible for promoting unrealistic images and leading vulnerable teens to lower self-esteem and body images which put them at risk for an eating disorder.

But my observation is that my daughter was fixated on the skinny images because of her illness - not the other way around. And living in that soup of images also fed her illness. Ridding her life of those images - to the degree any 20-year old in our culture CAN - was part of her choosing to surround herself with a pleasant and nurturing environment.

I believe we've romanticized the past and villainized the present. When I was a kid, the media was a monoculture of slim, European, polished people. Men were stereotypically manly or ridiculous buffoons. Women were either June Cleaver or Charo. The range of body types and attractive faces for leading men and women was extremely narrow. Being black or a tall woman or a fat anybody meant being comic or or a stereotyped character - not a role model. This did hurt the self-esteem of those not fitting the standard. It did allow some people to feel unreasoning superiority over others.

It could be argued that what has changed is the belief that anybody who chooses to can be a supermodel/supermom/Olympian/Brad Pitt, but I seem to remember those promises being made to us before: hair straighteners and boob builders and skin bleachers and "I was a 90 pound weakling..."

Environments do matter. I don't believe you can get a mental illness from TV, or an eating disorder from reading Glamour - but I think surrounding ourselves and our children with wholesome messages and modelling balanced lives is what loving parenting is all about. If only because noticing a loved one falling into too much of any behavior or interest is a natural function of family and community. And the danger of our culture is that we, ourselves, get confused about what is normal.


  1. I totally agree with this.

    "But my observation is that my daughter was fixated on the skinny images because of her illness - not the other way around."

    I don't think I cared about what people looked like (or rather me comparing my self to them and wanting to look like they did) until I started wanting to lose weight. I didn't see a skinny person and develop and ED, I started obsessing about skinny people after.

  2. I agree it is counterproductive to blame the media for anorexia nervosa. There are no scientifically valid studies that show a causal relationship. Actually, what little evidence there is would suggest otherwise. For example, the BBC documentary on this blog (BBC Video on the biology of EDs) reports on a researcher who found rates of anorexia nervosa in Curacao that are consistent with those in western industrialized nations. In Curacao, a full figure is idealized. Many people cite to Anne Becker's studies in Fiji to argue that Western TV tends to cause anorexia. The Fiji studies, however, don't support the conclusion either. Becker interviewed 30 young Fijian women before Western TV was introduced in 1995 and again three years later. Her study did not find an increase in anorexia nervosa. What made headlines was the conclusion that rates of bulimia jumped from 3% to 11%, a threefold increase. However, in a sample size of 30, this means an increase from one case to three. This is too small a sample size to draw meaningful conclusions. Also, bulimia was defined in the Becker study so broadly that it included "overexercise" -- a notoriously subjective concept, and further relied on self-reporting of bulimic behavior, also unreliable.
    The danger in blaming the media, in my opinion, is that it leads insurance companies to deny coverage for the treatment of anorexia where the insurance policy covers only biologically-based illness, leads clinicians to believe that the cure to anorexia is learning to resist media images (a notoriously ineffective model of treatment) and causes public policy officials and funding agencies to wrongly conclude that more research into the biology of anorexia nervosa is not needed.
    I'll stop ranting now.

  3. That's NOT ranting, it's true - please don't stop!


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