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Social Responsibility & Eating Disorders — Part Two

Posted Oct 27 2011 10:21pm

This is a continuation of the last post on social responsibility with eating disorders.

When it comes to the media, I believe most people can agree on the importance of using the media as a tool for eating disorder awareness and education. The problem arises when our media outlets choose to utilize  sensationalism and shock-value.

How many times, as I’ve mentioned before , have we seen stories on eating disorders featuring an extremely emaciated anorexic woman? Is she the face of all eating disorder sufferers, let alone all anorexics? Researchers and doctors (hopefully at least) are aware that eating disorders hit people regardless of gender, race, class, age, or weight.

What do these types of media portrayals accomplish? And what about the stories that go into detail about highest and lowest weights, caloric restrictions and intake, binging and purging methods, etc? Are these facts necessary to tell the story of an eating disordered patient?

I don’t believe they are. In fact, these behavior facts and details are dangerous. In a society that cultivates the false notion that health equates to thin instead of recognizing the wide (no pun intended) array of different body types & sizes, we already encourage extreme dieting. And when you have an impressionable person particularly weighed down by societal pressure to be smaller, coupled with pre-existing emotional problems, you have a recipe for an eating disorder. Do we, as a society, need to be giving out a manual for that?

And what about those already suffering from an eating disorder? By sensationalizing the information presented in the media, we are double-triggering the very people we are supposedly working to help. For ED folks not in or teetering in recovery, being bombarded with behavior details that you are trying to quit is tough – it serves as a reminder and sometimes guide to what you should be doing to lose weight.

To piggy-back on that thought, the second trigger comes in using the same archetype of an ED sufferer as the face of all. What if you aren’t that small/female/white/rich/straight? Are you still suffering? Do you still need treatment? Are your medical and emotional needs still valid?

Obviously, yes. But is it triggering to someone to be shown by the  media that you are not thin or sick enough? It absolutely can be.

So what is the answer to all of this? Social and media responsibility. Instead of exploiting and potentially further damaging eating disorder sufferers and survivors, write and report and cover real stories without bullshit shock value. Yes, eating disorders are prevalent, significant, and worthy of coverage but that coverage should not have to come at a cost.

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