America the Beautiful

The eating disorder world doesn't agree on much. There are huge internal controversies about a lot of things, including the role of the media.

I fall into the camp that says our media's narrow profile for beauty (not just size and shape - many elements) is damaging to us ALL. The relationship to eating disorders is subtle. To my mind although media images may encourage using food to change appearance (thereby triggering eating disorders in those genetically programmed this way), the media's ideals mostly serve to obscure illness, justify illness, and provide a ready "reason" for eating disorder behaviors and desires. It keeps the rest of us from recognizing serious brain disease, and makes us look like hypocrites to our ill children, and confuses the public about the seriousness of our loved ones' thinking.

But I still HATE the beauty ideal in the media. Can't watch TV without squirming, can't look at magazine covers without discomfort, can't enjoy popular movies because the general way a body type strays from the 6 foot size 2 ideal is as a punchline.

I think it damages us ALL, men and women, child and adult, tall and short, regardless of size. Eating disorders are not the measure of this damage. The damage stands alone. The sadness of it all stands on its own merits as poisonous.

I'm looking forward to seeing the documentary America the Beautiful next month during a day of events sponsored by EDC in Washington. The film has been embraced by the eating disorder community, as well it should. But I am interested not just as the mother of an ED patient. I'm interested as a citizen of the world.

What do you think the relationship is between the beauty (or the 'make you feel ugly') industry and eating disorders?


  1. personally, the magazines leave me feeling like crap...

  2. Our daughter who became a victim of anorexia nervosa became very, very intrigued with fashion magazines and spent hours reading them before and during the illness. I once believed they had a major role in causing the anorexia. However, her sister was equally "hooked" on the same magazines and never had an ED. I am now convinced that other factors, much more powerful, were causative: genetic predisposition, extreme athletics involving weight classification, perhaps predisposition to anxiety that was relieved by both athletics and restricting. All young women are exposed to the terrible images in the so-called beauty industry, but only a small percentage develop an eating disorder. So I'm not persuaded the industry causes EDs. If it did, you'd think the prevention programs that try to teach kids not to be swayed by the fahion industry would have had a measurable effect. But from what I've read, they haven't.
    My other thought relating to the "fashion" industry is the role it was given in treatment. Therapists spent hours trying to help our d appreciate the bad things about the industry. Personally, I agree it IS terrible, and cognitively, I think our d did too. But when she was semi-starved, it didn't make any difference. It seemed like treating lung cancer by convincing the cancer victim that she shouldn't have fallen for the cigarette ads in the first place. Good point for everyone to remember, but not a cure for someone who is in the grip of the disease.

  3. Magazines and fashion are convenient because you can point to them and say: There. That's it. I did it because I wanted to look like HER (or HIM).

    It's something to hide behind, too.

    I think that the most dangerous myth of the beauty industry is that losing weight will make you happy. Or fixing your wrinkles. Or whatever. The folks at Slim Fast aren't selling shakes; they're peddling happiness in a can. I thought that maybe losing five pounds would make me happier. And that "eating healthy" would make me happier.

    Anorexia existed long before supermodels, and it will exist (likely) long after they're gone.

  4. I think that the media puts tremendous pressure on us, especially women, to meet a certain beauty ideal that can trigger eating disorders. I don't know that I ever would have found an eating disorder without the media pushing me to be thin, especially since I am so tall. While the media alone certainly doesn't cause eating disorders, it does make it that much easier to get one.

  5. It's a challenge, a stressor, and an unhealthy focus and waste of time, but I don't believe beauty myths are causative.

    Society and culture, in all eras, has had its own versions of inclusion and exclusion ... or exclusivity. We now live in a visual age that exposes us to images of ourselves and everyone/everything around us ... 24/7 ... and allows us to compare ourselves.

    As humans have always done, and as do animals to a certain extent, we classify/sort/judge. It is our nature ... who is a better hunter, gatherer, fire-builder?

    The beauty ideal may vaccillate from pale skin to tan and back to pale; from Rubenesque to Twiggy; from breast enlargement to breast reduction; from hairy/"virulent" males to men who get salon-waxing; from extremeism to extremist-moderation (and I think America is particularly gifted in the black-and-white department ... did we not take ancient yoga practices and repackage them in "power" classes).

    I think people with eating disorders are more inclined to anxious comparison ... not necessarily a striving toward a particular physicality but an assessment to bolster/find/reinforce an uncertain sense of self.

    If various media weren't the mirrors for "who are the others/am-I-one-of-them/how-much-am-I-like-them/what-if-I'm-not/do-I-even-exist?" ... if the magazines, internet, televisions weren't there, the self-sorting we all do would still be there ... whether at the county fair by the prize-worthiness of a heifer or a pie, by the number of slaves owned, or the wealth to accumulate possessions, privilege and status.

    Illness, whether manifest physically, emotionally, spiritually, organically ... becomes myopic and finds centers of obsession. Media images and ideas are easy candidates, because they are, after all ... omnipresent (and seemingly omnipotent).

    I don't think "America the beautiful" can make a person sick, but it *could* leave you feeling sick at heart ... not starving to death ... but sad. If you're starving or malnourished, sad can morph into more than that.

    But, at its inception, it came from the inside ... whether that was the brain, emotions or prompted by a life/circumstantial/situational event or stressor.

  6. "...the media's ideals mostly serve to obscure illness, justify illness, and provide a ready "reason" for eating disorder behaviors and desires."


  7. I see signs of how the media affects people, even those without EDs, it gives people a warped sense of what is normal. I've known men who claimed they didn't like super skinny without realizing that that is what they chased after. I knew someone who thought every thin girl was a size 6.

    But oddly enough, the media never influenced or fueled my problems. I never once looked at a model or actress and saw some far away ideal. Even in the middle of it all, I looked at tv and saw some girls on the shows I watched as being too thin, but maybe I'm weird.

    The only way fashion harmed me was by making all the nice clothing in sizes too small for me. That's how they made me feel less than, it was never a model.

  8. I haven't bought any of these stupid shallow crappy magazines for years, not since I was 11/12 and I'm ED. I really couldn't care less what the celebrities are up to. People don't understand eating disorders so they point the finger at these magazines. And let's face it, any girl who does read these magazines and ends up with an eating disorder evidently has a lot of insecurity and a need to be accepted and loved and approved of. If she didn't feel that way, I highly doubt the magazines would have an impact on her.

    Personally I am ED because I see it as punishment for myself, something I can have that the parents don't know about, a way of coping, a distraction, a test of endurance, shock factor with other people, a physical way of showing how I feel inside, it might make me physically weaker, but mentally I never feel stronger than when I am fasting. I can't stand food it's disgusting.

    I hope that might help people to understand a bit better than it has nothing to do with vanity - I quite like my body which is odd considering, but then again, I view my starvation as a punishment so perhaps I'm not what people percieve to be as the "usual" anorexic?


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